The phenomenon that is Kate Gosselin, hubby Jon and their eight children has made for interesting television over the years. The family of ten has the social networks and media outlets constantly buzzing, and even I will occasionally tune in for the madness and mayhem of Kate’s unusual family dynamic. But there’s a question that keeps cropping up over and over again – “is this still an innocent documentary, or has it morphed into something much more exploitative?”

You may have stumbled across the blog Truth Breeds Hatred in your quest for more info on the Gosselins. It’s written by Aunt Jodi’s sister (Aunt Jodi was a regular on the show until recently; more on that here) and she tells a story of life behind the smiles and the on-camera personas. Her opinions are strong, but she makes some valid points.

One thing I find disturbing about the show is the part that advertising and product placement plays in it, as one of our very own bloggers has mentioned. Now I’m all for making some extra money on the side. As a writer for our sister blog Wisebread, I think extra income, especially in this economy, is essential. But what part do these advertisers play?

Can Jon & Kate make impartial decisions with the weight of corporate sponsors and enormous freebies on offer? Indeed, since the show began, the Gosselins have certainly improved their surroundings, and are now living in a home that would make the average American family drool. What did they have to sacrifice for that money? What are they giving up to have the financial stability of prime-time funding?

With so many people watching the show, any kind of subtle product endorsement can lead to a huge boost in sales for the manufacturer. Just like Oprah’s book club, the Gosselin’s home has become a living, breathing advertisement for the products and appliances it contains. Who’s making an appearance this week? Whirlpool? GE? And what did they pay to get on the show?

But more disturbing than that is the fact that these children are living their lives under a microscope, and have now become a source of entertainment to millions of Americans. Consider this excerpt from What Is A Disaster, by Enrico L. Quarantelli, an expert in disaster research:

“…as we study and interpret other people, they are studying and interpreting us. Sociology ‘does not stand in a neutral relation to the social world…social scientists cannot but be alert to the transformative effects that their concepts and theories have upon what it is that set out to analyse.’ (Giddens, 1987: 71). Embedded in our own subject matter, WE CHANGE WHAT WE STUDY.”

It’s unavoidable. The Gosselin children will be changed forever because of their exposure on the show, and the constant cameras poking around in their everyday lives. While this was a decision Jon and Kate could make for themselves, the children had no choice in the matter. They are, after all, the stars of the show; it just wouldn’t be much of a show without them. And as so many have pointed out, the Gosselin children are now supporting the lifestyle that Jon and Kate want. In 2007. Jon Gosselin quit his job, and both Jon and Kate now say that the show IS their job. To that effect, aren’t the children working a full-time job, too? Wouldn’t they prefer a more normal life? Have they ever known what a normal life is?

Now, I applaud the fact that Jon and Kate want to make a better future for their many children, but is this the way to do it? Is this invasion of privacy going to do irreparable psychological damage to the children? Will they become tired of the cameras and ask them to leave? What then? Will Jon and Kate happily kiss the camera crew goodbye, or will that be a monumental argument within the Gosselin household?

And in the meantime, will there be pressure from the network to make the show more interesting as ratings decline? Remember, in television it’s all about the Nielsons.  Sequels always have to be bigger and better.

What if the show becomes stale? Will we see the exploitative, manipulative script-writers of reality shows like The Bachelor and The Hills come in and make a few "suggestions" for more drama? Kate and Jon may say no now, but the money they’re making will be very difficult to say goodbye to. Could you do it?

And with Nadya Suleman waiting in the wings (someone will offer her a reality show, it’s just a matter of time), they’ll have to keep things very interesting to compete with a family of 14 kids and a woman with a craving for media attention.

All in all, Kate Gosselin and family are playing with the fire. This is television, ratings are king and the networks are cutthroat. They will do whatever it takes to have a successful show. I only hope the children come out of this relatively unscathed.