The Impact of Sister Wives and Polygamy In Popular Culture

Sisterwives- Brown Family

Sisterwives- Brown Family

I recently came across a blog I thought was well written about a commentary on TLC’s show, Sisterwives. It is from a website I have not followed before and is even more interesting because the website is a commentary on Mormon Culture. The blog states:

“I got sucked into watching “Sister Wives,” I’ll admit it. Having deliberately avoided it for the entire first season, I fell prey one cloudy Sunday when TLC was running a marathon in the lead-up to the second season. It’s compelling stuff to watch as Kody Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn deal with dramas ranging from sibling squabbles (inevitable in a family with seventeen children), to adding a fourth wife into the mix, to fleeing from Utah officials into a life in Las Vegas. Maybe the following thoughts are simply a way to justify my interest in the show. Besides being compelling human drama, I think “Sister Wives” is part of a long continued discussion within American popular culture about the proper structure of the family and how much the state should intervene in regulating this family structure. On the surface, “Sister Wives” is a deflected part of the national conversation about whether or not gay marriage should be legalized. Yet I think, even more basically, it gives viewers a vehicle to get at the most fundamental questions that we as humans, as American humans, are struggling with as our culture shifts away from the traditional nuclear family: How much can we change family structures and still create a moral, ordered, functioning society? How much are these cultural and family norms derived from religion, specifically Christianity? How much should they be derived from Christianity—and what form of Christianity? How much should the state enforce these religiously-derived norms and standards in order to assure an ordered society for the generations to come? And who gets to decide all of these vital questions in a pluralistic society ostensibly dedicated to democracy and the separation of church and state?”

I recommend the entire article be read here to finish the authors insightful commentary. I certainly feel plural marriage has a fascinating aspect because it is reflective of our changing culture so much. Our family is a family that lives a structure that is one of the oldest and most traditional of families, but one that has not historically fit into America’s perception of family. As not just the definition of families, but the values by which we raise them is challenged with the rapid rate of change and technology I think it is incumbent on all families to choose those principles which are timeless and be able to adapt to that which needs adjusting.

Families like ours or the Brown’s are not perfect, for that is one of those timeless definitions of families. But as we fight over left versus right and traditional values versus liberal values, let us remember that families should be about love. The Brown’s are a family built upon love for one another, and I think at the end of the day what draws us to them is that they are a family.


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15 Responses to The Impact of Sister Wives and Polygamy In Popular Culture

  1. Liz says:

    But see, I’m not sure the Brown family *is* all about love. What I see on t.v. is something quite tragic, actually–a man who is all about what HE deserves, whether it’s children, expensive cars and motorcycles, trips or mega-mansions. His recent interview at the mid-season finale was quite telling–how he wasn’t attracted to Christine whatsoever was the biggest thing that stuck out at me. I mean, if you truly love your wife so much, why go through the trouble of insulting her on-air? In another episode, he told Christine (or was it another wife?) that if she wanted to go on trips, then she should save her grocery money. Two things there: (1) “her” grocery money? you mean, he doesn’t contribute so he doesn’t care?, and (2) what, so she and the kids are supposed to subsist on nothing but saltines, then?

    I guess my point is, in my opinion, you (Dargers) cannot be compared, in any way, to the Browns. Why? Because you all are FUNCTIONAL. In reading your book and watching your interviews, I would never, ever think for a second that Joe would say such awful things like how unattracted he was/is to you, or that you should save YOUR ‘grocery money’ if you want to do something. I can’t for the life of me believe for a second that Joe has a deserve level that’s so astronomically big as to exclude what another wife might want, just so he can get what HE wants.

