Kody, Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn were invited by an anthropology professor at UNLV to take part in a panel discussion about the beliefs and lifestyles of polygamists. Just as quickly as they agreed to it, they began voicing their angst, concerned, for the most part, because they would be facing voices of opposition led by Christine’s aunt, Kristyn Decker. Joining Kristyn on the dais were Kollene Snow, Christine Marie and Willy Steed – all former polygamists. Robyn and Christine seemed to be the two who were the most nervous and upset about the event, for two different reasons.
Christine was wringing her hands and pacing the floor, voicing her concerns about seeing her aunt after more than two years. Kristyn had written a book, “Fifty Years in Polygamy – Big Secrets and Little White Lies”, in which she described the torment and abuse she’d experienced. She also exposed her own family of polygamists as con-men and scam artists who lived the lifestyle, not out of any religious calling, but to engage in some awful behaviors involving both children and adults. The other ex-polygamists had their own stories, similar to hers, if not worse.
The level of anxiety for Christine and Robyn only grew once the Browns reached the venue. Christine locked herself in the ladies’ room, refusing to come out, while her aunt and the others lurked outside. It wasn’t until Janelle and Meri came to her rescue that she agreed to emerge, flanked by her sister wives/bodyguards. Once the discussion began, things didn’t get any better. The professor did his level best to keep the tone somewhat civil but, soon, given the bad blood between the Browns and Aunt Kristyn, it turned into something that looked more like a domestic dispute with microphones. It got personal, as one side goaded the other, smirking and eye-rolling during comments and questions. The Browns were the most defensive, and Robyn, probably because she felt safe with the family by her side, turned into a real whirling dervish of sarcasm and snark. At one point, cutting off Kristyn’s comment, Robyn barked, ” Don’t make me out to be a victim. This is the way I want to live. This is my choice and I’m happily living polygamy in Kody’s family. And I wouldn’t live this way if I didn’t believe in it.”
The back and forth devolved into an angry exchange with Kody shouting that he wasn’t going to be judged and that he wasn’t going to tolerate people who painted them with a broad brush. He said that he is nothing like Kristyn’s husband, the Browns do not condone the type of polygamy that Warren Jeffs and the FDLS subscribed to and that polygamy such as theirs is made up of good people.
When I wrote my first post about the Sister Wives, I said that I really didn’t care what kind of lifestyle they have, and I haven’t changed my mind, one way or another. The bigger problem I have with this show is the same one I have with the majority of reality television – I just don’t trust it. All of us who watch this type of programming experience that feeling eventually. Because of the myriad manipulations we see, hear and read about, we can’t look at these shows with anything but suspicion. And, because of that, this episode, this premise of an educational debate, had all the makings of just that – a premise. The Browns, like most reality stars, would have nothing to offer viewers if there wasn’t some amount of manufactured drama. The two-year wait for houses that they may or may not actually own or have mortgages for (thank you to some very smart commenters for that theory), Meri’s ongoing turmoil over having another baby and the whole family worrying about how they’ll make ends meet while doing nothing productive to ensure that that isn’t a problem – all of it looks exactly like the same kinds of things we’ve seen on other networks which offer realty shows, with Bravo being the worst offender.
It isn’t just the fake drama that has us shaking our heads. The Browns have begun to sell their jewelry. It may not be wine and cocktail lines or cookbooks or pitiful songs on iTunes, but it’s still product placement being promoted under the guise of entertainment. In other words, the Browns have sold out, looking to “brand” their name and themselves – just like any number of the Housewives. And they think we won’t notice, either. TLC must be taking its cues from Bravo, and this family of polygamists are more than happy to play along. This episode did nothing to prove otherwise.
As a blogger, this poses a different kind of problem. Most of us who write about television, and especially reality TV, want to give readers something interesting to talk about. We want to write things that add to what readers and viewers have seen, but sometimes, when we get fed up with the nonsense, we say so and then there’s really only two choices – make light of the whole thing or give up. Recently a few bloggers have decided to throw their hands up and say “Basta!” to the genre, and I really can’t blame them. I’ll miss them like crazy, though, because their blogs were worth reading. They could dish like there was no tomorrow and did it in a funny and entertaining way. And yes, I’m talking to you, Chirp and Fame.
Not all reality TV is created equal, though, and there are a few shows that still deliver some entertaining fare without insulting our intelligence. Duck Dynasty and even Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo manage to make us laugh, with them and at them, and both of those would, admittedly, fall under the heading of directed comedy/drama. They don’t try to fool us in a bad way, though. We’re in on the joke, just as they are, and nobody’s thrown one punch or disowned family members for the sake of fame and ratings. I wanted to add The Little Couple as one of my favorites, but it didn’t seem right to group them with the other reality shows. “Genuine television” is probably a better way to describe them, because I can’t imagine Jen and Bill putting up with any of the shenanigans, nonsense and outright lies that some reality shows throw at us. They’re simply perfection – not one fake bone in their bodies or their program.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going anywhere or throwing in the towel. I’ve just taken a slightly different tack when dealing with reality TV – a healthy dose of humor and the occasional snark. But I can tell you that it’s so much easier and more fun to write about the scripted shows. Really.