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TLC has created an arsenal of wildly successful reality television shows by sensationalizing the stories of unusual people. But what happens when the network's search for ratings gold comes at the expense of vulnerable LGBT people?
On January 11, TLC aired its controversial one-hour special, My Husband's Not Gay. The show followed the stories of four men who admit to being attracted to other men but choose - primarily for religious reasons - to pursue heterosexual relationships. LGBT groups like GLAAD called the show "downright irresponsible" for its promotion of the widely discredited idea that people can choose to not be gay. By the time the program aired, over 100,000 people had signed a Change.org petition calling for it to be cancelled.
TLC dismissed criticism of the program, stating that the network "has long shared compelling stories about real people and different ways of life, without judgment."
And it's not wrong. As The Atlantic's Emma Green notes, TLC has developed a reality TV line-up that revolves around sensationalizing unusual stories:
Inevitably, this controversy will win the show more viewers. Because this is what TLC does: It finds people living atypical lives - usually ones in tension with "progressive" cultural norms - and turns them into spectacle... This approach to programming succeeds, wildly, because it's a pure distillation of the appeal of reality television: self-righteous voyeurism.
The same can be said for TLC's obsession with the Duggar family - the extreme conservative stars of the network's wildly successful 19 Kids and Counting. The show's novelty comes from the Duggar's unusually "traditional" and religious values - especially with regards to sex.
But what happens when the desire to highlight "different ways of life" ends up mainstreaming virulent anti-LGBT ideologies?