Gawking vs. Learning

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I’ve been watching a lot of TLC lately, and it seems like the angle of that network is essentially, ‘Watch this nice family deal with situations that would make you cry or cringe.’  I’m a fan of ‘17 Kids and Counting‘ about the Duggar family in Arkansas (all 17 kids have J names, including, sadly, Jinger) and last night I watched the TLC special about Purity Balls.

Both shows look at the sexual politics of intensely evangelical communities with a kind of wide-eyed barely-disguised horror.  As in Can you believe how crazy these people are with their seventeen kids and their virginity?

On the one hand, I’m right there with TLC.  I really love children, but the idea of giving birth seventeen times is enough to send me running to Planned Parenthood.  And I adore my dad, but I think we’d both rather break bones than dress up with a pseudo prom complete with purity pledges and dances in tu-tus.  Blech.

On the other hand, I don’t love the way that these programs are approaching people whose lives really aren’t that extraordinary.  Until pretty recently birth control wasn’t an option at all for most women, so if you happened to be a fertile myrtle and you liked having sex, seventeen kids wasn’t out of the question.  And there have always been lots of people who wait to have sex until they get married–and do it without the awkward prom hair and signed pledge cards to Daddy.

This reminds me of AJ Jacobs’s book, The Year of Living Biblically.  The premise of the book was that he was going to live life according to the Bible–as if that’s such a novel choice.  Unfortunately, Jacobs couldn’t actually do what he set out to (couldn’t even keep Shabbat, for God’s sake!) and also, the idea isn’t all that original, considering there are literally millions of people trying to do that very same thing on any given day.

TLC is short for The Learning Channel, but it seems like it could more accurately be called The Gawking Channel.  If you want to learn about sex and birth control in Jewish law, tradition and life, here are MJL we can’t send you to any crazy videos of huge families in Mea Shearim, or girls who remain virgins until they get married, but we can point you toward some real information about those issues so you can think about them, and come to your own conclusions.

Posted on November 3, 2008

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