By Its Cover
or White Privilege, Judgmentalism and Duggars, Oh Boy!
Warning: This is long and I talk a great deal about how my daughter was treated by “Good Christians”. These are my impressions, not necessarily the views of anyone else.
Yesterday I took a little trip from my bungalow in Washington DC/Northern Virginia suburbia to another Northern Virginia section of suburbia to see TLC's “19 Kids & Counting” Duggars up close and in person. I took my college-aged daughter Laura from her studies at George Mason to the signing of Jana, Jill, Jinger and Jessa's book, “Growing Up Duggar”
We'd decided to have a fun outing and then go to the book signing late last week. I have to admit I was curious as to Laura's view of young ladies in her own age bracket that still toed many of the same religious lines we'd both done back in our days in Fundamentalism and Evangelical circles. Little did I realize when we made our plans to attend the signing at Alexandria's Family Christian Bookstore that the encounter would reveal much to me about the nature of judging a book by its cover.
That particular Family Christian Bookstore is on Route 1, a mere stones throw from Mount Vernon and Fort Belvoir, both places that represent freedom. Freedom in the shadow of religious oppression.
Once we arrived at the strip mall holding this store and a host of other stores we could see that the parking lot was full up. Imagine my surprise when I realized that there were more people at this book signing than at one last year at a nearby Barnes and Noble for a former President of the United States. The sad truth is that Americans appear to be more eager to rub elbows with reality television stars instead of leaders and great humanitarians.
The store held a line of white middle class ladies wearing mom jeans with little girls here and there. Some men, some boys and absolutely no people of color at all, unless you counted the several African Americans working the store registers. It was crowded and somewhat chaotic, the entire store was filled with all these eager well-scrubbed white folks looking like they would have fit in perfectly at any John Birch Society function. Less Fundy, more Reality TV Show junkies.
As the part-Jew mostly Cajun I was about the darkest one there, which always gives me the creeps.
But way my daughter was treated as soon as we joined the long line snaking through the store was the biggest surprise of the night.
First I must explain my daughter's latest look. She's dyed her chin length hair two differing shades of bright red. She's a pretty girl, had an appropriate amount of makeup on, wore a bright red wool trenchcoat and ombre circle scarf over jeans and layered shirts. She was dressed like just about every girl on the campus of George Mason, it was only the hair that was a bit outre. But she spent the night being treated like the spawn of Satan by just about every 'official' type person we encountered from moment one.
As we lined up one of the store employees handed out cards we were supposed to fill out with 'encouragements' for the Duggars. The worker handed one out of each of the six people before us, handed me one, and then handed them out to all the people behind us. He skipped Laura! Plus I saw the look he gave her, sort of a get behind me Satan glare.
But it was when she went out to seek a restroom and returned where it got very weird. The lady representing the Chick Fil A in the Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Virginia, owned by Jeff Burke, took one look at Laura trying to enter the store right behind her and purposely shut the door in Laura's face. Later she was distributing Chick Fil A freebie coupons and did the same thing the FCB flunkie did, give things to those immediately in front of us and immediately behind and everywhere else, but deliberately skip Laura.
This behavior continued the rest of the night, people looking at Laura as if she were some dyed haired Jezebel. Echos of “Gone With The Wind' Mammy saying, “Do you know a dyed haired woman?”
Laura handled it with grace and peace, but we spent the hour and half in line giggling and whispering with Laura reading aloud to me parts of the book that were ridiculous and braying with laughter. She was tickled by the antiquated advice on relationships in the book. Her comment upon seeing the Duggars in the flesh was that they seemed more normal and less freaky than on the television.
Plus Laura wasn't the only one getting the bums rush. Several local street people wandered in and were encouraged to wander right back out and away. My heart broke for them, seemingly homeless older African-American men who came in just to see what all the fuss was about and treated with something less than Christian love and charity.
There was a large amount of Duck Dynasty merchandise in the store. So people were flipping out publicly months ago when Cracker Barrel and Wal Mart kept selling Duck Dynasty merchandise when Phil Robertson made his ignorant remarks, yet no one once mentioned that Family Christian Bookstore also carries a full line of Duck Dynasty merchandise. When did hate become a Christian family value?
