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Saletan on Big Love

April 26th, 2006 · 1 Comment

Ezra is right about Will Saletan’s recent Slate column on the HBO drama Big Love. Saletan writes:

Talented writers and actors are trying to make plausible the idea that American women raised in an age of sexual egalitarianism are bighearted enough to share a husband.

He goes on to point out all the ways that, notwithstanding, evidence of the intrinsic unworkability of polygamy keeps popping up in the show. Now, as Ezra points out, insofar as there’s no real evidence that the show’s creators intend it as a commercial for a polygamist lifestyle, a more parsimonious approach might just refrain from assuming that this is, in fact, their intention, rather than concluding that the writers were moved by the spirit to script it against their own goals.

But there’s a second problem, the bit about “American women raised in an age of sexual egalitarianism.” I’m not sure what show Saletan’s been watching. The show’s husband, Bill Henrickson, and his first two wives, were all raised on an out-of-the-way compound in a cultish offshoot of Mormonism that makes women pretty clearly subordinate. The third wife is comes off like a bubbly adolescent. They’re all (as far as we can tell) strictly heterosexual, so they’re effectively competitors for the attention and affection of one husband, rather than in a genuine group relationship. All of them are locked into both a rigid hierarchy among the wives (first, second, third) and a boot camp–style regimentation of their sex lives. So even if there were a pro-polygamy message here, the message would most assuredly not be that it’s a viable option for modern, egalitarian, sexually open women in particular.

Tags: Art & Culture



1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dr. Kenneth Noisewater // May 2, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    Just to pick a small nit regarding the Henrickson’s backstory: Barb was not raised on the compound.

    From HBO’s website:

    Born into a traditional Mormon family, Barb met Bill soon after she started college at the University of Utah. It wasn’t long before the two were married, and Barb headed into adulthood armed with a teaching degree and hope for a baby.

    She ended up having three with Bill ââ?¬â? Sarah (now 16), Ben (15), and Teenie (8) ââ?¬â? and for nearly a decade they shared a fairly conventional family life together. But then a crisis struck and Barb needed help caring for the kids. Bill turned to the compound where he was raised, and Nicki Grant was sent to live with the family. Over time the nature of Nicki and Bill’s relationship changed, and Bill and Barb agreed to invite Nicki to be Bill’s second wife.”