stained and tainted
Reading Time: 7 minutes (Majid Gheidarlou.)
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Last week, the Duggar clown car family hit the headlines again. Unsurprisingly, those headlines centered on the arrest of family scion Josh Duggar. Federal authorities charged him with possessing child pornography. Slowly, news has been trickling out about what his father, Jim Bob Duggar, knew and how he handled his eldest son’s impending arrest. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear about his reactions, either. His family struggles hard these days — not with substantively addressing Josh Duggar’s sickening perversion and degeneracy, no, but rather with protecting their family’s two increasingly tainted brands. Today, I’ll show you what the Duggar brand is and how the Duggar patriarch is desperately trying to protect it from that taint.

stained and tainted
(Majid Gheidarlou.)

How a Brand Becomes Tainted.

In business speak, a company’s brand is its own collective identification and representation of its products and reputation. That brand is the means by which customers will recognize that company and its offerings. As one would expect, each company’s brand is, ideally, unique and recognizable as its own and nobody else’s. Companies create branding as quickly as they can. Then, they push that branding as hard as they can through advertising and marketing.

But sometimes, something happens that irrevocably damages a company’s brand in the public’s eyes. Often, that damage comes in the form of some huge scandal caused by the company or its leaders. When that happens, the brand is said to have become “tainted.”

In 2018, the New York Times declared the brand of Wynn Resorts “tainted” after its leader, Steve Wynn, was accused of sexual misconduct. After those allegations surfaced, marketing folks expected potential and existing customers to think again about patronizing Wynn-branded businesses:

“The Wynn brand is going to take a hit, there’s no question about it,” said Paul Friederichsen, a partner at the Blake Project, a brand marketing and consulting firm. “The question is: How long?”

Friederichsen further advised the Wynn company to address the scandal directly and quickly. That seems to be standard advice in the business world. It’s much the same action taken by a Chinese milk-producing company after the 2008 infant formula scandal there.

Evangelicalism as a Tainted Brand.

I’ve long considered evangelical Christianity itself a tainted brand. Once a signal of wholesomeness, fervor, and family togetherness, it’s become a sordid cesspit of cruel zealotry and nonstop sex scandals.

Some years back, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches began hiding their official affiliation with their denomination. They’d gotten the feeling that marking their affiliation with the SBC was causing them problems with churn, retention, and recruitment. The SBC denomination itself even began flirting with the idea of changing its name to escape its own reputation!

Unfortunately, these covert SBC churches were still left with the problem of actually being evangelical.

In 2019, the world learned that the more Americans knew about religion generally, the less they liked evangelical Christians themselves. To discover this relationship between knowledge and dislike, Pew Forum asked Americans a bunch of questions about various religions. People who answered 8 or fewer questions (out of 32 total) correctly rated themselves a 53 overall on warmth toward evangelicals (out of 100). So they were so-so on evangelicals. But people who answered 25-32 of Pew’s questions correctly rated themselves a 43 toward evangelicals!

I’m sure that figure has only gotten worse since then. American evangelicals in particular have spent the two years since that survey constantly antagonizing their fellow Americans with their nonstop overreach, endless sex scandals, and shocking cruelty — not to mention their bizarre idolization of Donald Trump and their well-known adoption of QAnon conspiracy theories.

In short, evangelicalism has become hopelessly tainted with a number of Americans.

The Duggars as a Brand of their own.

For many years now, the Duggar family has existed in the evangelical world as a brand all its own. This family has sprouted a number of reality-TV shows and specials and nearly-constant coverage in entertainment and lifestyle websites and magazines. Led by corn-fed authoritarian overlord Jim Bob Duggar and accompanied by his breathy-voiced wife Michelle, this family presents itself to the world as a wholesome, involved, happy family that enjoys both endless hilarious hijinks and boundless love for each other. It surprised me a bit that they managed to sail above the overall tainting of the evangelical brand.

Jim Bob’s brand is how he’s been able to afford to feed all those kids. Without it, he would sink — and quickly.

Alas, though, he can’t actually live up to his own marketing. His ideology can’t do what he claims it does. Its central mechanisms don’t work.

As a result, this happy shiny family is actually a nightmare of abuse and power-lust. Its powerful members damage every single powerless person who falls under their sway.

The Duggars have managed to differentiate themselves from the brand of evangelicalism as a whole, presenting themselves as a brand of their very own.

But reality keeps tainting that brand! It does not represent who the Duggars themselves really are, and it never has.

Protecting a Tainted Brand.

Amazingly, after Josh Duggar’s endless scandals in 2015, Jim Bob Duggar managed to maintain his brand — somewhat. He lost his main TV show19 Kids and Counting, sure. However, his other, non-Josh kids remained popular. His network, TLC, immediately started a spinoff show about them called Counting On.

