Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Big Love - Fiction and Fact

I am addicted to Big Love on HBO. For those of you who don't watch the show, you are missing out. The show follows the lives of Bill Hendrickson and his 3, yes 3, wives. They are polygamists. Bill's second wife, Nicki lived her entire life at the Juniper Creek compound where her father Roman Grant is the prophet, dictating all goings on there. Bill's third wife is Margene, a young woman who is searching for belonging and believes she has found that with Bill and his wives.

The interplay between all the characters is beyond complex and at times confusing. Sometimes I think my head it going to explode as I listen to and watch these people. Each of Bill's wives serves a different role: Barb is Bill's true wife, Nicki is his spiritual wife, and Margene is his mistress wife. As the show goes on, it becomes more apparent that Barb really does not want to be in a polygamous marriage, but loves Bill too much to leave. Nicki is all about living "the principle" and wants to be as holy as possible. She is torn between her family of origin, Roman Grant, and her family with Bill, Barb and Margene. Margene just wants to feel safe and loved, to fill a need she never had met in her upbringing.

This season has given much more insight into each of the wives. Nicki is by far the most compelling to me. Barb is a doormat, allowing her love for the Bill she married to control her. Margene is still growing up and will cling to anyone who shows her any attention. Nicki is becoming increasingly complex. She is equally attached to her father and life on the compound and her husband and life in the secular world. But most of all, she is looking out for Nicki above all else. Nicki tries to play Barb and Margene against one another all the time. When push comes to shove she only wants what is best for Nicki, not for either of her families.

Nicki's behavior is the most disturbing of anyone on the show. Her motivation is never clear, aside from her own best interests. Last night I found more clarity about Nicki, not on Big Love, but on another show, The Secret Lives of Women. TSLW is a series on WeTV. Last night was all about polygamy. As big a fan I am of character crossing from one show to another, this was even better. This was like getting Cliff's Notes for Big Love.

Hearing real life polygamous speak out was fascinating. The show gave a very balanced perspective on the issue. We heard from women who love being sister wives, women who didn't like and even women who escaped life on a compound similar to Big Love's juniper Creek. In this show we met Vickey and Valerie, twin sisters married to the same man (they have an additional sister-wife and 21 kids between the three of them). These were modern looking women you would never suspect of being polygamists, much like Barb. Moreover, Valerie was in a polygamous marriage prior to her current one. She left that one, was visiting her sister and "felt this energy" with her brother-in-law. Vickey brought it up to her husband about her sister becoming a sister wife. On the surface Vickey seemed to like the life they lead, if you listened carefully that is not the case. When answering the question of "how she can do this?" Vickey replied, "it is a deeply held spiritual belief, and when I think of that, then it is easier for me to keep going on. It is an important tenet of my religion." When I heard this I had to pause the TV. My head almost exploded. Lady, listen to yourself!!! You need to think about your religion in order to go on. And, even then it is only making it EASIER, not easy. She is openly admitting that this is not a life she is enjoying, but because her religion mandates it, she is willing to do it. This kind of blind faith is scary. Especially when someone admits they don't like it, but do it anyway. Vickey is like Barb. She doesn't like polygamy, but is willing to go along with it because her religion says to. But in Barb's case, she and Bill changed from being LDS (standard mormons) to polygamists well into their marriage.

The show also featured Ruth and Nancy, two sister wifes who grew up in plural families. They are like Nicki on Big Love. To them plural marriage is a blessing and an obligation. It is all about living the principle. They did seem truly content with being part of plural marriages. This was how they were both raised so for them it is normal. There was s true sense of happiness and community in their family. Each of the wives had a role to play. As one was a teacher, the children all went to her for help with homework, another wife did the cooking, etc. In situations like this, I have no issues with polygamy - everyone wanted to be part of this family and they all supported one another. They were happily living in accordance with their beliefs.

On the other end of the spectrum were Rachael and her mother Pauline. Rachael eventually was forced to become her own step-father's 17th wife. She had to marry the man who raised her from the time she was 7 years old. She even had a child with him. Now follow this: Her daughter was her mother's (Pauline's) grandchild and Pauline's husband's granddaughter. BUT this baby was also Rachael's husband's daughter. As Rachael and Pauline had the same husband, Rachael's daughter's father was also her grandfather. How messed up is that?!? Rachael and her mother sister-wife Pauline eventually left the plural marriage.

I have no problem with polygamy as long as it is between CONSENTING ADULTS. This program showed that some young girls, often as young as 14, are forced into marriage. This is where I have a HUGE problem. Anyone under 18 is not mature enough to get married. Most people under 25 aren't either, but that is a different story. We saw the story of Fawn who at 16 ran away from the TLC. TLC is Warren Jeff's infamous compound in Colorado City, AZ. She left because against her will, her father entered her name in the "Joy Book." The "Joy Book" is a listing of all girls eligible for marriage. At 16 Fawn was put up for marriage. She was assisted in her escape by Flora Jessup, a Harriet Tubman for Mormon women and girls trying to escape from life on compounds.

Big Love shows all aspects of plural marriage within one family. If you want to blow your mind watch this show. Whereas it takes entire cast on a daytime soap to generate this much conflict, on Big Love you get it all within one family. It is a huge extended family, but a family none the less. Next week I will just discuss Big Love with out the extra Cliff's Notes. Instead there will be more about the fictitious drama and none of the real drama.

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