Media Representation of the Childfree Choice

Media Representation of the Childfree Choice
Mega media outlet Discovery Communications LLC has a disconcerting ability to showcase drastically contradictory lifestyle choices on multiple channels, cleverly avoiding a clear show of support for any particular belief system. Seemingly. Divisively. Look closely at the lists of shows presented on all the Discovery channels ( and paradoxes abound. Glaringly apparent is a distinct support for large families, active breeding without self-reflection and social conscience, and absolutely no attempt to showcase anyone with a positive childfree lifestyle.

This is particularly frightening in light of the Discovery mission statement and company overview:

"Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is the world's number one nonfiction media company reaching more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers in 170 countries. Discovery empowers people to explore their world and satisfy their curiosity through 100-plus worldwide networks, led by Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Science Channel, Planet Green, Investigation Discovery and HD Theater, as well as leading consumer and educational products and services, and a diversified portfolio of digital media services including"

TLC (The Learning Channel) sports the most blatant breeder-oriented array of Discovery shows including mega-family hit 19 Kids and Counting, the daily saga of the Arkansas-based Duggar family. Also popular on TLC is a sizeable selection of pregnancy and large-family lifestyle shows: I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, Kate Plus Eight, Quints by Surprise, Sextuplets Take New York, Sister Wives (Polygamy) and Toddlers and Tiaras. Happily, TLC is canceling Sarah Palin's big-families-with-guns Alaska next season.

Only a handful of shows out of more than 30 feature a protagonist not overtly involved in child care and family life including: LA Ink's Kat Von D, Stacy London of What Not to Wear, and one or two of the women featured in episodes of the Police Women series. And, significantly, these shows are not the usual TLC pseudo social science voyeuristic fare. They focus on activities and work, rather than characters and home life so (perhaps inadvertently perhaps not) the protagonist's childfree lifestyles are never exposed.

This denial of childfree people by Discovery LLC is very disturbing. This is a major media conduit claiming to be the voice of nonfiction and disseminator of American/Western cultural values to a worldwide audience. Discovery purports to be inclusive of all lifestyles while denying that the childfree lifestyle of over 25 percent of the population exists as a choice at all. Through exclusion of any constructive discourse on childfree options, Discovery actually advocates for large-family lifestyles.

An especially irritating irony in the Discovery Channel line-up is the portrayal of animal hoarders as mentally ill in the Animal Planet Show, Confessions: Animal Hoarding, described as "an unflinchingly honest look at a human condition that affects people and animals." While, in comparison, 19 Kids and Counting portrays the Duggar family in a positive light - hardly an unflinching and honest look at hoarders of human beings. Discovery LLC apparently sees no connection between animal hoarding and child hoarding, or even acknowledges that child hoarding might exist as a pathological condition.

Yet, many of the traits portrayed as sick in Confessions: Animal Hoarding are apparent in 19 Kids and Counting: parents not able to attend adequately to too many children/animals with diversified needs, denial of personal needs by care givers, and denial that over breeding leads to over population and is ultimately detrimental to the species. In the Discovery world, animal hoarders are denigrated, kid hoarders are celebrated and glorified.

Interestingly, one of the several major cable Discovery channels, Discovery Health Channel, recently developed into OWN, the Oprah Winfey Network. To her credit, last week Oprah interviewed the Octomom, Nadya Suleman. She was harshly critical of her multi-kid lifestyle and was aided by financial consultant Suze Ormand in addressing the unsustainability of maintaining 14 children as a single mother. Ormand also exposed the facts that Suleman borrowed most of the money needed for her fertility treatments, and that she is now bankrupt.

Media hog that she is, Suleman giddily admitted on television that she has an addiction to having children, "As soon as I gave birth I felt empty and started thinking about having another one...Like an addict with drugs," Suleman emphasizes. As far as I know, Oprah Winfrey is the first celebrity talk show host to address the issue of child-addiction. I only hope she can maintain her clarity and point of view when her show moves further under the roof of Discovery LLC.

Clearly, The World's Number One Nonfiction Media Company obviously does not consider living without kids to be a valid lifestyle choice. In the Discovery world childfree people are concealed, with lifestyles not deserving of any attention at all. This is rather alarming coming from a conglomerate that vigorously claims its point of view embraces global "reality" and is very effective at disseminating pseudo social science to the masses. The 25-percent-and-growing childfree segment of the population needs to stand up now in greater numbers and request equal media representation and validation.

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