In several months, Josh Duggar will face sentencing following his CSAM conviction.
Many of the Duggars and their remaining apologists have tried for years to distance the family from Josh’s crimes.
The reality is that Josh’s story is inextricably linked to his parents, their cult, and to the Duggar brand.
Josh’s conviction has brought it all crashing down … and that is a good thing.
In the modern world, we don’t have circus sideshows and “freak” carnivals, for a lot of good reasons.
The closest equivalent is reality television, which is framed very differently but continues that voyeuristic tradition.
The ever-growing brood spawned by Michelle Duggar made the family the subject of multiple documentary specials before they became reality stars in 2008.
More than a decade ago, TLC was looking to branch out from home improvement viewing and move in on Bravo’s territory.
TLC wanted something different than E! or Bravo offered, catering to a demographic that would latch onto shows about white, Christian families living simple lives away from cities.
From Little People, Big World to 19 Kids and Counting, the network found its niche and doubled down.
The Duggars were impossible to miss, even for people who have never watched one minute of reality TV.
You notice when women wearing that very specific type of old-timey perms on hair that reached down to their full length denim skirts.
The men were less obvious, but all wore unthinkably short crew cuts with polo shorts and “dad jeans.”
You didn’t have to watch the show to know of them.
You didn’t have to share their twisted values to watch, either.
The result was that the show, showing the odd lives the Duggar clan, was a hit.
Ratings climbed, reaching their zenith when the Duggar daughters began marrying off at staggeringly young ages.
The Duggars — or Jim Bob, at least — raked in tens of thousands per episode.
Their fame could also be monetized through sales of books and DVDs, through speaking fees, and brand sponsorships.
While the Duggars were raking it in, so was TLC.
4.4 million viewers tuned in for Jill’s wedding.
Reportedly, the Duggars brought as much as $25 million in ad revenue just in 2015.
The Duggars, who shunned mainstream society (along with many concepts, including human rights), had become mainstream.
They were celebrities, making magazine covers with each of their many pregnancy announcements.
We’re not talking about being featured in Scary Cultists Quarterly. The Duggars were plastered over magazines that they themselves were forbidden from reading.
But even before the 2015 revelations about Josh Duggar’s sex crimes against five young girls and how that was covered up, there were concerns.
Their show was classified as a “documentary” and therefore could avoid being held to child labor laws.
It was even discovered that the producers had not obtained work permits required by law to film minors.
Jim Bob would go on to say that he didn’t consider filming to be work.
Reality television is work — as attested by countless reality stars and those who have watched them.
But his characterization also allowed him to justify to his family why he allegedly pocketed all of the money from the show.
The ongoing exploitation of the Duggar children and Jim Bob’s rampant dishonesty were not the only issues.
The children were paraded about on television, deprived of any sense of privacy.
Of course, in the Duggar household, privacy is virtually non-existant … which brings us to the next major concern.
The Duggars — Jim Bob and Michelle and the values that they represent — are bad.
They deprive their children of their fundamental human rights and raise them in a restrictive, abusive cult.
Instead, they paraded their children about on television like mascots to spread and encourage a sanitized version of their beliefs and lifestyle.
The Duggars didn’t hide everything.
It was never a secret that their cult’s beliefs include extremely restrictive views on life, clothing, and dating.
The infamous rules on “courtship,” from the presence of chaperones to the side-hug policy, are a horror to anyone who stops and thinks about them.
But viewers were given very little time to stop and think, as the tone of the show was always one of a documentary.
It was so easy to forget that these were real children, robbed of almost every conceivable choice in life.
And perhaps the most sinister aspect of the series was how selective the show’s cameras and editors were with what they didn’t show.
On most reality television, part of the core job of producers is to nudge and question the stars to speak their minds as outlandishly as possible.
Instead, the worst of the Duggar beliefs — from abuse to sexism to bigotry and beyond — was almsot entirely glossed over.
IBLP, the cult to which they belong, encourages child-abuse, denounces the LGBTQ+ community, and teaches that sexual assault is the fault of the victim.
One could argue that the show did even more to sanitize the Duggars for viewers than they did for themselves.
Jim Bob’s political career, Josh’s erstwhile political activism, and Michelle’s anti-trans robocall were not exactly secret.
The Duggars wanted to spread their special brand of malice across America. TLC wanted them as palatable as possible to keep revenues high.
What Josh Duggar did to those five young girls, including four of his own sisters, was an act of sexual predation. It was evil.
In a sense, it was a blessing that it was revealed in 2015.
But it’s no surprise why some of the family referred to the world learning who Josh was as an attack by the literal actual devil.
The Duggar brand has never been the same, because people suddenly had a better idea of who they really are.
Jim Bob, who failed to protect his daughters all of those years ago, pulled out all of the stops to once again protect Josh from consequences.
This time, that meant having two of Josh’s victims come forward and identify themselves to claim that he hadn’t done anything that bad, really.
In 2015, TLC had no choice but to cancel 19 Kids and Counting … but it was clear that viewers and ad buyers forced their hand.
Unwilling to say goodbye to their golden goose entirely, TLC gave birth to Counting On … a show that would focus upon the Duggar daughters.
We all know that the supposed ban on Jim Bob and Michelle did not last very long. They returned, and Jim Bob and TLC continued to profit.
The 2019 Homeland Security raid on Josh Duggar’s place of work led to Josh’s arrest in April and then his conviction earlier this month.
Josh is behind bars and will hopefully be sentenced to spend many years in prison, far from any potential victims.
Counting On was canceled between Josh’s arrest and his trial … but does that mean that the Duggars are gone for good?
We can hope that the world once again being reminded of who the Duggars really are will be the final nail in the family brand’s coffin.
However, many apologists continue to fight to separate Josh’s crimes from the people who spent years enabling and covering for him.
They ignore the fact that, even if Josh were not a monster, his parents are fully terrible people in their own right who committed to ruining their children’s lives.
Hypothetically, TLC could one day launch a special or series following the Duggars who have broken away.
From Cousin Amy to Jill, some Duggars do not tow the line, and have begun to see Jim Bob for what he is.
But doing so would mean basically admitting that the network had gleefully pocketed millions by normalizing a toxic cult.
Grimly, it seems more likely that TLC may try again to put Duggars on people’s screens one day.
Even if they don’t, the network is already host to other similar families, aimed at the demographic that wants white, straight, Christian reality stars.
The Duggars are not the only family with extreme beliefs that are perversely appealing to certian portions of America, they’re just the most famous example.