The XX Factor

Kate Gosselin’s Faustian Bargain

After a period of declining ratings, Kate Plus 8 crawled to its depressing finale yesterday. It’s almost hard to remember that the TLC reality show about Kate Gosselin, her now ex-husband Jon, and their eight kids was once the network’s crown jewel of reality programming (back then it was called Jon and Kate Plus 8, of course). The Gosselin fam reached tabloid saturation sometime in the summer of 2009, when Jon left Kate for a series of 20something blondes who had achieved various levels of sleaziness (a plastic surgeon’s party girl daughter; an erstwhile gossip columnist)—back then, Kate’s sniping and Jon’s hangdog expression and their eight adorable offspring were ratings gold. But after Jon left and the Gosselins’ dysfunctional marriage was dissolved, the interest in Kate and her passel of babies dissolved, too.

In this week’s People Magazine cover story, Kate gives a thoroughly depressing interview on her family and her finances now that the show is ending. Before the show, she was a labor-and-delivery nurse, but she can’t go back to that job and continue to afford the big farm house she lives in or private school for the eight kids. She’s got to continue selling herself and her family to the media, Mama Rose style. As People points out, these are high class problems, but they’re ones that it’s hard not to have sympathy for because there are so many little kids involved. Though I believe that reality TV stars are mostly responsible for their own missteps, I don’t think the Gosselin kids could really consent to being on this show in any legitimate way. This part was a real gut puncher:

Kate recalls that Collin [one of her seven-year-old sextuplets] after hearing of the show’s cancellation, “said, ‘I feel like crying but I can’t.’ I said, ‘Because you don’t want anyone to see your tears?’ and he said yes. So I said, ‘Cry when you’re when you’re in bed and nobody’s looking. That’s what I do.’

Kate, at least the televised version of her—has proven to be an unreservedly terrible person—but in a way the Faustian bargain she’s made with TLC has a logic to it. She tells People that while her kids gave up some freedom and privacy, “As a trade-off we live in a great house on a great property, and they go to a great school. I feel they deserve that much.” Though this sounds extremely manipulative, I have to agree with the Onion AV Club’s assesment of the state of Kate:

It’s the damndest thing, watching someone use the closing moments of her dying show to pitch a new vehicle to anyone who’s watching, with a little guilt trip thrown in: My kids have to eat! I really do hope there’s some tender-hearted CEO with a cable network to program who can find an excuse to stick her and her brood on the air in some low-traffic time slot where she can’t do much harm.

We can only hope that this new show gives her kids the space they need to cry whenever they feel like it.