Monday, January 24, 2011

Who doesn't want an extra wife really?


ne of the ways I like to unwind at the end of the day is by watching a tv show. To be honest, very often these tv shows are sort of a bit of mindless entertainment which serve the purpose of allowing me not to think about much of anything for an hour or so (Flipping Out would be a good example of one that I love). And then here are a few shows on my DVR which are a little better put together - with some good writing and great acting... but those shows are still a great escape (Dexter being one of my favorite examples). These shows change with the seasons and I always look forward to the return of one of my favorites. Last week began the final season of a show I have watched loyally since it's first season, and honestly, I think I'll be slightly glad to see it go.

Guilty confession: I am a practicing Mormon who watches BIG LOVE. Sometimes I wonder how many other active Mormon's this applies to as well. There HAVE to be a lot of us out there watching, but there certainly aren't a lot of us owning up to it. And while Big Love entering it's final season will alleviate me of the guilt of watching a show which is often antagonistic towards my faith, that's not even the main reason I'm sort of okay with seeing it go. The real reason? This show has completely and totally confused my feelings about polygamy rather than clarify them. And I'm so sick of Bil. l I feel awful that I sort of wish he would meet his demise this season. I mean really, that's a terrible feeling to have about a main character on show. Especially when I think at least half the time Bill is meant to make us feel sympathetic towards him.

But I don't feel sympathetic at all. Increasingly, I feel something bordering on hatred.

Let me give you at least a smidge of background.

I have great grandparents who were part of polygamist families before the mainstream Mormon church quit practicing polygamy. This is just something I grew up knowing and frankly not something I worried my pretty little head too much about. I mean, it's not like we're practicing it now, and only a small percentage of the church ever practiced it in the first place. And besides, at least some of the possible explanations for the why of that policy being in place, made some sense to me, and so it was easy for me to sort of just not think about it a whole lot. Frankly, the number of times I've seriously contemplated it over the years are very very small compared to all the many religious ponderings I've had.

But even so I must admit my feelings about polygamy have always been conflicted. On the one hand, it sounds like a sort of awful sexist way to set up a marriage and rife with possibilities for abuse and problems. On the other hand - who am I to judge? Have you seen these families on tv who claim it all works swell for them? I mean...okay some of that makes sense too. You have a wife who works and one who stays home...well look, there have been plenty of days in my own life when rather than being content to be the wife and the mom in the home, I would have been happy to hand the reigns over to someone else while I went to work or school or whatever. In other words, I don't think it's all that unusual for a wife to wish for a wife too. We could ALL use a wife sometimes. And if you happen to be the type of crazy person who seriously only ever wants to just be a wife...well, more power to you, but I never quite understood that type. Don't get me wrong. I've been a wife and a mom for most of my adult life - and I chose it for reasons that seemed to make sense to me and were really for the greater good of everyone involved. But I'm not sure I was ever really cut out for it. So if you were to provide an extra wife in the house at certain points in my life? I think I would have been perfectly okay with it - at least, on a conceptual level. Because as long as were talking about someone to help clean, cook, run kids around, do the shopping, help with homework, do bookkeeping, organize, calendar and generally keep track of things - well then heck yeah, I want a wife. This of course completely disregards the actually sharing a husband. But you know, minor detail I guess.

So anyway - this is kind of where I stood prior to Big Love. And I knew, of course, that for some fundamentalists, there is a crazy horrible reality to the way that plural marriage functions which is awfully sexist and often abusive as well. And I'm not in favor of that. But at the same know, where do you draw the line? These are adults making a decision based on their religious beliefs or other strongly held thoughts and you know...who am I to say you can't have whatever relationship you want? I mean, how is it different than someone who never legally marries or somone who decides to have an "open" relationship? Or how is it different than gay marriage? And yes, I know what a lot of other Mormon's would probably say. A lot of them would say we should oppose all relationships which are not monogomous, traditional marital relationships between one man and one woman. Well, okay you can feel that way but...doesn't it seem slightly hypocritical when our people practiced polygamy for many years? When it was illegal? I have a hard time wrapping my head around that one.

So back to Big Love. Before Big Love started a few years ago - that's the territory where I found myself. A sort of "live and let live" attitude. But now?

Now I'm sort of completely opposed to it mostly.

On the show Bill makes a big deal about trying to improve conditions for women living on the "compound" and for children in polygamist marriages. Especially young girls being subjected to these kind of relationships at a very young age. He's clear that he disagrees with the skewed power structure of these fundamentalist groups and he wants to irradicate many of the problems. All well and good.


Bill. is. a. huge. hypocrite!

When I watch the show all I see is a maniachal power hungry guy who is absolutely barely different than any of the guys on the "compound". The suburban polygamist isn't much better than his fundie counterpart, ever, if at all. His wives needs are subjugated to his own needs all the time. He ALWAYS has the final say-so in the house, even if he's completely wrong headed about his decisions. Much like George W. Bush, Bill is the "decider". Of everything. And although his wives sometimes try to buck his power, ultimately they have to put up with whatever crazy whim he has. Even if it's to the detriment of every woman and child in the family.

And I understand that the argument could be made that since this is a fictional creation - it requires drama and that in real life, there certainly could be many families who are perfectly happy in their fundamentalist marriage. And I'm not going to say that's not the case. But that kind of brings me to another show I watched with interest. TLC's "Sister Wives" took a look at a real life "Big Love" situation in Lehi Utah (a community roughly half way between Salt Lake and Provo). Now while watching that "reality show" it was easy to view the husband Cody as a sort of anti-Bill. He was kind of a clueless dork who hardly seemed in charge all that much and certainly didn't seem like a power hungry megalomaniac. The new 4th marriage and wife seemed to be thrust upon him by his wives as much as it was his own idea. At least at first glance.

But if you carefully listened to the dialogue between him and the wives? The whole thing made me sad. Part of the reason they wanted him to get a new wife was because he "deserves someone cute and young" - the new wife being a lot younger than the rest of them. That just about made me want to wretch. What about the wives deserving a younger cuter husband? Maybe one who isn't torn in a million directions and could actually pay attention to any one wife more than a minimal daily requirement? The whole thing is kind of a demoralizing set up when you think about it. Not a single one of the 4 wives really gets a husband. Whereas mr. husband man gets 4 devoted wives. Where's the parity there? It's really kind of sick and awful when you think about it too much.

So will be interesting to see what happens to Big Love this season - and if Bill lasts. Personally, if I found myself in that polygamist marriage with that selfish narcissist? I think it would end with Bill meeting a terrible demise at the hands of one of his wives.

But that's just me.


Kristy said...

I totally watch it too! I have watched it from Season one. Maybe we can have a party one night, I will bring the treats :) I always have to wait for everyone to be sleeping before I can watch it!

I feel the same way about Bill.

I always joke that I want polygamy, just the other way. I'd like a husband that stays at home, a few earning money (so I don't have to worry about it). Jon just laughs at me!

Suzanne Barker said...

I've never watched it...and I don't think I want to get started now, but polygamy always brings up interesting thoughts. I think maybe in a perfect world with perfect people, maybe it could be ok. But then that would never happen.


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