Monday, October 3, 2011

Sister Wives: THE MUSICAL!

While you're waiting for the full ramifications of an all-singing, all-dancing LDS musical in pastel polyester and cowboy hats, let me fill you in on a little bit of background.

I don't know much about Mormonism except that it's based on the visions and writings of Brigham Young, the ultimate religious patriarch who advocated that love should be "multiplied, not divided". (Oops, that was someone else.) Quite a few years ago now, my husband and I went to Utah to see Bryce Canyon and other heartstoppingly beautiful natural phenomena. While in Salt Lake City, we decided to take in the sights.

It was interesting. When we visited the Great Salt Lake, it was almost like looking at a sheet of silver, inert and devoid of all life. But wait! What were those million-legged little things squirming around in the water? There seemed to be thousands of them.

A local happened to be passing by. "What?" he answered in the jovial manner of most of the Utah-ians we met. "Them's sea monkeys."

Our next little frisson of pleasure came when we took a guided bus tour of the city. It wasn't so much the sights as the narration, which was both informed and hilarious. There were two guides: the driver, who'd been doing this for a lot of years, and a young Mormon student doing part of the required missionary work to become a, well, you know, a real Mormon-Morman-type guy.

The driver asked about our hotel room. "Oh, it's great," we said. "How about the beds?" "The. . . beds?" Then we remembered that our room had not one, but two king-sized beds in it. "This is an LDS secret, but those are for the extra wives," he said.

That was nothing compared to what the student said. We drove along a massively wide street, supposedly built to accommodate throngs of wagons as they steamed along their way to the Promised Land.

"See, there's where Brigham Young used to go for a walk with all his wives," he said.

Badda-boom! Holy roller, it was (unexpectedly) funny!

The surprises never ended. We went to the Mormon Museum, an interesting place that was a rich slice of Utah history. That is. . . until I noticed something.

There was no mention at all of a certain practice, now banned to be sure, but so much a part of Mormon history that leaving it out would be like the history of Canada without maple syrup (or coureurs de bois, or Charlie Farquharson).

There was no mention at all of polygamy.

Really. I turned the place upside down and inside out. It just wasn't there. Not even one of those creep-out photos of a patriarch with dozens of wives and children posed like a school photo ("short people in front, please"). Nada.

Fast-forward to the age of "reality" (read: "unreality") TV, a time when polygamy is not only practiced but shoved in our faces. I have unfortunately become hooked on the misadventures of the Brown family (Kody, Brody, Dody, The One I Like, and You-know-that-fat-one). 

Something funny happened here: for whatever reason, probably financial, they decided to make their private lives public in a megahouse in Utah. Even the bedroom door was open, though they always seemed to feature a wife (interchangeable) dressed in flannel pajamas and a thick bathrobe giving her husband a palsy-walsy, sexless hug.

This show is so weird! The family seemed astonished when the shit hit the fan after (or probably long before) the show premiered. They kept talking about how important it was to "come out" and show the public how they lived, in order to promote, I guess, religious tolerance or something. The deeply-entrenched patriarchal values system that kept the wives nailed in place while claiming independence was presented with a slick veneer of modernity and even hipness. Hey, folks, we're just like everybody else, except that the Daddy boffs a whole lot of Mommies!

So the Utah police, or authorities, or whoever, got on the case and began to persecute them, which was a ratings grab for sure, so they had to "flee" (claiming to be "run out of Dodge" by Kody the faux-cowboy) to the Promised Land: Las Vegas.

Yeah, THAT Las Vegas.

I kept saying, "noooooooooooooooooooooo" as they crammed things haphazardly into their truck, which kept breaking down. Don't do this to the family! Why not stay and face the music? You can flee and claim persecution and try to get public sympathy, or you can stay and take responsibility, in full realization that the reality-viewing public would NEVER allow the law to "split up the family" and make Kody go to jail for his sexual peccadillos (which is, by the way, a sort of Mormon armadillo).

