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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


OMG! Polygamists!!!

I started watching "Big Love" recently. I'm not sure if I like it or not - but I'm certainly "into it" which I have recently decided is due to something of a crush on Jeanne Tripplehorn.

Like the Sopranos, it is an interesting intimate look into a world I would otherwise know little to nothing about (except perhaps from sensationalized news stories, or anthro classes in which we studied polygamy in other cultures). The acting is pretty sensational - and the setting is gorgeous (interestingly, I have a blog reader from the same city in Utah ... I have a hunch I know who it is, but am not sure - and would be curious as to her/his thoughts on the show). It is certainly provocative - and I find myself thinking about it a lot, and some of the issues it raises. Which is always a good thing - but then I wonder, is polygamy something about which I really need my thinking challenged?

Before I get to that, one thing I dislike about it is how stressful it is. Betrayal, secrets, lies, blackmailing, manipulation, police, kidnapping, rape, blackmailing, manipulation, manipulation, blackmailing ... it's wearing. There are so many huge issues, huge complications, hugely annoying characters - watching evokes almost as much emotional distress as the Sopranos did - I even am having nightmares about it (last night's involved profgrrrl and perapatetic polar bear, oddly enough). I think generally I prefer tv shows that show overreactions to mundane stressors (along the lines of shows that emulate Seinfeld in that way - although I was never a fan of Seinfeld) or more fantastical stressors (like with Buffy). I also think that although the characters are complex - some are played a little too "evil" for my taste. Like Chloe Sevigny's character - she plays her so incredibly well, except I think I just don't get enough of her vulnerabilities. And she is played so archly that I constantly doubt her genuineness, thus further distancing me from her and dampening my empathy for her when she is truly hurting.

On the issue of polygamy, I am really mixed. First, in this show, Bill Paxton and the other polygamists are only actually legally married to one woman. The other women are wives only in name. When Paxton's father's first wife died, he legally married Paxton's mother. So, what is unclear to me is what is exactly illegal about this? I mean, is it illegal to have a wife and then 2 mistresses who live with you?

I also see that to some extent it is an arrangement that could be really good. Bear with me, I will get to my concerns about it. To quote Hilary Clinton, "it takes a village to raise a child" and that's what happens in this more idealized version of "plural marriage." The kids have 3 moms who share their care and it allows the adults to specialize and gives the kids a lot of people on whom to depend. If I were raising kids, this would be an ideal situation - the more adults to help out and care for the critters, the better I say.

On the mundane side, it looks like it would be really hard to mange - switching beds every night (at least in this more egalitarian version - I know that it doesn't always work this way), having to share one's partner, jealousy, confusion as to who is doing what, the potential for triangulation, the potential for preferential treatment, not to mention the expenses! And the lack of privacy (although Sevigny's character pretty much ensures no one ever has privacy all by herself).

On the less mundane side, it is hard to imagine how this could ever be fair to women. In Big Love, I think they work to make it as woman-friendly as possible. This is highlighted in the contrast with the treatment of women and relationships on the compound. But still, the women are the ones who constantly sacrifice themselves for "the family" and for their purpose (that polygamy is the "righteous path" and will lead to eternal life*).

I have more to say about this last point - but have been sitting on this post trying to figure out how and what to say. So, I think I will post it and post a follow-up when I am more clear about it.

* It seems a hard way to live - constantly wondering how one's actions will affect positively or not what happens in the afterlife.


At 8:21 AM, Blogger Anastasia said...

interesting thoughts! I had some of the same reactions to this show. I don't get what's illegal about it if he's only legally married to one woman. It seems like a personal decision to have an open marriage.

I was really intrigued by the relationships between the women, too. It isn't just that he is married to three women, but they have all agreed to be a family. all together. I've only seen a a few episodes but I was really fascinated by watching Jeanne Tripplehorn mediate a dispute between the other two. The intimacy of their relationships was amazing. they were so familiar. I mean, they were genuinely *familial* in how they related to one another.

I don't have anything insightful to say about that. It just really struck me because on the one hand, I thought...this is awful for the women. And yet, I could also see some positives for them in this idealized scenario. Like you say, it's a little village raising kids. Especially the young mother, she's got immediate support, help, advice, company. That addresses the confusion and isolation that come with new motherhood right there. I'd love to see how they handle pregnancy and childbirth.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Eddie said...

I love the show and can't seem to get enough of it. You have an interesting take on the legality of living with mistresses! I never thought of it that way.


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