Duggars, North Korea

Dear Leader…

Last night, I was hanging out in the Life is Not All Pickles and Hairspray Group and someone shared a screenshot of a post Jinger Duggar Vuolo wrote to her parents. Here’s my screenshot of the screenshot.

Hmm… she’s thanking her parents for caring for her physical needs? Isn’t that what is normally expected of parents? Why thank them for doing what they’re supposed to do?

I’m not sure what the occasion for this posting was. Maybe Jinger really was just overcome with love, devotion, appreciation, and remorse for making any demands on her overloaded parents… Maybe she posted it because we’ve come upon a significant religious holiday. Maybe parenthood has given her perspective? I don’t know. However, my first thought when I read it was that it reminded me a little of the rote devotion North Koreans have for their “dear leader”.

Some years ago, I watched a fascinating documentary about North Korea. It was made by Lisa Ling, a brave, ambitious, and stealthy reporter who had somehow managed to bring a tiny camera into the country and record things most foreign visitors to North Korea will never see. Ling posed as a medical coordinator and, at great risk to her personal safety, enlightened the world.

A couple of years later, Ling’s younger sister, Laura Ling, along with Euna Lee, were in China working on a documentary about North Korean defectors. The two women were captured on March 17, 2009, when they were at the border of Chinese and North Korea. The two women followed their guide, who had walked across the frozen river toward the North Korean border. As they were heading back to Chinese soil, North Korean soldiers chased after the two women. They were dragged back to North Korea and taken to prison, where they were eventually sentenced to twelve years hard labor. Both women were released after an intervention by Bill Clinton, and both wrote books about the ordeal. I read both of their books, though it was years ago.

Laura Ling talks about being a prisoner in North Korea.

I’m not sure why Jinger Vuolo’s post to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar reminds me so much of North Korea. I mean, although I would say the Duggars live a cult-like existence, and although they used to denounce television and Internet access, they have taken to social media like ducks to water. North Koreans do not have any access to the outside world. I have a feeling that had the Duggars not wound up famous, they would be similarly isolated. Perhaps they wouldn’t have had 19 children, either. I do kind of wonder if the adult children hang a picture of Boob and Michelle in their homes, like North Koreans do of their “dear leader”. But maybe Jinger’s post is entirely sincere. I’m sure she is grateful to them… even as she seems to be rejecting their lifestyle more than some of the other Duggar children have.

Then I remember what life was like for the oldest Duggar kids, who were forced to share beds, clothes, and and stand in line for tater tot casseroles. I think about how Jinger and three of her sisters were molested by their brother, who was never really punished for his actions. Although Josh Duggar was himself still a child when he was abusing his sisters, he never got any legitimate treatment for his issues. Years later, he was forced to confess to cheating on his wife, Anna, when his account on Ashley Madison, a notorious Web site for married people who want to cheat, was exposed to the world.

When Jinger said on an episode of 19 Kids and Counting that she wanted to move to a big city, Michelle Duggar was quick to interject and clarify, assuring viewers that Jinger would simply prefer to live closer to a Walmart. There’s no way any Duggar child could want to live life on his or her own terms. Duggarland is “paradise”, just like North Korea is.

Although the molested sisters supposedly never got any help after they were “touched” by Josh, they somehow miraculously healed. I did notice, however, that after that news broke, all of the affected sisters were quickly married off. And yet, though they were married, they were all still working for Boob, living in his houses, and bearing his grandchildren, whose arrivals were carefully documented on reality television. Only Jinger and Josh have been able to break away from Duggarland for any length of time, although it looks like Jill and Derick have just bought a house in another town in Arkansas. Overall, the message seems to be, stay close to home, under Dad’s thumb. Stay faithful to the “dear leader”, or there will be hell to pay. Or, at least that’s my impression. Maybe I’m wrong.

Image is very important to the Duggars, just like it is in North Korea. Visit North Korea as a foreigner, and the view that is offered is the sanitized version, complete with “minders” who control everything seen and heard. Step out of line in North Korea and you could wind up being imprisoned. I’m sure that punishment is also swift within the Duggar family. It’s as if the parents need constant stroking and acknowledgement from their children, to prove to everyone how wonderful they are… or to continue the delusion.

