Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets
Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets is a four-episode documentary television series that premiered on the Amazon Prime streaming service on June 2, 2023. Co-directed by Olivia Crist and Julia Willoughby Newton, the series uses the Duggar family of Arkansas, and the fame they acquired through the TLC reality television series 19 Kids and Counting, as a means of exploring the broader impact of Christian fundamentalism on American society and culture. The series attracted particular attention due to the involvement of Jill Duggar Dillard, who, as an adult, distanced herself from her parents and their ideology and publicly remonstrated her father for controlling the family’s lives and not allowing other family members a share in the monetary earnings their television show generated.
The Duggar family, based in Tontitown (Washington County), first came to national prominence with the 2004 documentary television series 14 Kids and Pregnant Again! The large family was in keeping with the fundamentalist religious beliefs of parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who were part of the “Quiverfull” movement, a Christian natalist and nationalist movement that eschews any birth control or natural family planning. However, the immense number of children was regarded as a novelty by television producers, who ordered a regular series, 17 Kids and Counting, which began airing on the TLC (formerly The Learning Channel) network in 2008. Part of Jim Bob Duggar’s requirements for the series was the highlighting of their religious beliefs.
The series continued until 2015, when it was revealed that the eldest child, Josh Duggar, had been investigated for having molested four of his sisters and one other girl when he was fourteen years old. Josh Duggar also admitted to marital infidelity and viewing pornography. Certain Duggar family members participated in the TLC series Counting On, but in 2017 Jill Dillard and her husband Derick Dillard left the show. Counting On was officially canceled in 2021 after Josh Duggar was arrested for possession of materials related to child sexual abuse.
Shiny Happy People covers the history of the Duggar family as a cultural phenomenon through interviews with scholars and internet influencers but also includes personal background on the Duggar parents, as recalled by Jim Bob’s sister Deanna, niece Amy King, and family friends such as former state legislator Jim Holt and wife Bobye. Most notably, Jill and Derick Dillard provided interviews to the filmmakers, describing an interview Jill and Jessa did in 2015 with Fox News star Megyn Kelly, in which they exonerated brother Josh for his sexual assault, as a “suicide mission” aimed at keeping the family profitable as a cultural enterprise. Jill and Derick Dillard also revealed that all of the earnings from their various reality television ventures went straight to Jim Bob Duggar; the children earned nothing from their involvement.
Despite its focus on the Duggars, the series examines the broader cultural context in which the Duggars exist, most notably the Institute in Basic Life Principles, an organization founded by evangelist Bill Gothard and of which he remained the leader until his ouster in 2014 following continued revelations of his practices of sexually harassing young women working with him. The filmmakers interviewed numerous victims of the culture of sexual assault common at IBLP institutions, as well as victims of Gothard specifically. The last episode delves deeply into Gothard’s idea of the “Joshua Generation” and his plans for IBLP followers to infiltrate the U.S. government at its highest echelons.
On June 1, 2023, the day before the series was available to the public, Jim Bob Duggar posted to the family blog “A Note from Jim Bob and Michelle” about Shiny Happy People. In the post, Duggar accuses “the media and those with ill intentions” of “hurting people we love.” He adds: “Like other families, ours too has experienced the joys and heartbreaks of life, just in a very public format….We have always believed that the best chance to repair damaged relationships, or to reconcile differences, is through love in a private setting.” As the series launched, Jill Dillard announced the forthcoming book Counting the Cost: A Memoir, co-written with her husband and Craig Borlase and scheduled for release in January 2024.
According to industry trade journal Variety, Shiny Happy People had the largest debut of any documentary series produced by Amazon Studios, raising the possibility of a second season of the show.
For additional information:
Batey, Eve. “Shiny Happy People Goes Way beyond Duggar Family Secrets.” Vanity Fair, June 8, 2023. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2023/06/shiny-happy-people-duggar-family-secrets-interview (accessed August 8, 2023).
Del Rosario, Alexandra. “What ‘Shiny Happy People’ Reveals about the Duggars: ‘We were taken advantage of.’” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2023. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2023-05-30/shiny-happy-people-duggar-family-highlights-amazon-studios (accessed August 8, 2023).
French, David. “‘Shiny Happy People,’ Fundamentalism and the Toxic Quest for Certainty.” New York Times, June 13, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/13/opinion/shiny-happy-people.html (accessed August 8, 2023).
Horton, Adrian. “‘Insidious Organization: A Reality TV Family and the Dangers of Fundamentalism.” Guardian, June 1, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2023/jun/01/shiny-happy-people-duggar-family-amazon (accessed August 8, 2023).
Lancaster, Guy. “‘Bigger than the Duggars’: ‘Shiny Happy People’ Exposes the Real Groomers.” Arkansas Times, July 2023, pp. 23–27. https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2023/06/05/defection-dominance-and-misogyny-in-docuseries-shiny-happy-people-duggar-family-secrets (accessed September 1, 2023.
Posner, Sarah. “New Duggar Family Doc Should Have Burned Far More than a Reality Show to the Ground.” MSNBC, June 6, 2023. https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/duggar-family-documentary-shiny-happy-people-amazon-prime-rcna87740 (accessed September 1, 2023).
“Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets.” Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt27715627/ (accessed August 8, 2023).
Wilkinson, Alissa. “Shiny Happy People Is a Great Reminder of Why Cult Documentaries Should Exist.” Vox, June 13, 2023. https://www.vox.com/culture/23759377/shiny-happy-people-gothard-duggar-family-iblp-ati-keep-sweet (accessed August 8, 2023).
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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