    Oh, and you all are gainfully employed (one of you is the home Mom, right?). That’s something that can NOT be said of any of the Brown adults. Which makes their bizarre “I deserve this” mindset even more hard to believe. You all rely on your own hard work to bring income to your family, and you all apparently rely on your own hard work and maturity to bring love and stability to your family. Those are things that, to me, are glaringly missing in the Brown family. To me, there’s absolutely no comparison between your two families. I’d trust my girls to have playdates galore in your family with you parents around. . . not so sure I’d do the same if we were talking about the Browns.

    Don’t mean to sound ultra-critical of them, but they opened themselves to national scrutiny with their show, so in my opinion, that leaves the Browns fair game to criticism. Plus, you’ve been so open about your beliefs–the hows and whys of why you believe and live what you do. You’ve provided wonderful sources, research and insight into polygamy and how that figures into your AUB beliefs. It’s something you believe to your very core, and your family has made that clear many times. The Browns? Nothing. And not that they “need” to provide “proof” as to why they believe what they do, but your transparency makes your family that much more open, real and. . . believable, if that makes sense.

    Great post; thank you!

    • S. says:

      I agree whole-heartedly with everything you say–the Browns and the Dargers are on two entirely different levels in terms of functionality and living true to their principles. God bless both families, but I am sure He appreciates the work of the Dargers much more so than that of the Browns.

      • Arleen Cromwell says:

        Wow. I think you should watch the show from the beginning as I have (SisterWives) because much of what you say isn’t accurate. And to say that Kody is self-centered is far from the truth. He does his best to please 4 wives and to meet their needs until he gets stretched very thin. He never said he wasn’t attracted to Christine. They are in a very difficult situation in Las Vegas with them all being in different homes and Kody seems to be trying his best to make all of his wives feel loved. The only thing I see that seems “tragic” is that they need to be back in one big home together as being apart doesn’t give the wives the closeness to one another or the kids the closeness to each other-they don’t get to see Kody everyday and he doesn’t get to see his kids and wives everyday. I truly hope they survive Las Vegas.

        • Arleen Cromwell says:

          One more comment–Kody works a job as did two of the wives when they lived in Utah. You made it sound like they are all living off the state which isn’t true.

    • Katie Thielen says:

      I could not agree with you more Liz. The Dargers should never be compared to the Browns.

  2. Jen says:

    Liz well said. I could not agree with you more. The Dargers come across as a loving, functioning family. With four adults looking out for each other and their children. When i read the dargers book I was left with the impression of a family that compromises and tries to put others feelings before their own. They are honest in their struggles and mature and responsible with their solutions. That being said the browns couldn’t come across anymore opposite. They all act like self serving brats who desperately want to live the Principle but can’t bring themselves to do the emotional work it takes. Kody is a terrible example of a man leading a plural marriage. He does not exemplify any of the qualities I would expect a man of faith to have. The women could not be more ill equipped for this lifestyle. I think I could do a better job being a sister wife and I am not even a poligimist!

  3. MarriedUK says:

    I totally agree with Liz. As I have posted before, polygamy looks like a very tough way to live but (based on what you say/ write) you Dargers seem to live it well and (for want of a better word) righteously. The same cannot be said for a certain Mr Brown. That having been said, I am impressed by the forbearance of his wives.

  4. Lorin says:

    One thing people fail to keep in mind is that the Brown’s TV show is a reality TV show and therefore, like all other reality TV shows is all about the “drama.” The Brown family isn’t perfect and neither are the Dargers. I’m sure if the Dargers were being filmed 24/7 one could easily piece together a TV show about all the conflicts, disagreements and drama that goes on in their lives as well. It’s impossible to live polygamy without the occasional outbursts of jealousy or conflicts or insecurities. I’m sure the Dargers have just as much hardships and experience difficulties in relating with each other just as the Browns do.
    It’s probably not so easy to see it because the Darger’s book is written from the view of the parents and, honestly, who wants to publicize every little squabble or issue in their life. The Browns don’t have as much say as their WHOLE lives are constantly being recorded.

