In the past, I've written about my feelings on the Duggar family. These posts have been some of the more heavily visited and contentious posts I've made on this blog--lots of people agreed with my Duggar critique, and lots of people were horrified by it. Though the posts are years old, I still get occasional Duggar defenders commenting.
Recently, I've lost my interest in peering in on the TLC-version of the life and times of the Duggar family. I can't exactly say why--my criticisms of them are only more true as another generation begins (Josh and Anna have two kids now!) and the girls get older and seem all the more controlled by their father and their faith. Maybe I've just given up? Maybe it's too sad for me these days? Either way, 101 Kids and Counting isn't on my DVR anymore.
But I haven't completely reformed. There is a new "family of faith" I can't pull myself away from, again courtesy of an attention-seeking man and TLC. The Browns, of Sister Wives. Like the Duggars, the Browns have a ton of kids (17, I believe). But the kids are spread between Cody Brown's four wives. The Browns are fundamentalist Mormons, the polygamist kind. They are, more or less, the real-life equivalent of the HBO's polygamist cash cow, Big Love's Hendricksons. With more kids and slightly less drama. And I sort of adore them.
Well, let's back up on that. As was the case, oddly, with Big Love, I sort of adore the women. The dude in the middle? Him I could live without. I have no idea how much of it is reality and how of it is the spin TLC chooses for the show, but the more watch, the more I don't understand how Cody Brown could attract and keep even one of these women, much less all four. Obviously, their lives and views and priorities are worlds away from mine, but I find it hard not to get a kick out of the four Brown women. As I think I said at one point about their fictionalized counterparts on Big Love, there seems to be a real female friendship between them, a strong bond that their obvious issues with jealousy and competitiveness can't break. I like watching that. And, mostly, I like how they treat each other.
Meri, Cody's first wife, is my favorite. She strikes me as someone with a backbone, a soul, and a good sense of ridiculous humor. The whole lifestyle seems to be the hardest on her, not least because she has only been able to have one child. More so than the others, Meri is honest with the camera about her jealousy and other issues. That strikes me as exceptionally brave, in her situation. I can't really guess why these folks have agreed to have their lives put under the nationally televised microscope, but of all of them, Meri strikes me as the most real about what she is saying while she's on the big stage. I like that.
Cody's second wife, Janelle, I love for her pragmatism. Cody is basically a huge, overgrown child, and though I believe his wives are technically all supposed to defer to him, Janelle seems to be the most apt at keeping him in line. Janelle worries about money (which is an odd issue in the show, as the Browns seem to both have plenty of it and never enough, and there isn't a good indication of where it's coming from). She is concerned about logistics. She doesn't suffer fools lightly. Janelle also seems to be the least jealous or competitive of the four women--she has her own thing to do and she mostly just does it. For Janelle, more than the others, I see the benefit of this lifestyle--it seems almost like a (stunted, but still) attempt at cooperative living, more than a multi-marriage. I can kind of see the appeal to that, especially for a woman who very much wants to work and have a lot of kids.
It took me a while to warm up to Christine, Cody's third wife. At first, she seemed to be the most like what you'd think of as a stereotypical polygamist wife. She's very traditionally feminine, her focus almost completely Cody and the kids, and seemed to defer to everyone else way too much. As time has progressed, though, Christine has grown on me. For one thing, it seems that she, more than the others, has a good grasp of the actual biblical basis for the lifestyle she's chosen. While I'm not particularly interested in it myself, I have to respect her for making the connection, especially when it seems largely lost on everybody else (including and especially Cody). Christine is also blessed with the gift of enthusiasm--whenever there is an event or occasion on the show, all the way down to going to Meri's gym for a weigh-in and personal trainer session (the last episode I saw), Christine is raring to go. I kind of like that.
Finally, there's Robyn. Robyn is Cody's most recent wife. They've been married...a couple of years, maybe? She just had their first child, though she brought three with her, from her first marriage. At first, I very much disliked Robyn. She seemed like the hot new home wrecker, messing up a system between Meri, Janelle, and Christine that seemed to be working just fine. She's grown on me, too, though. I have realized that most of the issues I had with Robyn are issues with Cody--the way he handled their "courtship" was infantile. Robyn herself, though, seems more and more to be sensitive to the feelings of her sister wives, and to really care about the family she's joined. A few episodes ago, she told Meri about her pregnancy before she told anybody else, hurting for Meri's hurt even while experiencing her own joy and excitement. I thought that was really nice.
So why am I telling you all this? Because I want to be clear that I actually like these women before I criticize their show. My critique of their way of life is only half-hearted: I don't really give a damn about plural marriage one way or the other, and they seem to be doing OK by their kids (at least for the most part). All of them have said that they don't expect their kids to necessarily choose their faith or lifestyle, and if that's true, then I'm OK with that. What bugs is agreeing to do the show, which pries into them and has to be really tough on the collective offspring. I wonder if they were consulted, you know? When Dad decided to turn their alternative family arrangement into a publicity stunt, did they get a vote? That critique is not Brown-specific, obviously--I wonder it about all of these types of shows. The difference with the Browns is that they already had teenage children when they started out on TV. Their younger kids may grown up reality stars, like Kate Gosselin's offspring and the Duggars, but the elder ones? They got shoved into this at a pretty darn sensitive point. And they don't seem to be dealing with it all that well. The kids aren't interviewed all that much on the show, but when they are, my heart always goes out to the older ones, who seem to be surviving, but not at all happy with what their lives have become.
Of course, I realize my criticism is ill-founded, given that I continue to watch these people's lives like some kind of peeping Tom. I can justify it by saying that they choose to be on TV and that they want this attention, but really, it's still pretty crappy. Were I a better person, I'd shake the habit of reality shows entirely and devote myself full-time to fiction, where there is no question about whether or not my watching is what they people on the screen are hoping for. Until I reach that level of enlightenment, though, it's nice to be watching something with so many women I actually like.