(See also: “Thank God for SuperNanny” by Natalie Stilwell)
At the last judgment, when all the nations are gathered together, the book of life is opened, and the hidden counsels of each man’s heart are brought to light, I believe that it will be both to the glory of God and to the saints who have overcome their failings. But for now, it is painfully embarrassing to have one’s foibles exposed and dirty laundry aired for all to see.
So it’s hard for me to understand why anyone would allow their dirty laundry aired on national television—even before as good natured an audience as Natalie Stilwell describes. I am, however, more skeptical than she of the disposition of most viewers watching these reality-television shows. Some viewers may earnestly cheer on the floundering families on SuperNanny and come away with helpful child-rearing advice, but I suspect most simply pause in their channel surfing to watch, out of sick curiosity, these domestic disasters just as they would slow down on the highway to gawk at a car accident. Or perhaps they tune in for a whole episode because “’tis sweet,” as Lucretius said, “to watch another’s laboring anguish far, / Not that we joyously delight that man / Should thus be smitten, but because ‘tis sweet / To mark what evils we ourselves be spared.”
It is even harder for me to understand why any parent would allow their children to be so exposed. It may be true that the parents are always at the root of their domestic dramas, but the show certainly doesn’t illustrate their children’s shining moments.
I can look back on my own worst childhood behavior with a mild sense of shame and a tremendous sense of gratitude that there are only five other people in the world who witnessed most of these antics. But for the children on shows like SuperNanny all of their worst moments—the kicking, biting, spitting, and screaming—are all carefully documented, broadcasted to millions of strangers (always with the possibility of reruns); perhaps the more extreme tantrums are edited and posted on YouTube to be circulated through e-mail among people who will never know any of the children’s more endearing qualities or how they may have grown out of their bad behaviors.
The parents on these shows, by going on these shows, seem careless of their children’s feelings and their good name. We naturally desire that the people we love should be loved and esteemed by others. We should, therefore, be fiercely protective of the beloved’s good name and image—Mr. Darcy, Jane Austen speculated, would prize “any picture of [Elizabeth Darcy] too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye.” These parents expose not any picture of their children to the public eye, but the worst picture.
Meghan Duke is a junior fellow at First Things.