    I’m not saying that I think the Dargers are a horrible polygamous family, or that they are worse than the Browns. I think both families are absolutely wonderful, and both have a tremendous amount of love. Both Joe Darger and Kody Brown have built beautiful families both of which I believe are great examples of what a healthy loving polygamous family can be. Granted neither Joe nor Kody are perfect, and I’m sure they both have their weaknesses. But it’s not fair to judge the Brown family just because TLC shows you more of their lives and conflicts than Love Times Three for the Dargers.

    Personally I think the Dargers tend to deal with issues that arise naturally in any polygamous family better than the Browns do. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing good to say about the Brown family. I think for being raised in a monogamous family, and not in a polygamous family like Joe and his wives were, Kody Brown has built a really good polygamous family for someone who had no idea what they were getting into.

    The Lord says, “By their fruits you shall know them,” and although it’s not always clear when watching Sister Wives, you can still see the loving family that Kody and his wives have built. I for one think the fact that Kody still has all his wives speaks loads on his part, at least there he’s further than a lot of polygamists out there.

  5. Lorin says:

    And Liz you are mistaken, Kody wasn’t saying that he wasn’t attracted to his wife Christine. What he was saying is that when he first knew her he didn’t find her physically attractive.
    “Back then, I was young and superficial enough to care about physical appearances.”
    Kody isn’t saying that he’s not attracted to Christine, he’s just admitting that at the time he first met her he was a shallow young boy just like 90% of most young men are.
    “Looking back, i hate myself for the thoughts i had at the moment, but the sight of this chubby girl in my car devouring chili cheese nachos for breakfast put the brakes on our relationship. It brought out the most superficial and shallowest side of me. I still liked her-in fact, i liked her very much-but the nacho experience cooled my attraction a little- well, a lot.”
    Both quotes come directly from their book Becoming Sisterwives.

    • imani says:

      That is a horrible comment to make about your wife to be – during the courtship process. That is the time when you should be head over heels in love with your wife to be. To call your future wife fat and by looking at her eating nachos took the relationship down a notch, is nothing short of cruel. It is tantamount to emotional and verbal abuse. And even if he felt that way he should have kept that comment to himself. Kody is so self absorbed he could care less whose feelings he hurts. In my opinion he is not attractive now or then, and he should thank God that any woman would want that egotistical bastard as a husband, he is just a womanizer.

    • imani says:

      Liz, is not mistaken. How would you feel if you’re husband said that he did not find you physically attractive? It reminds of people in other countries who have arranged marriages, and say that they may not have loved their spouse at the time, but have “grown” to love her or him. I remember Christine saying at some point that, “she did not find Kody attractive because he was too short, and that she never took seriously the marriage proposal.” Although she did not write this out in the “tell-all” book, i remember her saying that. And this is why i believe Kody said what he said, because his ego was hurt. Actually Christine was not “chubby.” And he and Meri both found her attractive. The history on their courtship is that Meri and Kody were some sort of counselors at a religious retreat, and Christine was a camper at the time. This means she was very young. At a later point in time they met her and both expressed interest in her. Kody should not have alluded to weight in the book, because he should have known that his female children who are also “chubby” would read that book at some time. And he is referring to one of their mothers. One of Christine’s daughters is very overweight. This is emotional abuse. It is designed to make the person feel totally worthless, and it is just wrong. In addition Kody can be very rude and disrespectful to his wives if they don’t go along with his program. And he talks to Christine as though she is a child. And there is a definite pecking order in these marriages. In the end just as Christine has said, ” if Kody does not agree to something it does not happen and if he does it happens.” Look how he put down Jenelle’s idea of the gym, because he lost interest. And at least three of the wives do not want those homes. I feel if they need to be so close together, why not buy a triplex and each family should have their own apartment and then an adjacent house for the fourth wife. Another option would be to have constructed a home like the one they had in Utah, or they could move back to Utah. These people filed for bankruptcy and left unpaid bills. How do they think that it is ethical that they don’t pay their past debts, but have the right to accrue new debts in the form of buying four half a million dollar home? I hope they get denied. Reality shows are not a career and at some point the monies will dry up, and if a bank lends them these monies to purchase these new homes, they will be stuck with the bill, and the Brown’s will declare bankruptcy again. People are usually judged on their past patterns, and decisions. In the past they did not pay their bills. And they do not go to work. Robyn has not worked since she joined the family, all she has brought to the table is an empty plate and another mouth to feed. Meri lost her job due to the show. And she never brought in a sizable income, just enough for her and Mariah.Christine never worked outside the home, she took care of Janelle’s kids so Janelle could work, eighty hours a week. If Janelle is working it is not clear what she or Kody does. She certainly does not need Janelle to help her with the kids anymore. TLC is taking care of this family. And the monies should be divided equally. No family should go hungry as Kody suggested to Christine when she balked at the idea of having another home. Kody told her to save her grocery monies if she ever wanted a vacation. How callous!!! She is the mother of six or seven kids and they should go hungry if they EVER want a vacation. It is his responsibility to feed all of his children. He dismissed Meri feelings about these new homes. And Robyn has game, big game.

