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."
TLC'S PAST ANTI-POLYGAMY "REALITY" SHOWS
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.
"SISTER WIVES" – THE BROWN FAMILY TAKES CHANCE TRUSTING TLC
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.
THE FOUR WIVES ON "SISTER WIVES"
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.
WILL MORE LEARNING "ABOUT POLYGAMY" CONTINUE ON TLC?
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."
My Husband's 3 Wives, Sept. 24, 2006
Forbidden Love: Polygamy, Nov 16, 2008
Police Investigating Sister Wives Stars for Felony Bigamy
[Reviewed for publication - Pro-Polygamy.com Review Board.]