Big Love

One of my very favorite categories of TV shows is what I term quasi-documentary reality. I’m not much for story-line trainwreck reality shows–I’ve watched a little “Jersey Shore” out of curiosity, but it didn’t compel me. And except for competition-based reality shows (I LOVE “Top Chef”), I don’t seem to latch onto a continuing “reality” story so much. What I seem to latch onto are the shows that show me behavior that I just do not understand or teach me interesting tidbits of trivia I will store and use to crush my Trivial Pursuit opponents.

I find myself watching episode after episode of “Intervention” and “Hoarders.” Part of me, I suspect, revels in the fact that no matter how much of a hot mess I am on a daily basis, at least I am not that bad. On another vein of my reality habit, you will find “Parking Wars” (no matter how obvious, people never think they parked illegally), “Say Yes to the Dress” (seriously, people, buy a house or a car with that money), “Pawn Stars” and “Auction Kings” (the array of items people own, collect, and think are way more valuable than they are fascinates me). But one show that fascinates and surprises me (about myself) more than any of the others is “Sister Wives.” While it does follow the story of one (very nontraditional) family, I cannot turn away.

I admit I have actually not watched many episodes. I forget when it airs and, sadly, it does not have full episodes available online. Also, Adam can’t stand it, so my viewing opportunities are now even more limited. But while I initially tuned in because of the ick factor (Four wives! Ew!), I’ve found I am most fascinated by how normal the Browns are.

Initially, I was prepared to dislike the Browns. I expected to despise Kody and pity the wives. They must be passive, brainwashed lobotomy patients, I thought. Well, not really.

Kody is not the chauvinistic religious zealot I expected. He’s really quite the charming, regular guy. He seems like a nice guy I’d sit down and have a beer with. What takes me aback about him the most is that this average-looking guy with shaggy hair managed to attract not one, but four wives. But he genuinely loves each of his wives and all of his kids and wants to spend as much time as he can with all of them. Far from being the bible-thumping overlord, it seems that the wives often call the shots more than Kody. And though they are generally religious and base their lifestyle in their religion, faith plays a fairly minor role in their lives (at least as depicted on the show). You get much more self-righteous preaching from the Duggars (“19 Kids and Counting”) than you ever will from the Browns, and, frankly, the excessive breeding and rejection of the real world by the Duggars irritates and grosses me out far more than the Browns’ polygamy does.

The Brown women are all independent, strong, and generally normal, modern women. They just happen to share a husband with three other women. They admit to being jealous of having to share their husband’s attention, but all thoroughly love sharing their lives, homes, and parenting responsibilities with their sister wives. Each of the women grew up in polygamous households, so the lifestyle seems normal to them.  (I do wonder whether women who did not grow up in the lifestyle ever choose to enter it, but that’s a discussion for another time.) But the important thing is this: they all freely chose to be sister wives, and from what I’ve seen on the show, they all prefer their situation to monogamy.

This new season features the family uprooting abruptly to avoid an investigation that could possibly break up the family and result in jail time for Kody. On some level, I have little sympathy for the family–they know their lifestyle is illegal and yet they chose to display it to the world on television. But mostly, I feel bad for them. Their situation hurts no one–all involved chose to enter the lifestyle and their children are neither scarred or bothered by the situation. This is not like the isolationist, fundamentalist sects in which women wear clothing from another era and are forced to become child brides in incestuous, abusive unions. The Brown women have jobs, dress in modern clothing, and have just as much say–if not more–than Kody. Each wife cares for all the children as if they were all their own. The children seem to like having a large, energetic family. And except for all the bills and demands on his time, Kody doesn’t have much to complain about.

Often, the public faces of unpopular or different ideas and behaviors are not the best representatives.  It is because these representatives lean to the unsavory that the things they stand for continue to be unpopular and hard to defend. (I fully support the right to assisted suicide, but Dr. Kevorkian, rest his soul, was not always the ideal mascot.) Polygamy, however, seems to have ideal ambassadors in the Browns. They demand neither that you accept their lifestyle nor adopt it. They do not preach. They do not mistreat one another. They simply want to be allowed to live their lives as they choose. And so long as no one is hurt in the process, I say let them.

And I’ll watch every moment of it.

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~ by yellowbrickrodeo on June 6, 2011.

2 Responses to “Big Love”

  1. Actually, I think two of the wives are from monogamous households, but grew up knowing polygamous families since they are still LDS.

    And that just goes to show you that this is one of my favorites, too.

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