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TLC's 'Sister Wives' puts the 'L' back in 'The Learning Channel'

Date: Dec 02, 2010
Word Count: 2200 words
Cross-Reference: Sister Wives, TLC, Brown family

Despite TLC's past broadcasting of bigoted shows "about polygamy" which incited audiences against polygamy, the TV network changed course in 2010, actually helping viewers learn about a positive consenting adult polygamous family, with The Learning Channel's new reality show, "Sister Wives."

In   the   Fall   of   2010,   the   television   network,   TLC,   had   suddenly   changed   course   from   its   past   programming,   going   from   negative   to   positive   "about   polygamy."     For   a   channel   whose   initials   assert   to   be   "The   Learning   Channel,"   its   previous   shows   "about   polygamy"   never   provided   a   genuinely   honest   "learning"   experience   for   its   audiences   on   the   topic.   Based   on   such   past   shows,   the   national   polygamy   rights   movement   for   consenting   adults   viewed   TLC   as   an   intentional   source   for   inciting   anti-polygamy   bigotry.     But   beginning   on   September   26,   2010,   "The   Learning   Channel"   made   it   possible   for   all   that   to   change:   TLC   began   broadcasting   a   new   reality   show,   called,   "Sister   Wives." 
But   prior   to   that   new   reality   TV   show   in   2010,   TLC's   programming   in   previous   years   had   been   bigotedly   harmful   against   normal   consenting   adult   polygamists. 
On   September   24,   2006,   TLC   aired   a   would-be   "documentary"   called,   "My   Husband's   3   Wives."     While   claiming   to   be   "about   polygamy,"   the   show   centered   on   an   egomaniacal   man's   "polygamy   by   affair."   The   national   polygamy   rights   movement   for   consenting   adults   took   note   of   TLC   airing   such   a   horrendously   false   "re-definition"   of   polygamy   about   which   the   movement   so   adamantly   opposed.     The   married   man   in   the   show   had   discovered   that   he   had   fathered   a   child   from   an   affair   he   had   had   years   previously.   So,   he   forced   the   woman   upon   his   existing   family   and   called   himself   a   "polygamist."     The   show   focused   on   his   attempt   to   later   force   a   third   woman   on   the   family,   while   the   first   two   women   were   not   in   favor   of   the   idea.     When   the   show   was   re-broadcast   years   later,   the   update   at   the   show's   conclusion   stated   that   two   of   the   women   had   left   that   same   year   in   2006,   and   that   the   first   "legal   wife"   divorced   him   in   2008.     Clearly,   this   2006   show   was   never   a   legitimate   example   for   learning   "about   polygamy." 
Two   years   later,   on   November   16,   2008,   TLC   aired   another   show,   "Forbidden   Love:   Polygamy."   While   claiming   to   be   "about   polygamy,"   this   would-be   "documentary"   was   simply   one   attractive,   young   British   lady's   anti-polygamous   viewpoints   about   Mormon   polygamists.     The   national   polygamy   rights   movement   for   consenting   adults   again   took   note   of   TLC   airing   such   a   twisted   anti-polygamy   show.   The   would-be   "reporter,"   Dawn   Porter,   manipulated   two   different   Mormon   polygamous   families   -   after   her   producers   had   been   rejected   by   the   national   polygamy   rights   movement   for   consenting   adults.   She   exploited   the   feelings   of   one   Mormon   polygamous   family's   "first   wife's"   feelings   to   make   polygamy   look   as   being   hurtful   to   women.     With   a   different   family,   Porter   also   cleverly   manipulated   the   media-inexperienced   naiveté   of   an   obviously-unwealthy   Mormon   polygamous   man,   housing   his   family   in   a   remote   trailer   in   the   desert   which   she   presented   as   apparent-squalor.     With   leading   questions,   she   verbally   positioned   the   scruffy,   pot-bellied   gentleman   to   actually   say   that   he   would   be   unfaithful   if   he   was   not   a   polygamist.     As   he   unwittingly   fell   right   into   her   ploy,   Porter   subsequently   exploited   his   asserted   "selfishness"   as   her   supposedly   "confirmed"   definition   of   "man's   view   of   polygamy."     And   when   she   left   the   family's   trailer   in   the   end,   she   over-dramatically   "caught   her   breath"   to   proclaim   her   insult,   "That   was   nuts!     That   was   properly   nuts!"     Clearly,   this   2008   show   was   never   a   legitimate   example   for   learning   "about   polygamy,"   either. 