Everyone just tried not to talk much about Josh or his antics behind the scenes as the eternal screw-up sought endlessly to feed his own growing family. Josh didn’t appear in the Duggars’ TV shows or specials and rarely got mentioned in the family’s social media, and largely people just kinda forgot about them.

Even when Josh’s used-car dealership got raided in 2019, which Jim Bob’s representative tried initially to deny happened at all, the Duggar brand remained fairly solid.

(After that, Josh struggled to find employment. In January 2021, The Sun reported that he was unemployed and that his family lived in a bleak, windowless warehouse on his dad’s property.)

I’m sure Jim Bob felt a lot of relief that many fans still enthusiastically supported his overall brand despite what he and Josh kept doing to it. Speaking of which:

How Jim Bob Duggar Protects His Tainted Brand Now.

Knowing all this about Christian marketing, I wasn’t even half surprised to see stories trickling out about how Jim Bob handled this latest scandal caused by his wayward eldest son.

A recent story in The Sun revealed that Jim Bob “warned the family” that Josh’s arrest was “imminent.” They wrote:

A source exclusively revealed to The Sun that the Counting On patriarch, 55, told his children on Thursday morning that Josh was going into custody for serious federal charges.

Moreover, a source told The Sun:

“He [Jim Bob] asked them all to pray for Josh and Anna, and trust that God would bring them closer together through the tough time.

“He also asked them to not speak publicly about the arrest or any issues with Josh.”

I love how this authoritarian choad set that prayer request before his demands for silence. It’s like he was yanking on a dog’s chain before issuing a stern command. Remember, you represent our shared brand, that request tells me. Now obey me.

Silence is truly the best shield an awful person could possibly hope to have. If everyone maintains silence, then their abuse and wrongdoing can run unchecked indefinitely. It doesn’t stop until someone makes it stop, and people can’t make it stop if they don’t know it’s happening.

A Possible End to the Duggar Empire.

Alas for Jim Bob, it looks like some of his “dogs” aren’t obeying. Daughter Jessa offered her Instagram followers her hopes for “the truth to be exposed.” Another daughter, Jill, cut ties with her family about a year ago — and her husband Derick has been speaking out lately about the problems in Jim Bob’s fiefdom.

The Hollywood Gossip (HG) called their May 4 story “Derick Dillard on Josh Duggar Arrest: This is the End of Jim Bob’s Media Empire!” Derick’s been releasing bits of interesting information for days now — including something about why they left Counting On back in 2017. In 2020, Jill claimed that she and Derick left because “we just wanted more control of our own lives.” But a few days ago, HG reveals an explanation from Derick that might be closer the truth:

For example, when one follower praised TLC for handling the situation [some scandal of Josh’s] well, Derick was quick to correct their misinterpretation.

“How do you know how it was handled? It was not handled well,” Derick responded. “The public was deceived. Their plan worked. And we were told to keep filming and keep our mouths shut,” he said. “We called their bluff and left.”

According to that HG story, Derick also revealed that some of the other Duggar kids may also be working toward their own escapes:

“How do you know they’re not trying to leave?” he wrote. “They didn’t know what we knew when when [we?] knew it. As I’ve said before, we were told to not talk to the others about what we learned,” Derick continued. “And based on our history, I don’t know what scare tactics are used on the others to keep them compliant.”

“Scare tactics.” That’s quite a subtle accusation.

Desperate Self-Interest vs Marketing Promises.

Many people, back when the Duggars began showboating on TV, actually considered them a good advertisement for their wackadoo flavor of Christianity, Quiverfull. However, it sounds like Quiverfull lost “most of its members” after their own brand got irrevocably tainted by a sex scandal in 2014.

That scandal didn’t cause the Duggars to question their affiliation with the movement even once, though. They still believed Quiverfull’s marketing — even when their own eldest son, raised by Quiverfull principles, turned out to be a sex abuser, predator, and overall sleaze. But his parents don’t care.

In turn, the Duggars survived so many scandals because Christians in general tend to believe their own marketing. They can’t imagine their salespeople fibbing about anything. Heck, they don’t even recognize who these salespeople even are.

So let me help them out:

Their pastors are salespeople.

Their evangelists are salespeople.

And yes, the people orchestrating all these reality-TV Duggar performances are salespeople.

A salesperson’s income depends utterly upon purchases of their product. As a result, they do not offer their marks disinterested opinions or evaluations of those products. They offer, instead, desperately self-interested sales pitches.

If people don’t buy what these salespeople are selling, their livelihoods will suffer dramatically.

So I wonder how Jim Bob Duggar and his brand will fare after this latest scandal. His performers are getting restive, and his eldest son is wrecking his family brand’s credibility — and that of evangelicalism as a whole. I don’t think the authoritarian rulers of either brand will take these problems lightly.

NEXT UP: Christian authoritarians try hard to shame American women into having more babies. It isn’t working, though, and we’ll see why tomorrow. See you then!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...