family, Reality TV, TV

I finally found my way to “Plathville”…

Recently, I started following Fundie Fridays, which is a YouTube channel run by a woman named Jen who does her makeup while talking about fundamentalist Christians. Sometimes, Jen is joined by her social worker boyfriend, James. I like her channel very much. She’s funny, and she’s great at applying makeup. I’m often amazed at the looks she achieves as she casually discusses people like the Duggars, the Bates, and any other weird-o-rama fringe religion out there.

It was on Jen’s Fundie Fridays channel that I discovered the Plath family. I mean, sure, I had seen references to them in the Duggar Family News Facebook group. I just never paid any attention to them, despite their impossible to ignore blondness and musical chops. Anyway, they have been on TLC for two seasons, and I recently happened to catch Jen’s video about them. In this video, she’s joined by James, as they describe this Quiverfull family who live in southern Georgia and work in Florida. Parents Kim and Barry Plath have nine living children. Their toddler son, Joshua, died in a tragic accident. Kim accidentally ran over him while driving on their farm. He was seventeen months old.

At this writing, two of the Plath kids have gotten married. Eldest son, Ethan, is married to Olivia Meggs, who could easily pass as one of the siblings, since she’s tall and blonde. Eldest daughter, Hosanna, is married to Timothy Noble. They live in Ohio and aren’t on the show.

This video led me down a TLC rabbit hole yesterday.
About season 2.

Kim and Barry both went to college. Kim didn’t finish her music degree at Florida State University. Both parents left college with tons of debt and remember that their college mostly consisted of getting drunk and partying. Consequently, they aren’t fans of college, unless it’s to study something for which a college degree is necessary. All of the Plath kids were homeschooled. They didn’t eat sugar, watch television, have social media or cell phones, or listen to popular music. Both Plath parents are strictly against drinking alcohol, as Kim grew up with an alcoholic single mom who traumatized her.

The Plath kids are musically talented and have had a family band. They played southern gospel music. On their TLC reality show, Welcome to Plathville, we see the adult kids wanting to branch out and listen to and play secular music. Mom and Dad Plath are against that, as well as their other worldly habits, such as drinking Coca-Cola and beer, wearing immodest clothing, and visiting “liberal” cities like San Francisco. The Plath parents have been criticized for being too controlling and for sheltering their children so much that they can’t function in the world.

Here’s a documentary about the Plath family. You can hear their music on this. I think they’re good musicians… certainly better than the Duggars!
Not bad at all, although the girls look a little sad.
Timothy and Hosanna Noble. They aren’t on the show, but Hosanna clearly has the musical genes and blond hair.

I think the Plath kids are absolutely gorgeous. They’re also very talented. Yes, it’s true, they’ve had a very unconventional upbringing. I’ve read a lot of harsh comments about Kim and Barry Plath and, while I haven’t yet finished the series, I feel the need to speak up. I think people are being kind of tough on the Plath parents… at least based on what I’ve seen on the show. Kim and Barry Plath are strict, conservative, and sheltering parents, and some might think they’re hypocrites for making their children live a lifestyle so different from the ones they had growing up. But… when I watch the Plaths, I don’t get the icky feeling I get when I watch the Duggars. And when you compare the two families, I definitely think the Plaths are more “normal” than the Duggars are.

It’s true that the Plath parents discourage their children from being too “worldly”. They don’t approve of drinking alcohol, consuming sugar, wearing immodest clothes, or visiting liberal cities like San Francisco. However, the kids are doing those things and they haven’t been disowned by the parents. It’s true that eldest son, Ethan, kind of went no contact with his parents because of the rift between them and his wife, Olivia. He objects to the way the parents talk to and treat his wife. But I think Olivia kind of brings some of that treatment on herself. She deliberately does things to undo the Plath parents’ “work”. We see her encouraging Ethan to drink alcohol and try a Coke, and hiring sixteen year old Moriah to help her with her wedding photography business so she can “break out” of that sheltered environment and visit San Francisco. The Plaths don’t necessarily approve, but they did allow Moriah to go on that weeklong trip. They could have vetoed it. I think Jim Bob Duggar would have forbidden his daughters from going on a similar trip with a more “worldly” sister-in-law.

