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Sister Wives and Brother Husbands

Photo of Caryn James By Caryn James | James on Screens March 15, 2011 at 2:38AM

The strong responses from readers about the season premiere of Sister Wives shows how starkly the issue of polygamy divides people, from some who envy the Browns’ communal family to more skeptical readers who point out how much we don’t see on the reality show. (If you missed it, here’s my review and the comments; thanks to everyone for responding and feel free to add more.)
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The strong responses from readers about the season premiere of Sister Wives shows how starkly the issue of polygamy divides people, from some who envy the Browns’ communal family to more skeptical readers who point out how much we don’t see on the reality show. (If you missed it, here’s my review and the comments; thanks to everyone for responding and feel free to add more.)

One major question the Browns have been asked by Oprah and others, but never answered adequately: how do they support all those kids? Or rather how did they before they got a TV show? Even if three of the four mothers work, we’re talking about 16 children!

Then there’s the religious belief that husbands should have many wives but not the other way around. (Both shows go out of their way to note that polygamy is no longer condoned by the mainstream Mormon Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints; the polygamists are renegades.)

HBO’s drama Big Love began to tackle the issue of sexism this season when first wife Barb decided she was called to the priesthood and went searching for a church that would allow women to minister. She didn’t go so far as to question why women don’t have several husbands. But thanks to Big Love (the finale to the entire series comes this Sunday) and now Sister Wives, polygamy has become so entrenched in pop culture that a flood of comic responses have been based on that extremely obvious, serious double-standard.

Most are too obvious to be very funny or trenchant, but the latest, best satire came from an unexpected source: the ABC comedy Raising Hope. The sitcom is about a family that is not so much unconventional as lax about everything; teenaged Jimmy had a one-night stand with a woman who soon got the death penalty for murder, leaving him and his family with a daughter to raise. It’s not cutting or sophisticated humor, but it is class-conscious, and in this clip it is dead-on in its take on the arrival of a cousin and his new bride.

It seems to me that the Browns on Sister Wives are just as much cardboard characters as the sitcom people here. Take a look:



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