But they ran, and now everything's in a mess. "Split up the family"? Instead of one massive house (with Robyn on the side, her separate kennel a few doors down: I guess Kody needed an airing every four nights), they have FOUR big houses, two with swimming pools, and no discernible source of income. Except maybe reality TV.

I think it's Janelle who had to give up her career doing "???" and has groused about it non-stop ever since, saying she's "used to being busy" and now doesn't know who she is. For some reason she has never done anything in the areas of child care or cooking or household chores. She's just sitting there. She could be peeling potatoes, but no. She "can't find work", and her identity is shattered. But think of the massive amount of work required every day to keep everyone clean, clothed and fed. Why doesn't she just pick one of the four houses at random and roll up her sleeves? But for some reason she's in a sort of special position, maybe because she just doesn't like to clean toilets. This I will never understand. Or is she, after all, Kody's favorite? Did we all think it was Robyn with her flat stomach and hormones and tears? Pshaw. Maybe Kody likes to jump up and down on Janelle's. . . bed.

(Note in the photo below, how Janelle, far left, is almost completely hidden. Fat is stigmatized; polygamy isn't? As a matter of fact, even her head looks smaller than the rest: I think her entire body has been shrunk down, then relegated to the corner.)

Robyn, well. . . most of the ink spilled lately has been about Robyn, Kody's demure new wife, she who cries at the drop of a hat, has a cuter and slimmer figure than any of them, and is now (surprise!) pregnant. The blown fuse of the other three's expired fertility seemed to give Kody license to look for a fourth table leg so he could continue to dine on a richly-varied sexual diet.

This show is so weird about sex. Though in a way, the show is about sex, or at least patriarchal sexual arrangements that most people would find distasteful, everyone kind of pretends it isn't happening. Kody admonishes the fifteen or so teenagers in the family that they can't be "sexual" until they graduate from high school, or turn thirty, whichever comes first. Telling a teenager not to be "sexual" is like telling them not to blink their eyes. It's practically a recipe for shame as they try to cope (alone) with bodies that don't always co-operate. This is not to mention yet another of the dozens of contradictions in the household: they can't be "sexual", when Kody can roll around with four different chicks, of his own choosing of course, and get them pregnant into the bargain.

This past episode featured the Brown family, now trying to maintain four large houses in Las Vegas on no income, going on a furniture-buying binge. For a fundamentalist family who supposedly lives for their faith, this clan is awfully materialistic (and hardly ever mentions God or prayer or anything spiritual, except for having their kids join a Presbyterian youth group "as a social outlet").

TV has become something of a freak show, with two-foot-tall doctors delivering babies not much bigger than they are, people cramming their houses up to the ceiling with foul garbage, and (even) so-called mediums with grating voices telling gullible clients, "Oh yes, I see him standing right there in front of you!" while their eyes brim over with gratitude and hopeless hope.

Network TV isn't much better, with shows like Pan Am and The Playboy Club trying unsuccessfully to coat-tail on Mad Men's phenomenally original influence. (And by the way, why in HELL'S name do we have to wait until February to see Season 5 of Mad Men? Whose brilliantly shitty idea was that? Don't they realize how much momentum they will lose by then? The show is committing suicide, but only because its creator Matthew Weiner is having a prima donna hissy-fit over commercial time.)

So. . . the one truly watchable show is being withheld, with perhaps fatal results. I will admit that my habit of watching Hoarders and Sister Wives and junk like that is about as healthy and justifiable as eating massive amounts of movie popcorn saturated with salt and "golden topping".

But when SW runs out of steam, which it might when the last wife finally passes through menopause and the seventh house explodes, there's always Sister Wives: The Musical!, featuring those merry wives of Kody doing high-kicks and pole-dancing in a joyous celebration of how love should be "multiplied, not divided".

Until the law arrives, and subtracts them all.