Monday, July 16, 2007

Big Love

The new season of Big Love has begun on HBO, and I could not be more excited. As most of you probably know, Big Love is a show about a family of suburban polygamists.

I should note, as many people do when discussing this show, that the LDS Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church) does not condone the practice of polygamy, and these people are not Mormons. Some of them call themselves "Fundamentalist Mormons," a designation the LDS Church does not approve of. By the way, no one who watched the show could possibly come away from it thinking that the LDS Church approves of polygamy.

The show is great as a show, and I recommend it for the fascinating explorations of the wives' reasons for getting into polygamy and their reactions to the challenges it poses (which are many--intra-family jealousies, fear of exposure of their illegal lifestyle, disapproval from neighbors and relatives, psychotic relatives from the nearby polygamist cult, etc.).

But I also use the show as a jumping-off point for thinking about polygamy more generally. Is it a legitimate lifestyle choice? Is it inherently sexist or abusive? How many people really practice it in the suburbs rather than in some isolated compound? Would a sane woman ever choose it freely? How should it be treated by the law? How many of its problems are caused by its marginalization? Is it sustainable, what with all those extra men?

Some interesting links:

Here's an article about a real-life family of suburban polygamists. (link fixed now, I think)

Here's an interview with another former plural wife (and pro-polygamy activist) who still believes in the practice.

Here's a blog by a former plural wife who still believes in the practice.

Here's an interview with a writer who says she went undercover in a polygamist compound to research a book. (Some have questioned her credibility, so take it with a grain of salt.)

Go here to find the Television Without Pity thread for discussing polygamy in the context of the show.

The Salt Lake City Tribute has a plural marriage blog and a polygamy section.

Tapestry against Polygamy is probably the best-known anti-polygamy organization. Many of members are refugees from polygamous upringingings, and they REALLY hate polygamy. They're also critical the LDS church for not doing enough to stop polygamy in Utah.

Principle Voices is the best-known pro-polygamy organization.


Fishfrog said...

"I should note, as many people do when discussing this show..."

I understand the impulse to give this sort of disclaimer, as many people (everyone) do when discussing polygamy, but I sort of disagree with the practice. If I ever watched the Sopranos, I wouldn't feel the need to start with, "The Catholic church has condemned the actions of the church in the inquisitions, and also has excommunicated splinter groups like Mel Gibson's dad's religion."

At this point, it is pretty clear to anyone who would watch the show, or read this blog, that the church of ladder day saints condemns polygamy and has done so since 1890. People who still think the mormon church practices polygamy, perhaps in secret, are not going to have their minds changed by reading a disclaimer every time the topic arises.

I'm not sure if I'm going anywhere with this, but I just thought I'd chime in on that topic. Maybe people should stop being so sensitive about mormonism and polygamy. I mean, Nell doesn't blush every time the Crusades or the Inquisition comes up, or clarify that the Church actually no longer opposes inter-racial marriage.

scarlet panda said...

Yeah, that's an interesting point.

In some ways it might be more misleading to constantly include the disclaimers, because it just means that many more articles and blog posts that discuss "Mormons" and "polygamy" in the same paragraph.

I'm not sure how well the Catholic analogy holds up, just because the Inquisition is so obviously in the distant past, whereas there are polygamists currently. If there were a subculture of tens of thousands of people calling themselves "fundamentalist Catholics" and conducting Inquisitions in towns they controlled, I might kind of want the disclaimer when people talked about them.

Squishy Burrito said...

Interesting comments.

1) I am also frustrated at the need to make the differentiation between the so called "fundamentalist mormons" and mormons all the time but in the past few months I have had to clarify to people that we do not practise poligamy.

2) I agree with SP on the whole Catholic thing as a past vs polygamy is now. People really are uneducated about mormonism. Kudos to fishfrog for keeping up with what other people really believe but I think the real world doesn't really know much. (especially ones that are from smaller mormon populated areas)

3) you would not believe the amount of false doctrine being spread by anti-mormons everyday. I faced it numerous times while I was a missionary. Blatant non-truths being taught as truths and people believed them.

arfanser said...

Its funny. I read the disclaimer as a preemptive strike to not talk about that portion of what panda was writing and it appeased me so i find it funny that is what is being discussed here.

On a different note, I am not sure if polygamy is inherently _____. The problem with studying this sort of thing is the very few people who practice it outside of the compounds. Those compounds are clearly sexist and abusive, but is that because of the polygamy or because of the compound.

I think that what this is going to boil down to for me is the same discussion that I had with panda a few years ago. I do not think that gvmt should condone marriage that is not between one man and one woman, which means that polygamy is out. Panda's position was that any relationship between consenting adults, (and adolescents of an appropriate age) should be recognized to the same extent that the government recognizes any relationship and preferably should get out of the practice of regulating that area completely.

When boiled down to that argument, those on panda's side should support the right to choose a polygamous marriage. Those on my side should not approve of polygamous relationships. Both of those positions should be regardless of the inherent dicrimination/sexism of polygamy. A rational person can choose a lifestyle which subjects them to being treated as a lesser person, even if we dont agree with that decision. perhaps an argument can be made that a person would not rationally choose to be subjugated for life, but that is a very slippery slope in my opinion.

Fishfrog said...

The whole "choosing to be subjugated" thing is a really interesting topic. I remember an argument I had with Matt towards the beginning of law school about women in pornography. It was and is my contention that the majority of women invoved in pornography have been the subject of earler emotional and/or sexual abuse, and that their decision to do porn has been coerced by those experiences. I didn't have any data to back up my statement, but it still feels true in my gut. Add that to the idea that women in pornography are being exploited (I'm not sure I currently agree with this statement) and given a non-abusive prior life, women would not choose to make a living objectifying themselves (also no data to support this).

But ignoring all the assumptions that the previous argument made, if a woman is a competent adult, I would submit that we all agree she should be able to do with herself what she wants (within the confines of the law). So the fact that a person's past and upbringing was in some ways abusive should no more limit that person's freedom of choice any more than the fact of my relatively normal upbringing should subject my current decisions to second-guessing by more "normal" people.

Sometimes when I type fast, I skip over things that I'm thinking. So if there are any gaps in the preceding, please fill them in with what you think a reasonable Fishfrog would have intended, given all the facts and circumstances.

arfanser said...

To refute your argument Fishfrog, pornography today can be correlated to prostitution in times past. There were women who chose prostitution because to them the benefits outweighed the detriments.

I would also be interested to hear if your theory extended to males participating in pornography and gay pornography. Do you believe they were also abused/are being exploited?

Finally, "within the confines of the law." I think that is the question, but I may be missing something. What should be within the confines of the law? Should polygamy be specifically forbidden? Should it be specifically allowed? Should the law not speak to this point at all?

Fishfrog said...

Um... I didn't think I was making an argument. I thought I was merely commenting on the topic of choosing to be subjugated that you mentioned.

If I were making an argument, I'm not at all clear how correlating porn with prostitution refutes it. And are you saying that prostitution can be used as an analogy, or that porn is prostitution?

Though I will give you that on rereading, the bit I wrote about freedom of choice within the confines of the law is a bit circular.

arfanser said...

OK, assertion if you dont like the word argument. And while i think that pornography meets the definition of prostitution, I was using it here as an analogy.