Docuseries “Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets” released on Amazon Prime Video on Friday (June 2), giving viewers a closer look at the life and theology of reality stars Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, as well as some of their 19 children.
Divided into four episodes, the series follows the Duggar family’s rise to fame, their involvement with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), IBLP founder Bill Gothard’s teachings, and the experiences of others whose upbringings were shaped by those teachings.
The series paints a picture of authoritarian patriarchy, rife with spiritual and sexual abuse.
Featured interviewees include extended Duggar family members, former family friends, former members of the movement of which the Duggars are a part, as well as Jill Duggar Dillard and her husband Derick Dillard, who gave an insider’s view on the events that have unfolded within the Duggar family.
Episode 1: Meet the Duggars
The first episode of the limited series focused on how the Duggar family was shaped by Bill Gothard’s teachings, as well as their rise to fame.
“Doing an interview like this isn’t easy,” admitted Jill Duggar Dillard in the opening shots of the episode. “Like, I didn’t want to do it.”
“There are a lot of families that are in a similar situation,” Jill went on to say. “But it was very different in the sense that my family was on television.”
The first season of “17 Kids and Counting” came to TLC in 2008, with the show eventually being renamed “18 Kids and Counting” and “19 Kids and Counting,” and giving way to spin-off show “Counting On.”
The success of the reality program propelled the Duggar family into national fame. Archival footage of a meet-and-greet event showed one man who told a film crew that he wanted to name his child after Duggar patriarch, Jim Bob, because “Jim Bob is the man.”
Amy Duggar King, niece to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, told interviewers that she once asked her uncle why he agreed to have his family star in the show, since he didn’t “believe in TV.”
“Well, this is ministry,” he reportedly replied.
The documentary characterized the Duggar family as the “poster children” for IBLP, a “quiverfull” Christian resourcing ministry founded by Bill Gothard, whose vision for family life emphasized submission for wives, obedience for children, and personal separation from broader American culture.
Jill said that the Duggar family had been involved with IBLP, which also places a central focus on homeschooling, for as long as she could remember. As the family grew in popularity, the Duggars became something of a recruiting tool for the organization, its theology, and its seminars and curriculums.
Both IBLP as an organization and the broader culture it created have long been the subject of abuse accusations. Such accusations hit home for the Duggars. The family’s eldest son, Josh, is serving a 12-year prison sentence for child pornography.
While Josh was a teenager, he admitted to molesting four of his sisters, along with a family babysitter. No legal action was taken against him. Instead, Josh spent time at a IBLP camp in an effort to rehabilitate him.
“In this community, the word ‘abuse’ doesn’t really exist,” said abuse survivor advocate Emily Elizabeth Anderson.
Married at ages 19 and 17 respectively, Jim Bob and Michelle are portrayed as initially only wanting a few children. However, after Michelle became pregnant while on birth control and subsequently miscarried, the couple came to believe that Christians “should have as many kids as you’re capable of having, until your body tells you to stop.”
After becoming involved with conservative causes such as the pro-life movement, Jim Bob was elected and served two terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives. He later ran for the U.S. Senate, but lost.
However, the national attention Jim Bob received gave way to a magazine profile, a series of documentary television specials, and eventually the family’s reality show.