There was a kerfuffle and moaning in the crowd when it was announced that the Duggar girls would not sign any books purchased anywhere else. You had to buy a copy of the book there right then, with it's special imprint, before you could have it signed. People were upset because many of them had already purchased a cheaper copy of the book on Amazon and Family Christian Bookstore was not going to allow them to have it signed.
Then the Duggars arrived, actually it was the rest of the family, not the four eldest girls or Josh Duggar. The film crew arrived, taking the store from crowded to bursting at the seams. Between the lights, the crowd and everything else it started getting red hot in there. The crowd was woohooing and cheering as Michelle climbed up on a chair and started speaking.
She welcomed everyone and spoke for a few minutes, but I cannot tell you what she said because I was trying to angle for a decent photo with my crappy cell phone camera. She could have been shouting out cult instructions or Satanic recipes and I wouldn't have known as I'd tuned out her voice to jockey for camera position. Michelle was followed by Jim Bob announcing that the girls were with Josh doing an interview for American Family Radio and would be arriving soon. This was well after the announced time that the event would start.
The remaining Duggar offspring flipped into automatic performance mode, like some cut-rate version of the Sound of Music family and sang several songs. For me this was the absolutely creepiest part of the night. I got chills, not in a good way, from the singing and presented perfection. I can't explain why I found it creepy, but it was.
Then the girls arrived, darting into the door rapidly, parting the crowd as they rushed to the tables set up for the signing. They passed so closely in front of Laura and I that we could have reached out and cast blessings or cursings right on their heads. And so finally the line began to move.
Once we got to the head of the line Laura took a shot of me with Jill, Jana and Jinger. I made small talk with Jill and Jana about how they'd have mighty writers cramp before the evening was over. All four of the girls were beautiful, except I was surprised to see how much makeup each wore. Jessa had her fiance Ben Seewald with her and I have to say I simply wasn't impressed. He came off like a very shy teenaged boy, doing what they told him, eyes down, concentrating on signing books. Of course, I could be mistaken about Ben, he hadn't been raised in this public circus like the rest.
The line was moving very slowly so you did have a chance to talk a bit as you waited for the family ahead of you to quit posing for photos. I spoke with Joseph, asking him how he liked coming out to the DC area to visit his big brother Josh. He waxed enthusiastic about visiting all the different places and events in the area. Sweet kid.
My Laura hung back, said little to nothing to the Duggar kids and that was fine.
The next time the line moved forward a bit I ended up in front of Anna, Josh's wife and she started talking to me. In the course of our interaction I have to say that she seems like the most normal of the entire family. I was charmed by her niceness. We talk a little of how different this area is to live in that just about anywhere. She's kind and gracious.
Someone has obviously restyled Anna, she looks like she could fit in well with any Washington group of ladies. She's been refined to a more classic look with the hair and makeup now. Again, prevailing culture making an impact on someone instead of the other way around. Looks like the move away from the family was a positive one for Anna, she seemed much more self-assured than she has in the television show.
Josh slipped in and sat down next to his wife, flustered and rushed. His hair is in retreat and I got the impression of a man with more demands on his time than he actually has time. He looks older than his years.
Laura and I oohed and ahhed over the absolute over the top cuteness of the youngest girls so seriously signing the books and Laura remarked that Anna was going to end up wearing a lot of permanent marker and Jim Bob laughed, saying that he might have to give the younger ones washable markers instead of Sharpies.
And then, the end of the line, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. I posed for a photo between the two and I told Jim Bob I was there representing No Longer Quivering of Patheos Faith platform. Told him that the kids were beautiful, because they absolutely are.
My impression of le Pere et Mere Duggar is that Michelle wears the pants. I have no evidence of that, it was just things I observed in body language and interactions. Jim Bob seemed pleasant enough, except that from tales I've heard from pals in Arkansas and some of his behavior last night I think he has an unhealthy dash of wanting to be recognized. He's enjoying his fame.
The children all seemed happy, healthly and well cared for, both Laura and I thought so. But much of the night just seemed to reinforce that the main body of folks there are so very far removed from the words and actions of Jesus.