Jon and Kate,
who have recently become immensely famous, have, apparently, been on television for many years. They are a type of apparitional news. They’ve always been there, entirely irrelevant to almost everyone, and, then, suddenly, they’re a cultural phenomenon, for no reason that anyone can quite tell you. With a little critical interpretation, that makes them like Sonia Sotomayor,
who, out of view, has lived her own reality show sort of life, and is now elevated to stardom.
It is all about the story. Jon and Kate have a better story than their reality show competitors. Although, of course, I don’t know the story. Which in a way may be better than actually knowing the story—it’s more about the bits and pieces that hit you (and fill you with both wonder and contempt). I don’t know Sonia Sotomayor’s story
either, and don’t particularly want to. But I know it’s also made to order—and that if I’m not careful I’ll have to hear it (she’s a “trailblazer and a dreamer,” in the Times’
summation). Every Supreme Court justice has to have a story, not least of all because the confirmation process has become a selling or branding deal.
But stories are not just what they seem. Sonia Sotomayor’s may be about hard work, the indomitable human spirit, and the changing face of America, but it’s also a story that would make the Republicans look bad
if they try to knock it down (case in point, Rush Limbaugh is calling her a “reverse racist,”
which should help her case).
As stories go Jon and Kate’s turns out to be much more complex and perhaps significant than the pablum they serve up for Supreme Court nominees—and surely a truer kind of Americana. Here is a primer from my daughter, Elizabeth, who turns out to be a secret Jon and Kate watcher (and who has spent time at the New York Post
as a gossip professional):
J&K+8 started as a TLC special on dealing with sextuplets. Kate was incredibly candid—your perfect TV personality & the family life so unique that, despite how inarticulate/incompetent Jon was, they got their own show.
Kate turned out to be super-mom—raising 8 kids alone with all the green/organic trappings of upper-middle class parenting and belittling and bossing doltish Jon. As show grew, Jon quit nothing job to be more of a presence. Kate expanded the brand, writing books, going on tour, etc. Jon goes to parties with college kids
, accusations of affairs
. Kate affair rumors
re: bodyguard. Mags label her an overly ambitious fame-hungry monster, Jon an idiot. She’s on damage control last week, doing morning shows.
On Monday, season premieres
. J&K were interviewed separately and never interacted on camera except for asking terse questions about food. They inferred—it was clear—that they were on the brink of divorce and were hardly living together. (Honestly, they sounded worse than you and mom). But the whole show was edited as if they still lived together and were communicating. Clearly they're not. Not to mention the show made the paparazzi the villain. For the 1st 15 min each of them rambled on about how they don't deserve this and are just a normal family. Which they once were—a brutally candid one. Now they're stars and feel they're entitled to privacy, assistants, damage control. Anything to protect the brand.
There are several points to make. That we all need a story. That reality stars are getting so ubiquitous and official and part and parcel of the upwardly mobile culture that, inevitably, one of them will surely run for office and, even, take a place on the court. That the back story, and the story of how the story is maintained, is more interesting than the actual story. That Sonia Sotomayor’s story is too boring to be true. That my daughter and I should have our own show.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.