      • Natja says:

        Actually he said that ‘before’ they were courting, not during courtship and whilst it is a cold comment to make, being a bit insensitive does not an evil womaniser make.

  6. Stephania says:

    I have various people quoted saying something to the effect “Just because I am a member of some larger group (insert whatever descriptor)- doesn’t mean I speak for or am a representative of all people of said group.” Probably the same can be said for polygamist families/individuals. It appears there is no ‘one way’ because although the way people live may be similar, the individuals contained therein have their own distinct personalities.
    Perhaps this tendency to compare is because people got ‘used to’ the fictional ‘Big Love’ family before real-life polygamists started going public-which is kind of the reverse of how people think of TV family shows, say ‘the Brady Bunch’, people might say, wow, that seems so unreal, not only can I not relate to that, I don’t know anyone like that, or some other show people might say , ‘oh that character , that reminds me of one of my relatives or someone at work’ but the general set up for these shows with only a few recent exceptions, is some variation of the traditional family structure, or single parents or extended family etc. When your average person sees these they see some facet of themselves either as something to relate to or unrealistic but either way it is ‘art imitates life’ but sometimes in judging these families it seems people want life to imitate ‘art’ -if TV can be considered art, though I was sad to see the BL series go- but BL may have been the only exposure to this way of life people have ever had. Therefore they may draw an unconscious connection that is the way these kind of families ‘should be’…
    If we don’t do that with the Brady Bunch or Rosanne, 8 is enough , family ties, ect etc… if we make the distinction between a TV script and real people, maybe we can do the same for the families brave enough to come forward, whether we ‘like’ various individuals when studying various cultural/marital expressions isn’t really the point.

  7. Muslima says:

    I think both the Brown and Darger family are really great families with so much love.

  8. Mike says:

    Men appose polygamy out of jealousy. When most men fantasize about sleeping with more than one girl, there is no other reason to appose this except to say “you can’t have it if I can’t have it”.
    Wemon’s opposition is more jenuine. They truly know how bad they feel when another woman approaches their man. So they think “If I can’t enjoy this, there is no way any other woman can enjoy this”. On the other hand, wemon clearly remember those nights of the month that they can’t even think about doing it when the guys is going all over her. Sometimes they think I wish there was an alternative so I could have my guy made happy without losing him.

    The reality is this model will work if there is true justice and everybody (by that I mean all wemon) are equally happy. One feeling overlooked or underpriviledged makes everything a mess. It’s indeed a difficult balance to maintain.
    As for the children, I’m hoping they grow normal having so many people around. The sense of family must be really strong in these kids, much more than kids in same-sex marriages.
    So as far as I’m concerned, live on and enjoy it as long as everybody in the relationship is happy.

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