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Big Love

Sat 9 Sep 2006 In: Television View at Wayback View at NDHA

I admit it- I'm rather hooked on HBO's Big Love series, which is currently screening on TV2, Wednesdays. It's the story of Bill Henrickson, a schismatic but nonfundie Mormon polygamist and his three wives, six kids, parents and a creepy cult leader... In the United States, there seems to be an undeniable tone of gay resentment whenever the issue of heterosexual polygamy is brought up. Elsewhere in the world, it's a brown herring, given the restrictions on (predominantly) Muslim polygamist family resettlement from Southern Asia in Europe, Australasia and North America. In the case of the United States, the aforementioned schismatic Mormon sects are the object of resentment. So, is Big Love pro-polygamy propaganda? Bill is a likeable bloke, although he does lay on the male domination trip a little too much for my liking. However, Barb, the first wife, has economic independence of her own, and some power over the family as a result. Nicki, the second wife, comes from the United Effort Brethren, a creepy schismatic fundamentalist Mormon polygamous cult. Her unpleasant dad, "Prophet" Roland, is a polygamist, who has a teenage wife below the age of consent. To Bill's credit, he doesn't like Roland much either, and is trying to live a suburban life outside the confines of the cult compound where he was born. Given that he was kicked out at fourteen, he didn't have all that much choice. So, how does it compare to our own monogamous same-sex led families? Well, they're somewhat larger, and much more economically stretched than ours are, and there's also the youthful marriage angle, which concerns me considerably. Added to which, there's the power imbalance in favour of particular partners- in this case, Bill and Barb, as breadwinners. Our own partnerships are far more egalitarian than is the case presented here. I can't say that I particularly like the strictures placed on the life of female characters in the series either, apart from Barb and their daughter, Sarah. I think most same-sex led families will chafe at this, especially lesbian led ones, given the strong female role models that lesbians provide for their daughters, and their concern to insure that their sons also get a fair deal in terms of exposure to suitable male role models. Or, in the case of gay male led families with daughters, the other way around. Still, it's hard for me not to relate to Bill, as a fellow parent, with teenage children, and apparently universal parenting hassles, added to questions about disclosure- even more so, paradoxically, in their case. Bill isn't a paedophile, although I wonder about his backstory. It's implied that he may have had to turn to teenage rent boy sex work after being kicked out of the compound, and I wonder how he relates (a) to lesbians and gay men (b) to non-schismatic and non-Mormon polygamists. Interestingly, it presents relationship complications as one possible factor that could destabilise polygamous heterosexual relationships, and more tellingly, economics. No wonder het polygamy never caught on, it's bloody impossible to manage! (Actually, one of the male characters soon to appear may turn out to be gay at some point in the series). Will we ever see a Big Gay Love? No. If it's that hard for heterosexuals, any lesbian, gay or bisexual polyamorous relationship would have even more economic obstacles to surmount, given economic aspects of homophobic discrimination for same-sex led families. Perhaps that's why polyamory is more of an ethical choice for lesbian, gay and bisexual nonparents than parents within our communities. One man is enough for me, thanks. Craig Young - 9th September 2006    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Saturday, 9th September 2006 - 12:00pm

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