Polygamy on TV: Are the Portrayals Realistic?
Things you should discuss before marriage
Polygamy has been one of society's greatest taboos. It is spoken in hushed words and very few people get an actual glimpse into the lives of polygamists. Television networks are aiming to change that with the introduction of a few shows and movies that attempt to blow the taboo lid off of polygamy. HBO's "Big Love" came first, and now TLC is weighing in with a reality show, a la "John and Kate Plus 8," that focuses on a polygamist family living in Utah. Lifetime has also weighed in with a movie about the wife of a polygamist called the "19th Wife."
HBO's "Big Love" takes viewers on a journey through the dramatic life of a polygamist family estranged from their fundamentalist group. The plot is further complicated by the excommunicated Bill Henrickson taking Nikki Grant, daughter of the group's prophet, as his second wife. The family is forced to live in seclusion for fear of public outcry. The portrayal touches on the difficulties the family and wives face in a very real way, however the dramatic nature of Bill's dealings with the UEB and the Juniper Creek Prophet, Roman, are highly dramatic and can be compared to the dramatization of mafia life in "The Sopranos."
TLC's "Sister Wives," a reality-based show that premieres Sunday Sept. 26 is a real-life look at how a polygamous family manages day-to-day life and their crusade to legalize polygamy. Unlike HBO's rendition of polygamy, TLC is taking a reality-based approach showing the true nature of a polygamist family and how religion plays into the mix. The family members are fundamentalist Mormons living and thriving in Utah. Maggie Furlong of TV Squad spoke with the family about their upcoming show. The family, which includes four wives and 13 children, said it aims to show the world that it is an average family, simply super-sized.
One of the greatest issues presented in fictionalized portrayals of polygamy is the emphasis on the religious aspect of the practice. Yes, polygamy is commonly used in fundamentalist religious groups and is worked into the value system of the religion in question, however polygamy and polyamorous relationships begin and flourish for a variety of reasons, and religious affiliation is often but not always involved.