The True Story Behind Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets (2024)

The Duggar Family, best known for a series of reality TV shows based around their lives, are at the center of Amazon Prime’s latest docuseries, Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, out June 2. The series digs into the headline-making scandals that have surrounded the family and the cult-like religious group they promoted, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).

The Duggars’ most notable show was TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, which followed the daily lives of married couple Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children for ten seasons between 2008 and 2015. The series presented a seemingly cohesive family unit, but Shiny Happy People, which includes testimonies from daughter Jill (Duggar) Dillard, her husband Derick Dillard, niece Amy (Duggar) King, as well as several former IBLP members, reveals that the family and larger religious group was dealing with allegations of sex abuse, child abuse and financial mistreatment.

“They believe that they’re populating the army that will help us,” says Tia Levings, a former congregant of the IBLP interviewed in the series. “The Duggars’ TV show was the engine for letting this thrive. The shiny happy images is the sugar and we’re all high on it.”

Here are the major takeaways from the docuseries.

Read more: How Docu-Mania Took Streaming by Storm, From Tiger King to WeWork

Behind the scenes of 19 Kids and Counting

Jim Bob Duggar’s reality stardom stemmed from his political career. In 2002, after four years serving as Republican Arkansas state representative, he ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Though he didn’t win, he did grab the attention of Discovery Network, whose executives took notice of media images of his large family attending campaign events.

“Jim Bob and his family are at the right place at the right time,” says Kristin Kobes DuMez, a professor of history and gender studies at Michigan’s Calvin University, in the documentary. “Jim Bob is presented with a new opportunity which will give him the power to present his values to the entire country and an opportunity to make a lot of money.”

The television network, which included channels like TLC, started programming with the Duggars in 2004, eventually releasing 14 Children and Pregnant Again!, 17 Kids and Counting, and 19 Kids and Counting. The shows were all hits, with millions of viewers tuning in to see how the large family managed to do everyday tasks like laundry, chores, grocery shopping, and commuting while somehow appearing organized and peaceful.

The show was a boon for the network. “Reality TV can take a network that is not exactly a juggernaut in terms of performances and really give it new life,” says Danielle Lindemann, author of True Story: What Reality TV Says about Us, in the documentary. The Duggars’ shows, she explains, gave the network a new life, with inexpensive production yielding high viewership and return.

Read more: The 50 Most Influential Reality TV Seasons of All Time

The Institute of Basic Life Principles and its founder, Bill Gothard

The Duggars followed the teachings of IBLP, a Christian organization that has been described by former members as cult-like. IBLP has shared estimates that over 2 million people have attended their seminars. While its founder was fundamentalist Bill Gothard, it would be The Duggars who became their most notable congregants. “For scientology, the gateway for most people was Tom Cruise. In a lot of ways that’s exactly what the Duggars were for Bill Gothard,” says pastor and journalist Josh Pease in the documentary.

The organization, which Gothard founded in 1961, was strict in its teachings and consistently reinforced gender norms. Rules included wearing modest clothing like “pantaloons,” homeschooling children with Gothard’s “Advanced Training Institute” curriculum, disciplining children with spanking, and as The Duggars’ embodied, having as many children as possible. It also forbade watching television, somewhat ironic given the Duggars’ eventual livelihood. Gothard often referenced a bible verse from Psalm 127:5: “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” As the documentary points out, Gothard himself, in another ironic twist, had no wife, nor children.

The documentary underlines the ways in which several of the congregants felt undereducated, abused, and mistreated from IBLP teachings. “It’s patriarchal, it’s authoritarian, women don’t have rights, children break,” says former member Levings of the group. “That’s the society that they’re building.”

In 2014, Gothard would step down from his position due to several sexual harassment allegations from former female congregants. “It almost feels like whatever was repressed inside of Gothard was spilling out into him testing boundaries on how far he could go with someone before they’d freak out,” says Pease.

Gothard declined to comment for the series and has previously denied the allegations made against him.

Daughter Jill Duggar on Abuse From Brother Josh Duggar

As the eldest child of the bunch, Josh Duggar became a public figure apart from his family. He got married, had seven children, and became involved in politics, working for a conservative lobbying group.

In 2015, In Touch Magazine published a story based on a decade-old police report that stated that Josh had forcibly touched at least five girls including his sisters Jill and Jessa Duggar. The sisters sat for an interview with then Fox-anchor Megyn Kelly to discuss the incident, where they primarily came to their brother’s defense. “In our case it’s very mild compared to what happens to some,” Jill Duggar said on Kelly’s program. In 2003, over a decade before the police report was made public, Josh Duggar privately admitted to the allegations to his parents and was sent to a Christian program for disciplining. Duggar was never charged with any crimes stemming from those allegations.

Eight years after the Kelly interview, Jill Duggar sets the record straight in the documentary: “In hindsight I wouldn’t have done the Megyn Kelly stuff. I felt like I was in a place of like burying the burden and the weight,” she said in the documentary. “Even though you volunteer you feel obligated to help.” Her husband Derick Dillard rebuts, “It was not voluntary,” explaining that Jill had felt that the continuation of the show rested on her and her sister’s shoulders.

19 Kids and Counting was canceled following the scandal, but TLC carried on with multiple spin-offs with a focus on the young women, including Jill and Jessa Counting On and Jill’s Wedding, which at the time was the highest-rated show in TLC history. Jill reveals in the doc that neither she nor any of her siblings received any compensation for appearing in these shows. Jim Bob Duggar reportedly got paid millions, according to the documentary. “Yes, we were taken advantage of,” says Jill . “For seven and half years of my adult life I never got paid.”

In May 2021, Josh Duggar was convicted on child p*rnography charges. He is currently serving 12 years in federal prison in Texas.

The Future of the Duggars, IBLP, and the Joshua Generation

Amid the federal child p*rn investigation into his son, Jim Bob Duggar ran for State Senate in Arkansas and lost. Although IBLP founder Gothard has stepped down, Jim Bob Duggar has continued to lead the group. He remains married to his wife. They sent a brief statement via their representative to the filmmakers stating they “love each of their children tremendously and always desire each live their god-designed lives to the fullest.”

The enrollment option for IBLP’s homeschooling program “Advanced Training Institute” concluded in 2021, although booklets for the teachings are still available online.

Alex Harris, a lawyer who grew up in the Christian homeschooling movement and had IBLP peers, says the teachings of Gothard and the IBLP have led to the newer iteration of the Joshua Generation, a political Christian youth group that emulates its fundamentalist teachings. “The whole purpose was really to position the best and the brightest of the Christian homeschool movement to assume positions of power and influence in the government and the law,” he says in the documentary. Former Congressman Madison Cawthorn, who served one term representing North Carolina, has been linked to the group.

With the emergence of social media and content creation platforms like YouTube and TikTok that don’t require an intermediary or network like TLC, Duggar family members like Jill Duggar and former members of the fundamentalist movement are increasingly choosing to share their stories online.

“We had this power the entire time over the people who were hurting us,” says ex-IBLP member Chad Harris. “It turns out as much as they try to control us we were ultimately what they most feared and all we had to do was talk.”

The True Story Behind Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Patricia Veum II

Last Updated:

Views: 5943

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (44 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Patricia Veum II

Birthday: 1994-12-16

Address: 2064 Little Summit, Goldieton, MS 97651-0862

Phone: +6873952696715

Job: Principal Officer

Hobby: Rafting, Cabaret, Candle making, Jigsaw puzzles, Inline skating, Magic, Graffiti

Introduction: My name is Patricia Veum II, I am a vast, combative, smiling, famous, inexpensive, zealous, sparkling person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.