“Sister Wives”: Mass Manipulation?

Picture worth a thousand words? Does Meri’s smile appear ‘real’ (she’s the one in background)? Photo TLC

The couple frolic in the surf….they enjoy a romantic dinner for two. The vacation is a present to themselves, in celebration of their 20 year marriage. They seem like any other couple who’s weathered the storms of long-time commitment… until we hear their conversation.

Over that candlelit dinner, wife Meri says: “I’m finding this (latest situation) difficult.” Husband Kody counters that he’s trying to understand. She then adds, “Imagine how you’d feel, trying to adjust to my being with another man.” Kody replies: “That thought of you being with another man sickens me…It’s vulgar.”

Meri then looks deeply at him and says: “I need you to be patient.”

That’s when my jaw drops…You see, I know the context of the conversation, and I wonder how this seemingly attractive woman can be so manipulated by this man. Quite simply, Kody is being asked to be patient while wife Meri accommodates to the reality of her sharing her husband with new (young) wife, Robyn. It’s not like Meri hasn’t been there before: she’s had to adjust to two other wives over that two-decade marital lifetime.

This is “Sister Wives,” one of the newest of in-your-face kind of reality shows that pushes the envelope in what’s acceptable in our society. It’s brought to viewers by the TLC cable network, and it showcases a polygamous male and his 4 “wives.” It’s not the fiction of “Big Love,” a show that aired a few years ago; “Sister Wives” is purportedly a real polygamous family.

Husband Kody Brown seems to have a whole lot of time on his hands as well as complicit women who enable him. His latest plan is to “marry” a young, 4th. bride, Robyn, while Meri, Kody’s (official and only legal wife), balks at the idea. She went along with him in the past when Kody added Janelle as wife #2 and Christine as wife #3.

The three women shared the same household, conjugal bed, and husband Kody for many years. But the latest addition of Robyn challenges the status quo. There are 17 (?) children among them, a reality that never seems obvious to the viewing public as the adults sample and vote on wedding cakes, choose flowers, gowns, and reception area, plot out the details of the wedding, etc.

In all, Kody is disarmingly laid-back, the adored hub of the wheel (so to speak), with apparently, lots of time on his hands, despite the fact he’s an advertising executive. In addition to that position, he runs his own company called Kody Brown Family Entertainment (I have to believe the show portends expansion of such because it surely fits in the ‘entertainment’ genre).

Other salacious details burble up: Meri recently lost her job (one she supposedly loved) since the agency she worked for allegedly didn’t want the publicity generated by the family being outed as polygamous on national TV. They “had to let her go.” Her workplace? A mental health agency. I could see how her hire would be problematic for the agency.

Then, there’s that bothersome detail about second wife, Janelle, being Meri’s former sister-in-law. Almost feels like incest. There’s been talk that Meri harbored negative feelings regarding Janelle following that woman’s split with Meri’s brother, but the rift allegedly healed, as do all tempests in this ever-expanding nuclear family.

The reason the 4th. marriage ceremony wasn’t televised? We’re told their “religion is private” and the service was simply too important to them to allow cameras. But that begs the question “Why?” We’re allowed access to their most intimate discourse, but we can’t witness their commitment to each other before God? (I smell lawyerly concerns).

So, yes, they all appear to get along famously…Kody has a delightful outlook on life (why shouldn’t he?); the wives all busily satellite him; they grouse but get over supposed petty jealousies (4th wife gets a 2-week honeymoon while the others didn’t).

Quite simply, “Sister Wives” is launched as just another slice of the American societal pie, but at the end of the day, most viewers wonder: “How does this giant family function financially?” That question is never answered.

For the new season, Biddy suggests: Start with a bang. At tax time (now), get into the real nuts and bolts of finances for the Brown family, whereby an actual CPA (or other tax expert) comes to the homes (two now), discussing who takes whom as deduction and how it all plays out. After all, this seems to be the hot topic viewers want explained.

Skip the party planning, family picnics, and future wedding shopping (showing how everyone gets along). Give viewers what they really want: A look into the financial bedrock of that household…

Possibly, then we may finally understand the penchant for a polygamous lifestyle.

***New season of “Sister Wives” will air in March of 2011…Biddy won’t be watching. Will you? Tell us what YOU think in Comment section below.

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A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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