Hard not to watch ‘Octomom’ special

Fox aired two hours of ''unseen footage'' of Nadya Suleman. Fox aired two hours of ''unseen footage'' of Nadya Suleman. (AP Photo/Ktla/File)
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / August 22, 2009

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If you were up for some self-loathing - or any kind of loathing, really - then “Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage’’ was made for you. The two-hour special filled with hand-held-camera footage, broadcast on Fox on Wednesday night, spared no one in its indictment of society, TV, and Nadya Suleman, the infamous single mother of 14 who delivered octuplets this spring.

It’s hard to drum up sympathy for Suleman, who conceived all of her children through in vitro fertilization, allowed Radar Online to film her for months, and seems blissfully unaware of the chaos her life has become. It’s hard not to cringe at her cold and rational mother, who has taken every opportunity to criticize her daughter on camera.

And it’s hard to escape some feeling of responsibility for the spectacle that has unfolded. You could sneer at the paparazzi who converged on Suleman’s home the day she brought two babies home, surrounding the car and trying to beat down the garage door. But they were there because they knew their pictures would be in high demand. If you were watching Wednesday night, what was your excuse?

OK, it was fascination, an impulse that’s not so surprising or rare. (Though, it turns out, more people watched “America’s Got Talent.’’) On some level, it was worth trying to understand the mindset, the particular pathology, that would lead someone to make a series of insanely irresponsible decisions.

Suleman was surprisingly articulate, which isn’t to say she looked sane - just confident and self-righteous about her choices, her future, even her paranoia. She referred repeatedly to her lawyer, who was never onscreen. She told vicious stories about sneering nannies. She diagnosed herself, saying she needed a big family to counteract her background as a lonely, only child.

Asked the obvious series of “whys’’ and “hows,’’ by her mother as well as the camera crew, she simply said she rejected anyone’s right to question her choices. The closest she came to acknowledging a colossal mistake was to say, with an airy smile, that she can’t change the past.

It is a sign of self-delusion that she seemed nearly imperturbable, even with eight wailing infants spread before her on a bed and a few more toddlers whining in the room. She didn’t flinch - or maybe she didn’t hear - when her 4-year-old called her a nasty name. She railed at the paparazzi and applied lipstick at the same time. (At this point, the minimalist horror-show music that played in the background sounded especially damning.)

And of course, she passed judgment on clips of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,’’ though it’s clear that she has learned valuable lessons from that other reality train wreck. After all, this woman with no job or discernible skills, who was living with her mother at the time of the octuplets’ birth, swiftly managed to secure herself a house and a source of income. She has even sought to trademark the “Octomom’’ name. And she doesn’t seem to care that the “Octomom’’ special violated California labor laws.

And while she constantly complains about lost privacy, she also invited a camera into the operating room on the day her octuplets were born. That was the eerie, ugly climax of the special: As one baby after another was pulled from Suleman’s belly, a nasty tussle ensued between doctors, nurses, and a pushy camerawoman who clearly viewed her presence as a duty and a right. Fox provided subtitles, so we wouldn’t miss a thing.