I do think Olivia, who is absolutely beautiful, by the way, instigates a lot of problems. It’s understandable that she would, though. She’s still very young and had a different upbringing. I can see why Ethan wants to protect her and have her back. That’s admirable. I can also see why Ethan is a little bit “annoying” to her, too. He’s very childlike and a bit stunted. It’s entertaining to see him drink a mixed drink for the first time. But then, I can see how that reaction to so many new experiences could get irritating, such as when Ethan is shown trying to make pancakes while Olivia is trying to work. It’s as if Ethan is trying to cram a lot of experiences normal people would have had way before marriage. It’s exciting for him, but old hat for his wife. I hope their marriage survives.

Getting back to Kim and Barry– it is true that the Plath parents “kicked out” their son, Micah, and seventeen year old daughter, Moriah, because they didn’t want them influencing their youngest children. But I look at the way Moriah dresses and Micah’s career as a male model. Moriah and Micah visited them to confront them about their upbringing. Moriah was wearing what I think is a bit of a scandalous outfit– red and black leggings, a skimpy top, and tons of makeup. I don’t see her parents forcing her to cover up around the younger kids. I think Jim Bob Duggar would have probably refused to let Moriah come over dressed like that, if she were his daughter. I also doubt that Moriah would have dared to do that, because I have a feeling Boob is heavy on corporal punishment.

I can also understand why two religious parents would not want that in their home, even if I personally disagree with their religious views and policies. I do agree that the Plaths are too strict and too sheltering, but I don’t think they’re as controlling as Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are. And I don’t think their lifestyle is all that weird, to be honest.

Also… I think people forget that Kim Plath is clearly very traumatized by her upbringing. I grew up with an alcoholic parent myself. I know what that was like for me. I was fortunate enough to have another parent who wasn’t an alcoholic, though. Kim’s mom was all she had, and she grew up in chaos. It makes sense that she would be controlling and try to offer her children something she didn’t have growing up. She probably finds comfort in offering that very orderly, strict home environment, because growing up with an alcoholic can be quite the epic shitshow. I think anyone who doesn’t understand this should read up on adult children of alcoholics, and how a parent’s alcoholism affects children.

Remember, too, that Kim Plath lost a child directly due to her own negligence. She faced a horrifying situation. I don’t even know how someone recovers from causing their own child’s death. I would assume that losing a child in that way would make any parent neurotic and obsessively overprotective. Can you even imagine the guilt and horror of that? She probably has some PTSD going on after that experience. And Barry also lost a child, and as Kim puts it, a wife. She says she wasn’t “present” in the months after Joshua was killed. I would be very surprised if she ever got any mental health counseling, either, to help her process such a terrible loss.

Sad…

I actually had a childhood neighbor who ran over and accidentally killed her daughter. The incident happened in 1995, when my neighbor was 24 years old and her daughter was 2. They were at Walmart and, for whatever reason, my neighbor let her daughter stand up behind the seat of the car as she coasted forward with the door open. The girl fell out of the car and was under the car’s tires. My former neighbor is now dead herself, because she had Huntington’s Disease. I’ve wondered if maybe the disease was starting to be symptomatic when that accident happened. She had three children, only one of whom is still living. Her eldest child, a son, died at age 21 in a car accident. Sadly, because of Huntington’s Disease, it’s possible that the little girl wasn’t destined to live a long life in any case. I have always been haunted by the sad circumstances of that family and wondered how my former neighbor and friend could go on after that accident.

