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A reality check

October 11, 2010
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At the risk of exposing one of my most shameful addictions, I will confess I have spent the last few weeks obsessively reading, watching and discussing the reality TV couple Jon and Kate Gosselin. For those of you with blinders on at the supermarket, the Gosselins are the now infamous parents of two sets of multiples — twins and sextuplets — who have been plastered over the covers of the weekly tabloids for months now.

I’ve followed the family since the show’s infancy, when the sextuplets were still crawling around in diapers for a Discovery Channel special on the challenges of raising such a large brood. As we now know, the hour-long special soon turned into a weekly series airing on TLC. Over the course of five seasons, the episodes slowly transitioned from those which chronicled milestones and the daily realities of raising six toddlers and two pre-schoolers to scenes which unveiled the thinning ice the couple was walking on as their marriage slowly eroded on television screens across America.

I realized my interest in the family was bordering on an unhealthy obsession when I hosted a viewing party for the couple’s “special announcement” episode. The reason I’m confessing to it now is because you, dear carwash owner and reader, have been handed a very similar opportunity to that of the Gosselins. A few months ago, ABC began searching for a professional carwashing family to feature on their own reality show about marriage and family; “Wife Swap,” which switches the female parental unit of two American families for two weeks.

At first I was excited about this chance to showcase a passionate, devoted carwashing family on national television. I thought it would make an excellent follow-up to the Modern Marvels episode which aired on the Discovery Channel last year and explained the benefits of professional carwashing. But as I sat on a crowded couch during my viewing party and carefully dissected and criticized the Gosselin family, I wondered if this is really nothing more than an occasion to cartoonize and dramatize our industry. (I should stress that at the time this issue was going to print, ABC had not yet chosen a carwash family or even confirmed the episode would air.)

As I scorned Kate Gosselin’s henpecking and Jon Gosselin’s selfishness, I wondered if the family chosen would air their dirty laundry — and perhaps even the industry’s — along with their passion for carwashing. A casting call for the show asks for “spunky, out-spoken kids” and a “family that’s meant for TV.” Producers are after the unique and the odd; the provoking and the rude; the obscene and the fanatic.

After all, the Gosselins are nothing new. They’re just one more family among the many other dysfunctional groups we like to watch on TV: The Teutuls of “American Chopper” fame are feuding right now as family patriarch Paul admits he works better without his sons. Duane Chapman of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” lost his show after a tirade against his son was recorded on voicemail and shared with the American media. Oddly enough, the behavior of America’s first family of reality TV, The Osbournes, pales in comparison to some of these more outrageous ones.

And so, in the end, the joke may be on us. We may delight in seeing one of our own cast upon the stage, but at what cost will this publicity come? The matriarch may get points for being organized and customer-service oriented, but will America coil in disgust if she disciplines her children severely? Will a father and carwash owner be judged for working too hard?

Only one thing is for sure: If it’s like any other reality TV program, I will be watching and judging with a viewing party along with the rest of America.

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