With   that   track   record   of   broadcasting   such   offensively   misrepresented   shows   "about   polygamy,"   TLC   was   definitely   not   trusted   by   most   normal   consenting   adult   polygamists   by   2008.     Hence,   when   producers   pitching   a   show   they   intended   to   sell   to   TLC   came   seeking   for   a   willing   family   to   do   a   reality   series   from   the   national   polygamy   rights   movement   for   consenting   adults,   it   was   no   wonder   that   few   families   felt   safe   enough   to   work   with   them. 
Even   so,   one   family   did   accept   the   dangerously   risky   chance   with   the   producers   of   the   show   for   TLC;   and,   the   result   was   a   new   series   titled,   "Sister   Wives."     The   one-hour   premiere   aired   on   September   26,   2010,   followed   by   two   one-half-hour   episodes   on   each   of   the   next   three   Sunday   evenings.     A   one-hour   "Interview   Special"   later   aired   on   November   1,   followed   by   a   pre-taped   "Honeymoon   Special"   episode   on   November   21,   2010. 
Consequently,   the   renowned   Oprah   Winfrey   show   on   CBS   even   broadcast   her   own   interview   with   the   Brown   family   on   October   14,   which   was   re-aired   again   on   November   30,   2010.     Therewith,   Oprah   Winfrey   -   for   her   very   first   time   -   actually   presented   a   positive   show   "about   polygamy,"   undistorted   with   the   false   stereotypes   pre-supposed   by   her   uninformed   bigotries   evident   in   her   previous   shows   throughout   the   years   on   the   topic.     Hence,   Oprah   Winfrey   apparently   may   have   had   an   "aha   moment"   herself   "about   polygamy"   –   similarly   as   those   of   many   of   the   show's   viewers. 
As   "Sister   Wives"   revealed,   Kody   Brown   (aged   42)   legally   married   his   first   wife,   Meri   (aged   39),   as   young   adults   20   years   ago   –   she   had   one   child.     Janelle   (aged   40)   was   friends   with   Meri   and   Kody   before   she   had   an   unlicensed   marriage   with   Kody   17   years   ago   -   she   had   6   children.     Christine   (aged   37)   had   an   unlicensed   marriage   with   Kody   16   years   ago   –   she   had   5   children   and   the   sixth   was   born   during   taping   of   the   show.     This   first   season   of   "Sister   Wives"   focused   on   currently   welcoming   a   fourth   wife,   Robyn   (aged   31),   in   to   the   family   with   an   unlicensed   marriage   too   -   she   was   a   divorced   single   mom   bringing   three   young   children   from   that   previous   marriage.     By   the   end   of   the   show's   Season   One,   the   family   consisted   of   one   husband,   four   wives   (although   only   one   was   "legally   married"),   and   16   children   -   a   total   of   21   individuals. 
While   the   Brown   family   is   definitely   a   Mormon   polygamous   family,   the   show   rarely   displayed   that   fact.     Indeed,   the   family   presented   itself   as   very   obviously   modern,   wearing   clearly-modern   clothes   and   hairstyles.     The   family   is   apparently   so   "secularized"   that   second   wife,   Janelle,   even   mentioned   the   need   to   have   caffeine   at   one   point   in   the   very   last   "special"   episode   -   something   which   even   many   "mainstream   Mormons"   still   refuse   to   consume. 
Undoubtedly,   however,   the   Browns'   reason   for   so   many   children   is   completely   premised   in   specifically   Mormon   religious   doctrine,   a   particular   paradigm   which   separates   Mormon   polygamy   from   other   forms   of   consenting   adult   polygamy   around   the   country.     Moreover,   while   three   of   the   Brown   family's   wives   had   grown   up   in   Mormon   polygamous   communities,   most   consenting   adult   polygamists   around   the   country   have   no   connections   to   anything   Mormon-based   and   do   not   live   in   polygamous   communities.     Yet,   the   Brown   family   mostly   kept   their   religious   beliefs   out   of   the   show,   simply   presenting   themselves   as   a   modern   –   even   somewhat   secularized   –   family   of   four   adult   women   and   one   adult   husband   who   intentionally   chose   to   live   polygamously. 
