Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Big Love Viewed From Polygamists' Eyes

Today’s New York Times reviews HBO's Big Love from an actual polygamists' view. The consensus is mixed:

The five women watching the show — covering their eyes during the sex scenes, chiding the competitive wives, urging Bill to take control — were critics with special credentials: a current or past polygamous marriage.
If ever there was a question that the show seeks to advance a cultural message or theme, it may have been answered in last Sunday’s episode. In that show, Juniper Creek’s “prophet” Roman Grant is interviewed by reporters from the Los Angeles Times. He told these “fictional” reporters that if courts grant gay rights, including privacy and marriage rights, then too should they grant polygamists the same rights.

The polygamist critics agreed:

And despite the show's flaws, these women called "Big Love" a cultural benchmark, one with the potential to cast a warmer light on their lives.

"It's a more realistic view of a polygamous family that lives out in society than people have known," said Anne Wilde, a widow who was part of a multiple family for 33 years. "It can be seen as a viable alternative lifestyle between consenting adults."

Many have questioned whether the shows creators have an agenda. I now wonder if perhaps they do. It may not be as sinister, and many will argue it is not a frontal assault on traditional families and traditional family values; however, it does seek to portray polygamists and their lifestyle as just another among several which are appropriate in this day and age. A lifestyle that, like a gay lifestyle is entitled to court sanction and societal approval.

This is the nexus that I have argued implicates the Church’s Proclamation On The Family. Advocating that the gay lifestyle and by extension polygamy is just another valid choice slips one step further down the slippery slope, which many argue does not exist. I'm begining to wonder. (As do others). And, while I have absolutely no objection to what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes, I do object to their re-definition of marriage for all of society as a marriage between one man and one woman, and the slow erosion it has and will continue to have on society’s basic unit: the family.

The show’s agenda coincides with the message the pro-polygamists want to spread:

For the women gathered in a hotel room here at the request of The New York Times to talk about the intersection of their lives and popular culture, more is at stake than good ratings. "This is a glimpse of a family that is mainstream," Mary Batchelor, a 37-year-old mother of seven and director of "Principle Voices," a leading polygamy advocacy group, said of the Henricksons. "There are hundreds of these families. It shows an aspect of polygamy nobody ever sees. Before, you saw families in crisis." She referred to media images of men being carted off to jail for beating women or children or marrying child brides.

"This is making all of America say 'Why is there a law against polygamy?' " said a 55-year-old woman who wanted to be known only as Doris, because she feared repercussions at her new job after years of staying at home with her 14 children in suburban West Jordan. "This guy is just trying to support his family, and the family is just trying to make it."

While the women said "Big Love" had too much skin and not enough religion or humor for their taste, they agreed that it portrayed the Henricksons like any other American family, especially in an era of mixed marriages of all sorts, gay partnerships, single parents and serial monogamy.

In addition to Doris, Ms. Batchelor and Ms. Wilde, the women watching "Big Love" on this night included Linda, a 53-year-old widow and mother of four who said she lived for 30 years "in a plural situation" with 12 other wives; and another Mary, 52, who has been married for 10 years, has five children and whose sister-wife ("my best friend") lives up the street in a town called Bluffdale. She is an artist and high school teacher.
The other issue is the show’s impact on the Church. While there are disclaimers both from the show’s producers and also in the press, there are unmistakable links to the Church–at least its past. In Sunday’s episode, “prophet” Roman Grant led the Los Angeles’ Times reporters on a mini tour of the compound. This included a brief discussion, with a mural for show and tell effect of how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon; How Joseph received the revelation on plural marriage; How it was continued by Brigham Young after arriving in Utah; How in 1890, the then leadership of the Church went astray and buckled to pressure and abandoned “ the principle.”

While each episode, after discussions between HBO and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, includes a disclaimer that the Mormons long ago renounced polygamy, thousands of polygamists who call themselves Mormon fundamentalists say they are following the church's original teachings on marriage, called "the principle." Some live in religious communities, others live independently.