I remember how wholesome the Duggar family used to seem, before Josh’s sex scandals came to light. A number of my friends loved the Duggar family and would defend them to me whenever I snarked on them. I’m a student of human behavior, and I notice things. People often insist on their version of the truth, but deny that up to 80% of communication is non-verbal. I remember even back in the days before Josh was outed as a “sex pest”, there were subtle non-verbal cues that all was not okay. And the Duggars, bless them, are not gifted actors… although some of them are better than others.

In watching Lisa Ling’s Inside North Korea documentary, I see North Koreans crying and praising their “dear leader”. The surreal spectacle made Ling wonder if they truly felt they were “blessed” by their leader, or if they knew that if they didn’t praise him, they would suffer the consequences. Perhaps it’s a little of both. I know that in many abusive situations, people don’t always know what’s happening. They become divorced from reality, because they are isolated from anyone who might question it. Although some North Koreans know there’s a whole world out there, others don’t. For all they know, anything they get from their leader is a miracle of providence. Most of them are probably ignorant to the idea of providing for themselves, making their own decisions, and admiring people who truly inspire them.

It’s no secret that the Duggars, despite their fame, are pretty insulated people. They don’t hang out with people who aren’t like them. They don’t read a lot of books that aren’t about their brand of Christianity. Likewise… the North Koreans aren’t exposed to anything that would challenge what they see and experience. Anyone who visits North Korea is given a very planned experience– cute, well-chosen North Korean children singing and dancing for them instead of impromptu conversations with their parents.

I do have a sense that Jinger is being exposed to more since she married Jeremy Vuolo. Jeremy is probably the worldliest of the guys who have married Duggar women. He’s been a social drinker, was once arrested, and attended secular colleges before he became a professional soccer player. He lets Jinger wear pants, which is actual news! Now, he’s moving their little family– which at this writing just consists of them and their daughter, Felicity, to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the other adult Duggar kids are staying close to home in Arkansas, pumping out babies, and working for dad… the “dear leader”.

I’m sure Jinger truly loves her parents. I’m sure she’s grateful for everything they’ve done for her. However, whenever I see these public declarations of love on social media, I have to wonder what motivates people to write them. To me, it’s akin to the folks who film themselves declaring their love to tiny children at weddings. The declarations are much less about the tiny kids, who probably aren’t any the wiser, than they are the people in attendance. It’s all a big show.

Narcissists love a big show. They like public displays of love and gratitude. They like recognition from the masses. Public postings of love, devotion, and gratitude from the Duggar children could be completely done spontaneously, but something tells me they’re “encouraged” to do this. It’s all about maintaining the illusion and the gravy train. Because if the gravy train derails, what will happen to them? Especially the youngest children, who are still being taught at the school of the dining room table. One thing people in large families learn is that it’s important to collaborate and cooperate for their own survival. Even though the adults are technically “free”, they stick around… probably because they think they must, but also for the sake of the others, who can’t escape yet. Somewhere behind the smiles and the gushing social media posts, the truth lies.


4 thoughts on “Dear Leader…

  1. While the Duggars are a strange cult, they can’t hold a candle to North Korea as far as dysfunctionality. The widespread dire poverty and leader worship gives the prize to N.K. Interesting and scary stories.

    • Meh… I think if they hadn’t wound up on TV, they absolutely could be like the North Koreans. In a weird way, I think TV saved them from total craziness. Remember, Boob and his wife used to speak of how “evil” TV and the Internet were, before they were household names and the money came rolling in. If that hadn’t happened, you bet your ass it would be NK all over Arkansas there.

    • Well, I quit watching their show a long time ago. I don’t mean to imply they are exactly like the North Koreans. I was just reminded of North Korea by the constant fawning social media posts written by the Duggar children, praising their parents… particularly their father. And there is definitely pressure for them to present their lifestyle as blissful, even though no one lives in total bliss.

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