Aptly   titled,   "Sister   Wives,"   emphasis   on   the   show   was   primarily   directed   toward   the   wives,   their   interactions,   and   their   views   of   life   as   they   live   it.     Each   of   the   wives   clearly   presented   different   feelings,   opinions,   goals,   and   what   they   get   out   of   their   polygamous   family.     Without   question,   husband   Kody   Brown   made   it   known   that   he   is   well   aware   that   they   are   four   strong   women   who   absolutely   speak   their   minds! 
First   wife,   Meri,   grew   up   in   a   Mormon   polygamous   family.     When   Kody's   father   converted   to   the   particular   community   involving   Mormon   polygamy,   Kody   was   introduced   to   polygamy   at   that   time.     Because   of   Meri's   growing   up   in   a   polygamous   family   and   the   Mormon   polygamous   religious   doctrine   of   having   many   children,   she   always   expected   to   be   married   that   way   too.     As   they   indicated,   she   was   presented   as   having   been   the   subtle   "push"   behind   Kody   actually   marrying   all   three   of   the   other   wives.     During   the   show,   Meri   was   working   at   a   part-time   job   -   which   she   later   lost   after   the   publicity   of   the   show   aired.     She   also   expressed   that   she   wanted   to   go   back   to   school   for   more   education.   Due   to   infertility   issues,   Meri   tearfully   explained   that   she   was   blessed   with   only   one   daughter   and   that   she   had   experienced   a   miscarriage   with   the   one   other   time   she   was   pregnant.   She   stated   that   she   had   always   wanted   lots   of   children,   and,   if   it   was   not   for   polygamy,   a   "monogamous   version"   of   her   family   would   have   then   only   consisted   of   three   people   –   something   she   would   not   ever   want. 
Second   wife,   Janelle,   joined   the   family   of   Kody   and   Meri   after   they   had   been   married   for   three   years   already.     Unlike   Meri,   though,   Janelle   had   grown   up   in   non-polygamous   "mainstream   Mormonism."     She   was   friends   with   Meri   and   Kody   for   some   time   -   even   thinking   of   them   as   the   only   "Mormon   polygamous   friends"   she   knew.       She   later   described   her   relationship   with   Kody   as   always   very   much   on   a   deep   friendship   basis   -   as   well   as   her   closeness   with   Meri   -   from   the   beginning.     For   Janelle,   polygamy   allowed   her   to   be   able   to   focus   on   work.     Indeed,   Janelle   presented   herself   as   very   much   the   working   mother,   and   she   made   it   clear   how   much   she   appreciated   the   freedom   to   be   able   to   do   so   while   equally   knowing   that   her   six   children   were   also   well-cared-for   at   home. 
Third   wife,   Christine,   joined   Kody,   Meri,   and   Janelle   one   year   after   Janelle's   marriage.     Like   Meri,   she,   too,   had   grown   up   in   the   Mormon   polygamous   paradigm.     She   stated   that   she   had   always   wanted   to   be   the   third   wife,   explaining   that   she   had   always   wanted   the   family   with   the   women.     Hence,   entering   the   Brown   polygamous   family   was   ideal   for   her.     In   the   same   way   that   Janelle   thoroughly   enjoyed   the   freedom   to   work   that   her   polygamous   family   situation   made   possible,   Christine   explained   that   she   equally   enjoyed   the   freedom   to   be   the   stay-at-home   mom   who   cares   for   the   children   throughout   the   day. 
