>When I found out that TLC was going to start airing a reality show about polygamists living in Utah, I set my Tivo to record and set my mind to “open”. After all, I’m all for gay marriage and allowing consenting adults to have whatever relationship they want. I figured I had to be open-minded about polygamy, as well, so I was all set to laugh along with the multiple spouses on “Sister Wives”.
But three episodes in, I’m not buying it.
The show follows a Utah man with three (soon to be four) wives and twelve (soon to be sixteen) children, all living under one enormous roof as an enormous family that simply couldn’t be happier.
And that’s just it. The people on this show try so hard to convince us that they are, indeed, happy, that the entire program just reeks of phoniness. When someone is constantly telling you every second of her life how happy she is, it isn’t long before you have to wonder if she’s trying to convince you of that…or convince herself. “Sister Wives” definitely has this trait, as each wife (and the mostly-avoided husband) bends over backwards with the non-stop “cheerful” testimonies. After a while it just reeks of being fake.
The show is supposed to be all about how polygamists are “just like every other married couple”, but it just winds up looking doctored to seem “normal”. In fact, much of the show is jaw-droppingly boring. Each episode supposedly has something going on, but winds up being nothing but people sitting on a couch telling you how much they like each other. At the end of each episode, I don’t know that I believe any of it…but I do know that I really don’t care. The producers have tried so hard to remove all the controversy from the show that they’ve made it about nothing.
It is possible to have quality “Reality TV” programming that doesn’t resort to acts of contrived controversy. There are plenty of reality shows on TV that don’t feel like they are just made up; “Little People, Big World” is one of them. Yeah, shows like “Jersey Shore” have fake controversy…but “Sister Wives” has none! They show us nearly nothing that doesn’t seem manipulated to be smiles and butterflies. It’s literally a half hour of these robots constantly having to remind us how content they are. Besides the see-through happiness, however, there’s no passion to be found anywhere else in that house.
And that’s what’s really missing from “Sister Wives”. There’s nothing about it that seems real, but the thing that seems the least real is the so-called “marriage” aspect of it all. If there are multiple marriages going on in that house, we have yet to be shown any. We’ve seen a man walk into different rooms and give a passionless kiss to random women who might as well be his sisters. Does he care for these women? Sure. But there’s nothing in the house that looks like married people enjoying being married. There’s talk about them having sex but, other than a clan of children, no proof that they remotely enjoy it or even have any attraction to each other. That would normally be interesting enough for Reality TV, but the producers of this show cut away the minute it seems we might really get a good look at how these people live. Instead, we watch a very dull guy barely spend time with three equally dull women in an attempt to convince us that nothing “weird” is going on.
Most annoying is how the show tries so hard to hide the religion (and religious boundaries) that these people live within every single day. The family on “Sister Wives” is Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, or FLDS). That seems pretty important, considering that their religion is the reason they follow this lifestyle in the first place. But you wouldn’t know that by watching the TV show. Every time the family kinda-sorta brings up religion, the show immediately cuts to something else. There’s a prayer and mention of a church, but we never see them attend a service. The husband once mentions “The Principle”, a part of FLDS life, but it is quickly glossed over and the subject is changed. Why? To avoid talking about their religion is stupid, especially when you consider that their religion is exactly why they are polygamists. It would be like doing a show about women who wear a burqa without mentioning that women who wear a burqa are Muslim. That simply wouldn’t happen on a “Reality TV Show”, so why does “Sister Wives” avoid all mention that the family is FLDS? Why hide the very thing you believe in the most?
On episode three, in a rare moment of actual honesty, one wife mentions that she didn’t even kiss the husband until they were married. That actually sounded interesting but was immediately dropped. Why the absence of intimacy? There is constant testimony about the husband “Courting” a new wife who lives three hundred miles away, but no mention of how he met another polygamist five hours from home. They seem to barely know each other and yet are married soon after, with almost as little passion as there is in all the other marriages. How did they meet? When did they decide to start dating? How do “mainstream polygamists” find each other in the first place? Was this arranged through the church, or is there a polygamist dating site online? We’ll never know because, like everything else on “Sister Wives”, the producers (and family) only show us what they want us to see. It’s almost as if they’ve decided in advance what the audience will accept…and that’s all we’re going to be shown.
In the end, they don’t really show us anything. All we get is women sitting in a room talking (over and over and over again) about how much they like each other and how happy they are and how great it is to be a polygamist. Not much else. The children go to a polygamist school that we never see. They live around other polygamists that are never shown. The children are shown laughing but are never really interviewed. We see a doctor who has birthed the kids…but he’s not even interviewed once. Oh, he’s more than happy to be filmed giving an ultrasound in his office, but heaven forbid that the producers actually talk to the guy on camera. Is he a polygamist? What does the doctor think of this family? We’ll never know, since the show is so busy trying to hide everything that’s really going on, it shows us that nothing is going on. Instead, each episode just shows a bunch of women and children saying things like “we’re best friends”. Sure, whatever you say when the camera is rolling I guess we’ll just have to believe.
Another big question I kept thinking was about how they afford to live when only the husband and one of the wives works. He works in “ad sales”, yet they’ve got four SUVs and a luxury sports car. Ad salesmen make good money…but enough to pay for thirteen (soon to be twenty) people and that many nice cars? One of the wives has a job, yet we’re never even told what that job is. FLDS polygamists are often accused of committing Welfare Fraud, but this show doesn’t even address that, or any money issues whatsoever. Jon and Kate struggled to raise eight. Can two people really feed seventeen?
After each episode of “Sister Wives”, it feels as if the show is dancing around what really goes on in that house. So a couple of the wives admit that they are sometimes jealous. Big deal. No matter how “out of the ordinary” these people may seem, it’s hardly a surprise to learn that they are human. That’s not showing us anything special. The problem with the show is that all of what we do get to see seems phony. It might as well be Stepford, where we’re peeking in at what they want us to see, rather than how they really live. I want to see some reality with my Reality TV, not a 30-minute commercial for Utah.