The other LDS connection is in the introduction of each episode. There is a brief scene of Bill and each of his wives meeting at what appears to be a white transparent veil. Afterward they are portrayed as sitting together in a constellation of planets: almost like a creation scene. For those familiar with LDS theology, these are very symbolic references in the LDS community.

The article also quotes the ex-communicated professor Michael Quinn on polygamy’s history:

C. Michael Quinn, a historian and former professor at Brigham Young University, said his research shows that the devotion of fundamentalist Mormon teenage girls to polygamy helps keep the practice alive. Dr. Quinn, the author of several scholarly books on Mormons, said the girls from polygamous families cannot imagine another life. The boys, he said, cite the difficulties in supporting a big family but find wives among the girls in their community.

"They believe polygamy was a commandment from God to the Mormon founder, Joseph Smith Jr., in the 1830's," explained Dr. Quinn, himself an excommunicated Mormon from a Mormon family that goes back seven generations. He estimates that one-third to one-half of about 30,000 to 50,000 Mormon fundamentalists are also polygamists; Tapestry Against Polygamy estimates that there may be as many as 100,000.

It seems that the shows producers and writers seek to provide more than just entertainment in this new series. There are unmistakable attempts to portray modern day polygamy as just another choice on how to live and raise your family. Am I wrong?


Blogger Hellmut said...

I would not mind polygamy if twenty five year old college graduates were participating. In reality, polygamy seems to rely on pressuring fourteen and sixteen year old girls into marrying men who could be their fathers and grandfathers.

Human beings are jealous. Only very few women would settle for polygamy if they were economically independent.

As for parents and priesthood leaders who are pressuring teenagers into polygamy, they are no better than pimps and should go to jail.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 9:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Naiah Earhart said...

Well, to answer your wondering about whether the creators have an agenda. According to my husband, the show's creators are two gay men.

It disturbs me greatly to see polygyny equated to or even associated with gay marriage. It's absolute apples and oranges to me. Polygyny is still marriage between one man and one women--just several such marriages.

I am, no doubt, a polygamist sympathizer, but I am such because I have thought it through, and that is where my reason and heart lands me.

It makes me sick how the aversary will warp good and godly things to his twisted purposes.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 9:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


i've thought about a potential agenda in regards to this show as well. but it seems to me that if the agenda is to make polygamy seem like just another choice, then why include the 'creepy fundamentalist prophet/compound' aspect? i guess, my point is that the non-member friends i know who watch this show don't come away saying 'wow, i guess polygamy is okay, and therefore by extension so is gay marriage.' if anything, the reaction is 'this show is confirming my initial reaction that polygamy is weird.'

so, if that is the agenda, i don't think the creators are selling it very well.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 5:24:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

hellmut: As you point out . . . there probably aren't too many 25 year old college graduates living "the principle". In fact it would be fascinating to know how many college graduates period, regardless of age live like this.

I happen to agree with you about pressuring underaged girls into this lifestyle--on the grounds of child abuse, not just because it is a polygamous lifestyle. But, you are right . . .they should go to jail.

naiah: I know this is a problem area for you because of your strong feelings in favor of God sanctioned polygamy. I can't say I'm even at that point yet. Frankly, I've never given much thought about whether I would want to practice that lifestyle. And, I suppose I don't really want to consider it. I am completely fine if it is never re-introduced. It's part of the Church's past. I'm not embarassed by it. But, like you I'm distraught to see the comparison made between the gay lifestyle and polygyny--but now they are spoken often in the same breath--no doubt because of this series and the connections many are now making.

Conceptually I understand and accept your definition of "one man, one woman"; however, the way the idea is being promoted today, and in conjunction with the gay lifestyle, I truly believe it is detrimental to the traditional family unit. I completely agree with your last thought about warping good and godly things for an evil purpose.

Anon: I don't know how successful they will or won't be; however, it appears to me the intent to promote an agenda is clearly evident.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 6:43:00 PM  

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