Reality TV Families: an Obsession as Huge as Their Households

They come in batches too big for most cars, in groups great enough to attract gawkers. The Gosselins, the Duggars, the Hayes, and more: one set of scampering feet after another, these two-digit clans of cute kids and harried parents have trampled over the television landscape.

Why? What's behind pop culture's current fascination with large families?

While the full house has been a force in pop culture for decades, from "The Sound of Music" to "The Brady Bunch," there's something different about the current phenomenon. Among today's crop of clans, there's no Utopian ideal. Instead, there's a sense of disbelief that draws viewers into shows like "19 Kids and Counting," about the ever-expanding Duggar crew, "Table for 12," about the Hayes' three sets of multiples, "9 by Design," about a hip husband-and-wife design team towing seven kids, and the now-defunct "Jon & Kate Plus 8," about the gone-from-grace Gosselin gang:

VIDEO: Kate Gosselin takes her tango to "Live! With Regis and Kelly."
Kate Gosselin dances on 'Live! With Regis and Kelly'

"How do they do it? Can they really keep it together?"

According to the Census Bureau, the average size of the American family reached an all-time low of 3.13 persons in 2003. That figure hasn't fallen further, but it still puts households crammed with siblings on the extreme end. Such families seem even more outrageous when multiples -- like the Gosselin sextuplets or "Octomom" Nadya Suleman's octuplets -- play a part.

"There is a fascination with 'multiples' that we've always had in American culture," said Kathy Newman, associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. "Nineteenth-century authors like Poe and Twain used twins in their fiction; in the 1950s we were entertained by stories of the Bobsey twins, and later, Patty Duke playing the genetically-impossible 'identical twin cousins' on 'The Patty Duke Show.' There is almost a circus-like element to this fascination; multiples are mysterious, freaks of nature."

Sean Penn's Impressive Abs

"Octomom" Nadya Suleman has said she regrets having octuplets. Prior to their bith, she already had six children.

Moreover, the idea that a modern woman would want to have multiples seems outlandish at a time when child-rearing costs more than ever and takes her away from making money.

"As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the pill, 70 percent of women with young children work outside the home. In 1960 only 30 percent of women with young children worked outside the home," Newman said. "In other words, now that we have an easy way to prevent these large families, the day-to-day struggles of child rearing make for appealing drama."

VIDEO: Whoopi Goldberg says Nadya Suleman was selfish when she decided to have 14 kids.
Whoopi Goldberg Criticizes Octomom

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...