Fourth   wife,   Robyn,   was   in   the   process   of   courting   Kody   as   the   first   season   of   "Sister   Wives"   began.     She   originally   came   from   another   Mormon   polygamous   community   that   was   a   five-hour-drive   away.     Robyn   was   divorced   from   her   three   children's   father   who   was   not   a   polygamist   himself.     Not   only   was   she   quite   comfortable   with   polygamy,   but   she   very   much   wanted   to   be   part   of   the   Brown   family.     Before   they   all   met,   Meri   had   first   noticed   Robyn   at   a   gathering   and   had   mentioned   to   Kody   to   consider   Robyn   –   again,   Meri   being   the   subtle   "push"   that   led   to   Kody   marrying   another   woman.     Eventually,   the   Brown   family   helped   Robyn   and   her   three   children   move   to   a   home   nearby,   located   only   one   mile   away   from   the   huge   Brown   house   instead   of   being   the   distance   of   the   five-hour-drive.     The   last   episode   culminated   in   Robyn's   wedding   with   Kody;   and,   the   subsequent   "Honeymoon   Special"   focused   on   both   her   honeymoon   with   Kody   as   well   as   on   revealing   the   expressed   feelings   of   the   other   three   wives   during   that   11-day   getaway.       For   Robyn,   she   shared   that   marrying   Kody   meant   receiving   the   joy   of   the   larger   family   for   both   herself   and   her   three   children. 
Within   the   national   polygamy   rights   movement   for   consenting   adults,   most   families   and   supporters   are   very   happy   to   see   that   TLC   positively   presented   a   modern,   consenting   adult   polygamous   family   (notwithstanding   that   many   polygamous   families   around   the   country   are   not   from   the   Mormon   polygamous   paradigms,   of   course).     Even   so,   though,   as   bigamy   laws   still   remain   on   the   books   in   all   states,   most   polygamous   families   still   do   not   feel   safe   enough   to   take   the   same   public   risks   that   the   Brown   family   took. 
Indeed,   soon   after   the   show   first   aired,   media-hyped   news   broke   that   the   Lehi,   Utah,   police   were   considering   filing   charges   against   the   Brown   family   -   for   breaking   Utah's   bigamy   laws.     Renowned   Constitutional   Law   Professor,   Jonathan   Turley,   joined   the   public   fray   as   their   attorney   in   the   event   that   such   charges   might   be   actually   filed.     (Over   the   last   few   years,   Professor   Turley   had   been   publicly   repeating   the   arguments   already   made   by   the   national   polygamy   rights   movement   for   consenting   adults   –   thereby,   embracing   and   validating   those   arguments.)     Although   Kody   had   only   "legally   married"   Meri,   some   state   laws   -   as   in   Utah   -   actually   criminalize   the   free   speech   of   a   married   man   even   calling   an   unlicensed   woman   as   a   "wife."     Even   unlicensed   cohabitation   that   has   simply   the   "appearance"   of   being   polygamous   can   be   a   crime.     Although   no   charges   were   filed   by   the   time   that   Season   One   of   "Sister   Wives"   ended,   the   possibility   of   such   charges   being   filed   still   remained   possible.     As   TLC   announced   that   it   would   indeed   begin   airing   Season   Two   in   the   coming   Spring,   2011,   the   possibility   of   such   charges   boded   very   well   as   the   possibly   intended   premise   for   that   second   season. 
Ultimately,   TLC's   new   reality   show,   "Sister   Wives,"   helped   intelligent   people   learn   that   consenting   adult   polygamy   is   not   like   most   of   the   false   stereotypes   and   lies   of   the   manufactured-news   outlets.     The   Brown   women   were   all   married   as   adults,   all   could   clearly   think   for   themselves,   and   all   could   definitely   speak   their   minds   quite   vocally.     With   their   massive   house,   quality   cars,   and   well-kept   furniture,   the   Brown   family   certainly   showed   that   they   are   not   living   in   squalor.     They   effectively   presented   themselves   as   a   family   with   real   feelings,   as   a   family   that   functions   well   for   them,   and   as   a   family   that   is   committed   to   raising   all   their   children   to   be   good   and   contributing   members   of   society.     By   airing   "Sister   Wives,"   TLC   finally   lived   up   to   the   "L"   of   its   name,   "The   Learning   Channel,"   regarding   polygamy. 
For   the   national   polygamy   rights   movement   for   consenting   adults   who   now   view   TLC   with   still-cautious   hopefulness,   what   remains   to   be   seen   is   whether   or   not   "The   Learning   Channel"   will   continue   living   up   to   that   "learning"   standard   "about   polygamy." 


Bibliographic URLs:

Sister Wives 
My Husband's 3 Wives, Sept. 24, 2006 
Forbidden Love: Polygamy, Nov 16, 2008 
Police Investigating Sister Wives Stars for Felony Bigamy,,20429667,00.html 
Jonathan Turley 
[Reviewed for publication - Review Board.] 

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