As Winter weather drags on around here, we’ve taken to another HBO (itunes) binge at our little compound:) We’ve become absorbed in Big Love, the series about the Mormon experience, both fundamental and otherwise.
I know, I know. It’s TV. But as popular films and even many art-house movies (think Certified Copy) disappoint, I’m getting a cultural education, albeit an indulgently dramatized one. Big Love ranks up there with Mad Men, as a look into a time, place, and psychology of a time, place, and culture that I know little about. And I’m enjoying every cyber minute of it.
True to many dramatic series, by the time they reach a 3rd or 4th season, story lines tend to take a turn towards the ludicrous (think Weeds) and they same is true for Big Love. Mormon Gangsters? Mormon-owned casinos (or “gaming”, as they prefer to call it), blood atonement? Actually, I started to laugh at this, but it didn’t take much research to discover the threads of truth to these portrayals. Well. Okay then. Did I mention I am learning a lot?
The show does an excellent job at putting an everyday, very human – and in some cases – an appealing face to the idea of group marriage – at least in the household of these main characters, hiding their polygamist lives in 3 connected houses in a Utah suburb. The love, the process, and even the “schedule” seems real and plausible.
But the story weaves in and out of these seemingly blissful moments and reveals the unavoidable and perhaps insurmountable issues below the surface of shared housework, shared childcare, shared incomes and a shared husband. The sister-wives seem to have a genuine love and respect for each other, despite – or perhaps because of - their different personalities and ages. Emotional jealousy seems to be negated by an unwavering belief in The Principle of the importance of family – and a lot of it.
The first thing that popped my bubble was the pure, unadulterated sexism going on in the house – portrayed with accurate subtly. The “sisters” are expected to be immune to any feelings of competition or jealousy, yet Bill, the family patriarch, can’t contain his rage when a woman he is newly “dating” as a prospective 4th wife is discovered to be dating another man. The sister wife who escaped from the fundamentalist compound to join Bill and his first wife says it all when she reminds the other wives that “Our husband’s dating life is none of our business.”
Still, this family is living in the real world, not on a compound and one by one, in unique and sometimes covert ways, the women begin to grow and express their own sort of independence and it is both entertaining and moving.
This show accurately and continuously reminds us of the extreme conflicts between what is considered a fundamentalist sect and your average LDS Mormonism – a religion which stopped practicing polygamy in the 1890′s. Both churches, however, denounce homosexuality and the story line that pulls us through this kind of ignorance is both heart-breaking and real.