All unhappy families: The downfall of the Duggars

The difference between the Duggars and their fellow reality-TV families, though, has been that the Kardashians and the Thompsons and their fellow families don’t claim moral superiority over their viewers. They claim, instead, a moral distance from those viewers. The Kardashians, in some ways the polar opposites of the Duggars, revel in their uniqueness, in their marginality, in the collection of idiosyncrasies that got them their own reality show(s) in the first place. The Kardashians have no interest in making people want to be like them. They have an interest, instead, in making people want to be not at all like them. They have an interest in inspiring fascination rather than emulation. Their weirdness is their capital, and their currency.

Not so the Duggars, who use their fame—their TV show(s), their book(s), their various political appearances—as platforms for evangelism. And evangelism not just for a religion, but for something more basic: a lifestyle. A lifestyle that is so inflected with moral messaging that we might as well call it A Way of Life. The Duggar children are home-schooled. Michelle Duggar, who recently recorded a robocall arguing against protections for LGBT and transgender residents of Fayetteville, Arkansas, doesn’t allow her daughters to wear shorts or skirts with hems that fall above the knee because an exposed thigh, she has explained, amounts to “nakedness and shame.” The girls generally avoid beaches and swimming pools under the same logic. Jessa Duggar (whose recent wedding TLC treated as a Very Special Event, dedicating multiple episodes to it) married her fiancé not just having never had sex with him, but having never kissed him.