I don’t necessarily agree with Kim and Barry’s parenting decisions. I can understand why their children chafe at the way they were raised. I can see why they want to go their own ways so soon after they become adults or, in Moriah’s case, even before then. But I also can understand on one level why Kim and Barry are concerned about their older children “corrupting” the younger ones– even if I don’t agree that the children should be that sheltered. When it comes down to it, they’re the parents, and they should have the right to raise their children according to their beliefs without having to worry about Ethan’s wife overriding their decisions. The time will come soon enough that the youngest kids will be making their own decisions. We can see that the Plath parents have allowed the oldest children to be adults and make those choices. I didn’t see Ma or Pa Plath yelling at Ethan when he drank beer at the “surprise party” Olivia arranged (unbeknownst to them) for Moriah. Imagine if one of the Duggar sons had done that! Jim Bob would have thrown a huge fit. The Plath parents just shot a disapproving look at Ethan, rather than making a scene.

It’s supposed to rain today, and I’m expecting a package from Apple. Bought myself an Apple Touch because the 160 GB Classic iPod I have is becoming obsolete. The Touch will handle a lot more music, too. Since I don’t want to go out before the delivery gets here, I’ll probably go watch more of the Plathville episodes. I might change my mind about Kim and Barry Plath after seeing more of season 2, but at this point, I think people are being pretty tough on them. I don’t think they come close to being as dysfunctional as the Duggars are. At least they allow some dissension and will even discuss issues with their children, even if it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant. That, in my book, makes them healthier than some of the other families that have been presented on TLC. However– I do think that any family that agrees to be profiled on TLC is probably a bit on the fucked up side, regardless. But then, that would describe a lot of families, whether or not they are on reality TV. In the Duggar family’s case, I think maybe reality TV helped make them a little more “normal” than they might have been otherwise. But then, some of those kids might not have been born if Boob and Michelle hadn’t needed storylines to keep the gravy train rolling.

Anyway… I think as TLC families go, the Plaths are probably more real than some. And at least I can understand why they are the way they are, to some extent. I’m sure their faith in God helps them deal with the pain of what they’ve been through. Of course, I write all of this realizing that what we’re seeing is a heavily edited TLC product. I’m sure off camera, things aren’t always necessarily the way they appear.

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book reviews, religion

Repost: Kathryn Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Here’s a reposted book review from Epinions, which I wrote in November 2009. It appears as/is. Bear in mind, this was written many years before the Duggar scandals! I have since changed my mind about the Duggar family and their so-called “normalcy”.

It seems like the older I get, the weirder society becomes. Maybe it’s because nowadays, everybody has access to 24 hours of news. Indeed, it’s becoming almost impossible to escape the headlines these days, which by their very nature of “infotainment”, seems to focus on the weird. I remember several years ago when Arkansas mother Michelle Duggar made the news for having her fourteenth baby and being named Arkansas Mother of the Year. It seems like that was the first time I heard anything about the so-called Quiverfull movement, the idea that men should reclaim ultimate control of the government, churches, and their families and women should be strictly relegated to the home, where they would be expected to bear and raise as many children as possible.

After Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar came on the scene with their ever expanding brood of telegenic children (she’s currently pregnant with #19), it seemed like more people involved with the Quiverfull movement started coming out of the woodwork on television, Internet blogs, and in communities. Suddenly, the Quiverfull movement, which had seemed to be an obscure anomaly in American culture, was getting a lot of press. I imagine that’s at least part of the reason why Kathryn Joyce wrote her 2009 book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.

I will admit, I was attracted to this book, in part, because of watching the Duggars on their soon to be yet again renamed reality TV show, 18 Kids and Counting. While the Duggars seem to be relatively normal and even somewhat egalitarian for fundamentalist Christians, I have also had some exposure to fundamentalists who seemed less “normal” in terms of how they viewed gender roles. I wanted to learn more about the roots of this movement and the people involved. I think Kathryn Joyce did a fine job of covering those subjects in her book. She writes about meeting and talking to some of the movers and shakers in the Quiverfull movement and includes some fascinating anecdotes about real people who subscribe to Quiverfull as well as some who fell away from the idea.

