By Micah Schneider
One of the first things you learn in the polyamory world is that there are at least as many ways to be poly as there are people who are poly. As polyamory in its many forms becomes more visible in mainstream culture, we will all benefit by this exposure. People will understand that polys are not that much different from everyone else. We’ve got jobs, dreams, and lives that look pretty normal. Our families are a bit bigger, but otherwise, we’re all pretty similar.
But what if everything the folks in Middle America learn about polyamory comes almost exclusively from the same source? In the last few years, polygamy has enjoyed a surge of media interest. “Big Love” (http://www.hbo.com/big-love/index.html), the HBO drama about a modern polygamous family, aired its fourth season starting in January 2010. “Big Love” is about a fundamentalist Mormon family living in Utah. The husband, played by Bill Paxton, is the head of a family with three wives and a gaggle of kids. The show is a remarkably fair portrayal of a polygamous life. The family grapples with real issues common to all poly families, like sharing time, intimate and otherwise, between four adults with competing needs. But there are also plot complications that are less based on reality, like the sexual attraction the son of one mother feels for one of his father’s other wives. Another example resembles “CSI: Utah”, when one character murders another in revenge for the death of yet another.
One would hope that the average American would realize that murder and incest are not common features of polygamy, or polyamory either. Is the good that a show like “Big Love” does simply by positively portraying a polygamous family overshadowed by Hollywood plot lines that strain credulity?
A new show takes the “Big Love” idea to the next logical step. Why make up an FLDS family when you can simply film a real one? “Sister Wives” premiered recently on The Learning Channel. As of this writing, only one episode has aired, but the show has a great deal of promise. After taking the time to establish that these people aren’t insane, and that everyone is involved with the consent of everyone else, they look like a shockingly normal family. Shocking if you aren’t familiar with polyamory, anyway. The kids look happy and well adjusted. The wives all genuinely like each other. The patriarch of this family is quite a telegenic fellow, and seems like the kind of guy you could go to the bar and watch the game with over a few beers, with the added benefit that you get to drink his for him since he’s Mormon.
As a man living in a poly household, a lot of their problems and issues resonated with me. They have the same time-management issues we do. Who get to do what with who when is always a struggle to manage. We don’t fight about it, but we do have to manage it. They think love shouldn’t have limits, and if everyone is happy, healthy and not hurting anyone, they should be left alone. My family couldn’t have said it better. In the first episode, the husband calls a family meeting to talk to them all about potentially “wooing” a new mother to join the family. Everyone gets an opinion, from the adults to the smallest children, and he makes it clear that if they object, he won’t do it. This is not the image of the overbearing Mormon polygamous asshole forcing young girls into marriage against their will that we’ve been fed by the media in recent years. And we have family meetings all the time, and for big decisions, consensus is damn near mandatory. If we’re not on the same page, things can go to shit really fast. This Mormon family gets that.
We aren’t so different, these polygamists and us. And by “us”, I don’t just mean my family.
And what is the reward for this family opening their doors to America? They’re now being investigated on federal charges of bigamy. Congratulations! For being brave enough to show America that you aren’t the freaks they think you are, you might get arrested and lose your kids!
Love your show, though! Three thumbs up!