Amazon Prime’s new docuseries Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets shines a light on the titular family of reality TV fame and the Christian organization to which they are tied, the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP). Much of what is revealed in the documentary is not necessarily breaking news; Josh Duggar’s history of abuse allegations, for example, has made countless headlines. But the average person who might have occasionally watched their popular TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting, might not have known until watching Shiny Happy People the extent of the scandals within the family and the larger IBLP organization.
A community online, however, has been raising these issues for years. Their efforts take various forms across different social media platforms. The best known venue is r/DuggarsSnark, a “snark subreddit” on Reddit, an online forum dedicated to criticizing the family. Snark subreddits, which also exist for popular TikTokers, wives of major celebrities, YouTubers, and other public figures, are meant to foster a community of like-minded people who dislike a particular person or group of famous people or feel a responsibility to shed light on unsavory ways in which they are using their platforms.
Unofficial Online Watchdogs
Another forum where these “snarkers” congregate is YouTube. And in the case of the Duggars, most notably in the comments section of a channel called Fundie Fridays. The page, which has over 328,000 subscribers, was created by Jen Bryant, who talks about Christian Fundamentalism in her videos while doing her makeup. Bryant has published informative videos on Christian YouTuber sister duo Girl Defined, TLC’s Sister Wives, and the Duggar family. She closely followed Josh Duggar’s 2022 trial (which ended with the eldest Duggar child being sentenced to 12 years in prison for receiving and possessing child pornography). Because of her expertise in the online community, she appeared as a talking head in Shiny Happy People.
Bryant creates informational videos on different topics related to famous fundamentalist Christian figures, highlighting what she considers to be hypocritical behaviors when compared to their professed values. She has videos that discuss Bill Gothard, the disgraced founder of IBLP, who has been accused of sexual harassment by former female congregants (which he has previously denied), as well as videos about Michael and Debi Pearl, a couple who wrote an IBLP endorsed-book about how to “discipline” a child by spanking or using a rod, and the Quiverfull movement, which promotes large families. When she uploaded her first video on the Duggars, it became her most popular video to date, with over two million views.
Bryant and the legion of devoted snarkers online have become unofficial watchdogs for celebrities and public figures in the Duggar/IBLP case, trying to warn fans about the dark side of the content they are consuming and, as a result, supporting. And as her appearance in the documentary demonstrates, some of these self-appointed watchdogs are as well-researched as they are loud, holding real power to help challenge those with powerful platforms. Cori Stern, one of the producers of the docuseries, tells TIME that the filmmakers found online communities to be “invaluable research resources” because, in some cases, they “acted like investigative reporters.”
The Difference Between Snarking and Bullying
To someone unfamiliar with the snarking community, their activities could be perceived as bullying (and they can sometimes veer into that territory). Still, moderators say that on top of having these communities for fun, some online groups like the Fundie Fridays community are attempting to dismantle unjust power structures. James Bryant, Jen’s husband and collaborator on her channel, tells TIME that the difference between snarking and bullying is that the former employs media and culture, to highlight more significant social concerns about the “trappings of evangelical Christianity.” As examples, he points to “using the Duggars as a springboard to talk about the stranglehold that evangelical Christianity has on the politics of many parts of this country” and the harmful effects of purity culture on young women, both discussed in the documentary. Snarking becomes bullying when it “starts focusing on individual people, not on the social constructs behind them,” James explains.
Read More: Who Are The Duggars? Meet The 19 Kids and Counting Family
Outside of Fundie Fridays, the snark community has a wide reach online. The subreddit r/fundiesnarkuncensored has over 156,000 members, and the r/DuggarsSnark has 174,000 users. In an interview with TIME earlier this year, lead moderator Emily Rook said the subreddit’s primary goal is “sharing information and uncovering the lie that the Duggar family has put up.” This objective to uncover the real person (or people) behind an online persona is an aim that many other subredditors share. For the most part, Rook says, snarking is not serious; a lot of it is just jokes. But there are moments when the conversations veer into serious territory, as with Josh’s child sexual abuse scandal. Some members have found community there among other people with religious trauma or who come from extreme fundamentalist Christian backgrounds. For them, these forums serve as what Rook describes as a safe space for them to unpack those issues.
That unpacking is sometimes referred to as “deconstruction” in these communities. Jen Bryant says that snark communities have become “a landing pad for deconstructionists” to dismantle their religious beliefs and sort out their political views, and to some it’s “become an entire movement.” Their banding together to speak out against the autocratic rule of the IBLP is evident when the docuseries shows survivors using social media apps like TikTok to make their voices heard about the stringent lifestyles they led because of Gothard and his teachings. Many of the ex-IBLP members who appeared in the documentary say they’ve come to realize how oppressive the organization was, but they began to realize that they were able to use their voices online to free themselves. Shiny Happy People helped amplify their voices on a mainstream platform, bringing their concerns from the comments section to the masses.
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