The season premiere of TLC’s Jon and Kate Plus Eight came with plenty of media attention and controversy. Aunt Jodi and Uncle Kevin, who appeared in previous episodes of Jon and Kate Plus Eight, used television and magazine interviews to express concern for the Gosselin children’s well-being and claim the children are being exploited.
Allegations are flying that the rival family members are motivated by greed and wish only to profit for themselves without regard for the children involved. Instead of trying to determine whose version of the truth is accurate, looking to the past gives some insight.
Canada’s Famous Multiples
The Dionne quintuplets, born in Ontario, Canada in 1934, spent the first nine years of their lives in the public eye. The Canadian government declared their parents unfit and took custody of the girls as newborns. The Dionne quints lived in a special nursery, dubbed Quintland, open to the public. The girls became a tourist attraction and their likeness appeared on a variety of souvenir merchandise. Holidays were celebrated early to allow time for photographers to capture the moment and sell the photos to newspapers.
After a custody battle, the Dionne family regained custody of their daughters. Their reprieve from the limelight provided little relief and the three living adult sisters later recounted their unhappy childhood and abusive family life in their autobiography, Dionne Sisters: Family Secrets. Although some estimates claim Quintland generated as much as $500 million, very little money made it to the Dionne sisters. Once the girls reached adulthood, their $1 million dollar trust fund was worth $800,000.
Child actor Jackie Coogan was at the peak of his career in the 1920s starring in films alongside Charlie Chaplin. It was not until adulthood that Coogan realized his parents spent most of his earnings. Following public outcry, California enacted the Coogan Law in 1939 to protect the earnings of child actors. A stricter version of the law remains in effect today and requires fifteen percent of minor’s earnings be put into a blocked trust account.
As reality show stars, child actor laws do not apply to the Gosselins. There are no provisions to protect their earnings. TLC sells assorted items, including postage stamps, stickers, buttons, mugs and clothing that feature the show, the children and phrases such as “Kate is GR8”.
The Future of Reality TV
The fourth wall is down and viewers are keenly aware of what happens behind the scenes. With the popularity of reality television shows starring children, clear legislation which protects children and their earnings is overdue.
Price of Fame, ABCNews.
Coogan Law, SAG.org.
The Story of the Dionne Quintuplets, PBS.org.
The Dionne Quintuplets, CNN.com.