What I liked about this book

I think Kathryn Joyce has chosen a fascinating and timely topic to write about. She traveled around the country, collecting stories about people who wholeheartedly believe in letting God be in charge of family planning. I was especially interested, and somewhat dismayed, by her discussion of people who had had tubal ligations and vasectomies reversed so that they might fulfill God’s plan for reproduction. It seemed the pervasive attitude among Quiverfull folks is that messing with one’s fertility is a recipe for disaster; the only way to gain God’s favor and be blessed is to let God’s will dictate family size.

Joyce also discusses patriarchy and the idea that all women should be submissive and subservient to their husbands. Indeed, Joyce writes about some of the issues that can come up when a church encourages absolute submission in a marriage. She relates the story of one unfortunate woman who was abused by her husband. When she sought help from the church in dealing with the situation, she found the church was firmly on her husband’s side. She was admonished for not being submissive enough and for speaking ill of her mate. Another woman, who had actually gone from being a devout liberal to a pioneer in the Quiverfull movement, ended up losing absolutely everything when she and her husband split up.

Joyce also discusses the fact that many people involved in the Quiverfull movement see their children as warriors for God. Each child is like one of God’s arrows, supplied by their faithful parents, in the fight for world domination. She describes one Quiverfull family who frequently shopped at a Middle Eastern grocery store in Nashville, Tennessee. They were friends with the proprietors and happy to give them business, yet they couldn’t help but realize that if radical Islam took hold in the United States, their way of life would likely be threatened. It occurred to them that their Islamic friends would have to “get in line” or be the subject of jihad. So, in many cases, all of the babies born to Christian fundamentalists are, in fact, seen as a source of manpower for the Christian movement.

Joyce also discusses some of the common perceptions and misperceptions people have about families who choose to be mega-sized. She is particularly careful to explain that despite common belief that such large families often end up on welfare, Quiverfull followers actually strive to live debt free and avoid government assistance. They are often masters at thrift and recycling out of economic necessity. I was glad to read this, since I know that other groups that tend to encourage large families– like the FLDS– encourage members to “bleed the beast” by accessing all of the government progams they can.

What I didn’t like about this book

First off, I found it hard to get into at first. I started reading this book several weeks ago and managed to get through it in fits and starts. Some parts of it were really interesting and easy to read. Other parts were somewhat drier and took more effort. Kathryn Joyce writes fairly well, but I found this book somewhat uneven.

Secondly, while I think Joyce tried to present a balanced view of the Quiverfull movement, I kind of got the feeling that she was very opposed to it. The book seemed somewhat biased against the Quiverfull movement, as most of the anecdotes presented in this book were negative. I was left wondering if there were any people out there who were happy with their choice to let God be their fertility counselor. In other words, it seems like Kathryn Joyce had an agenda and, while I might agree with a lot of her observations, I still can’t say this book succeeded in presenting an equal view.

I got the feeling that deep down, the admittedly feminist Joyce felt these people with deep religious convictions were freakish, and no amount of talking with people who followed the Quiverfull movement would change her way of thinking. When it comes down to it, that would make her as intractable as some of the right wing Christians she’s written about. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice the interesting font in this book. The “Q’s” in the typeface all had long, phallic looking tails on them. It sort of came across as a subliminal message.

Overall

I found Quiverfull a basically satisfying read and I learned a lot in the process of finishing it. While I found small parts of it a little slow and larger parts of it less than objective, I think Joyce did a good job in presenting Quiverfull to those who want to read about it. And I’m guessing that many people who choose to read this book are going to pick it up because they do agree with Joyce and her feminist viewpoint. On the other hand, those who are in the Quiverfull movement and have the time to read this book will probably read it with a defensive attitude… and if they really believe in Quiverfull, they’d be right to be defensive.

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