I'm sitting in my living room watching Hoarders (and unconsciously tidying as I do), when the show ends and switches to the new show Sister Wives. Considering I'm barely willing to share my husband with his job - and I only do that because it's necessary for survival - there are few things I can relate to less than women who voluntarily enter into polygamous relationships. And that IS the case with these women. This isn't some FLDS compound where creepy old men are marrying twelve-year-olds. This is suburban Utah. This is a group of people who could very well live next door to me. If I lived in Utah.
As I do when I watch anything that piques my curiosity, I took to Twitter to see what people were saying about it. I found indignation, disgust, condemnation. In a word, intolerance. Oh, snap! I just dropped the I-bomb! Look out!
But really. As I read through these comments, I saw a lot of references and connections to the Duggars and their apparently abhorrent lifestyle. People were downright angry that TLC would have the audacity to portray these people as complex and even (gasp) GOOD people. Heaven forbid we should look at them as anything other than some monolithic group full of people with no personalities outside of the evil Mormon or fundamentalist Christian programming they've received. If we're gonna portray them as normal, they'd better at least have some secret dark side like on Big Love. They can't be like us.
This has always bothered me. Let's look at this kind of judgment on a scale that's more at the forefront of our society right now: Some people have been complaining about the fact that homosexuals are portrayed as human beings on TV lately. If we see them as people who go to school, eat food, listen to music, and engage in extracurricular activities like the rest of us, it's a heck of a lot harder to hate them, or to see them as some malicious "other" hellbent on changing our beliefs and ways of life. Most of us can agree that this is pretty ridiculous. It's good for us to see how people live who live differently than we do, whether we agree with it or not. As it turns out, the overarching American culture, or at least regional culture, tends to be a lot bigger than lifestyle choices or sexual orientation. We're all a lot more alike than we give each other credit for.
But we refuse to walk two moons in another man's moccasins in order to understand him. In fact, we're more interested in the Jack Handey take on it: We want to walk a mile in another man's shoes so that, when we criticize him, we're a mile away AND we have his shoes. It's kind of hard to do that if that man looks like someone I might actually want to hang out with.
So, we're in agreement. Portraying gay people as gay PEOPLE on TV isn't a bad thing. But what about those icky polygamists? Or those irresponsible whackos with 19 kids? Surely they're too far outside the mainstream to be included in the acceptable category for positive portrayals. But why? They support themselves financially, they pay taxes, they're not abusive, the adults involved in these relationships consent to them, and the children in the families are happy to the extent than any child is happy. I have yet to meet any teenager who agrees entirely with their parents' views and choices. Both of these families give their children the freedom to choose whether they want to continue in these lifestyles once they leave the house.
Now, maybe we have a problem with the exploitative nature of reality television in general, and that's a whole other animal, but why is it that we seem to think it's some form of indoctrination to see that people whose lifestyles we disagree with are still thinking, feeling human beings? After watching two episodes of Sister Wives, I'd totally let my (future) kids hang out with their kids. Do I "approve" of polygamy? Nope. Not a lifestyle I can get behind. But I've never made agreeing with someone a qualification for being friends. I'd probably have a lot fewer if that were the case.