‘Shiny Happy People’ Reveals Who the Real Predators Are
Conservatives love to throw around vile accusations about LGBTQ+ people. Trans people are pedophiles! Queer folks are groomers! As is always the case with religious fanatics, though, it’s all bald-faced projection. Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, the new docuseries streaming on Prime Video, is the latest exposé to demonstrate that.
Shiny Happy People explores the Duggars, the fundamentalist Christian family who became famous for their reality series on TLC, 19 Kids and Counting. On TV, they were portrayed as a huge, lovable family, pushing caravans of shopping carts out of the grocery store to stock their larder, while leaning into wholesome Christian values. In their heyday, the Duggars had close ties to Bill Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles, a fundamentalist training program for Christian families.
If you’ve spent any time at all around Christian fundamentalists, you’ll be utterly unsurprised at what’s going on under the Duggars’ surface. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, along with the rest of the IBLP community, see themselves as the pinnacle of the human race: white and Christian, with their quiver full of children. Like in the recent film Soft & Quiet, scratching the surface just a little reveals the nauseating depravity underneath. The oldest Duggar child, Josh, molested his sisters before being convicted of possessing child pornography. Gothard was a serial sexual harasser who targeted teen girls. The hypocrisy of Christian fundamentalism is so blatant, and the rot in its communities so deep and pervasive, that any outsider can spot it in an instant—and that’s why IBLP, like any other cult, is so obsessed with cutting its adherents off from the outside world.
Christian fundamentalism is a cult
If I sound heated, it’s because the series brought me back to my own experience with fundamentalists while growing up in Orange County, California. Day after day, year after year, students and teachers at school breathlessly detailed for me all the reasons I was going to Hell. Their energy for trying to convert nonbelievers was bottomless. Public events were always crawling with proselytizers, whispering in people’s ears like Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings. Once, while working as a counselor at an arts camp, I caught another counselor “witnessing” to a 10-year-old camper with a common fundamentalist mind game: demanding that the kid tell her if Jesus was a liar, insane, or the literal savior of humankind. The question is designed to corner people, confuse them, and break down their will to push back.
It’s a tactic you see at work in the Duggar documentary. Kids are homeschooled with “wisdom booklets,” filled with woo-woo like “Hands are made of nonliving atoms.” (Eerily, the voice narrating the booklets resembles Miss Minutes from Loki‘s Time Variance Authority. I guess there’s nothing like a cheerful southern drawl to deliver pseudo-spiritual fascist propaganda.) Babies’ wills are broken early through “blanket training,” in which a parent places their infant on a blanket and hits them when they crawl off of it. What would be the weirdest, most horrific day in anyone else’s life is a normal day for a fundamentalist.
How can anyone hit a baby and convince themselves they’re the good guy? It’s because these people don’t live in reality, which is how abuse flourishes so easily in their communities. When the men (and select women) in power inevitably abuse everyone under their control, those victims have no idea that there’s a larger, more rational world out there where they might find help. Like the Jesus riddle they’re so fond of—Liar, insane, or your personal savior? You can only choose one!—Christian fundamentalists prop up their brittle world by hiding all the vastly better options.
Why fundamentalists like the Duggars should scare you
Fundamentalism would be bad enough if it were limited to a fringe cult. As Shiny Happy People makes clear, however, that fundamentalists are aiming for world domination. You know those antisemitic conspiracy theories right-wingers love to spread? Or their constant fear-mongering about the “gay agenda?” Those myths are meant to distract us from the fact that fundamentalists literally want to take over the world. And whether it’s training militias of brainwashed homeschooled boys or installing lawmakers through their Generation Joshua program, they’re hard at work making their dream a reality.
There’s so much more to unpack in Shiny Happy People—the complicity of TLC in the exploitation of the Duggar kids and the spread of Gothard’s cult, for example, or the heartwrenching stories of survivors who escaped IBLP—but as I watched, I kept thinking back to high school. How did I ever take these people’s beliefs seriously? The leaders of this movement are clowns, grifters, and predators. What’s frightening is the sheer amount of wealth and power they’ve accumulated. If you only take one thing from Shiny Happy People, make it this: the fundamentalist movement needs to be stopped in its tracks, for the sake of all the victims still trapped inside it, and anyone who doesn’t want to be crushed under a Christo-fascist regime.
(featured image: Prime Video)
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