At the Oscars, George
Clooney declared he was "proud to be out of touch."
Movies and TV, he suggested, can help change the world, one wicked
human heart at a time.
So perhaps HBO is
just doing its bit for human progress this Sunday (March 12) in
bringing you "Big Love," because as the promo says,
"Polygamy Loves Company." According to the Los Angeles
Times, the show about "the polygamists next door" is
"family values of the provocative kind." ABC News called
it "buzzed about." Time magazine hailed it as "the
next cool thing on TV."
Just a TV
show? Series co-creator Mark Olsen is unabashed about his intentions.
"Big Love," he told Newsweek, is "everything
that every family faces, just times three. The yuck factor disappears
and you just see human faces."
family values for you: taking the yuck out of polygamy on national
TV. This is just the latest salvo in what appears to be a nascent
push for normalizing polygamy in this country. In January 2005
at Yale University (according to the Yale Daily News), Nadine
Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, defended
the ACLU's fight for legal polygamy: "We have defended the
right for individuals to engage in polygamy," Strossen said.
"We defend the freedom of choice for mature, consenting individuals."
(According to the Chicago Tribune, up to 40,000 Americans practice
polygamy right now.) University of Chicago law professor Elizabeth
Emens, in a series of legal journal articles (a.k.a. "Beyond
Gay Marriage") lays out a new strategy for defending polygamy
as both a constitutional right and as a morally acceptable way
of life, calling this historic moment a "unique opportunity
to question the mandate of compulsory monogamy."
Maybe her next essay
will be called "Beyond Polygamy," because when you think
about it, polygamy is terribly old-fashioned, isn't it? The latest
cool thing is "polyamory"; the Chicago Tribune calls
it "monogamy with more partners" and goes on to describe
it like this:
"John and Sue
have an offbeat marital arrangement. For the last five years of
their marriage, Sue has spent three nights a week with her boyfriend,
Fred. And that's not even the strange part. As it turns out, John
openly shares Sue -- and their king-size marital bed -- with Fred.
Confused? Consider this: During the rest of the week, Fred sleeps
at home with his wife, Peggy, and their male lover, Bill. John,
a 71-year-old San Francisco-based researcher, also has relationships
outside his marriage to Sue. He has three current girlfriends,
Fred has two and John's wife has four boyfriends."
The main appeal of
polygamy has historically been among straight people. But in the
Southern Voice last April, one writer argued: "Gays should
support polyamorist rights because many of us already participate
in a kind of informal polyamory."
The most disheartening
telltale sign I spotted came from a grad student at the University
of Wisconsin, writing unself-consciously in the Badger Herald
earlier this year: "Over the past few years, the social stigma
of engaging in polyamory has greatly subsided on college campuses
-- and this university is no exception." She's not very pleased
with the trend (which in her retrograde way she calls "cheating
without guilt"), but she's hoping to learn more about it
in her Close Personal Relationships academic seminar.
How powerful will
the new push for polyamory prove, now that Hollywood, in its restless
search for new ways to be "out of touch," has thrown
down the gauntlet on monogamy (never its favorite family value)?
I don't know. But I think we are going to find out.
Because after all,
who but a hate-filled American could object to truly Big Love,
2006 Maggie Gallagher