On ABC's 20/20, a network of polyfamilies shows how it's done.
They pulled it off. On ABC's "20/20" last night, a group of eight adults and three kids faced down an incredulous anchor and, for 7½ minutes, displayed to perhaps 57 million viewers what a happy poly network of families can look like. Watch it here:
Here's ABC's lovely text article paralleling the segment. It follows the video fairly closely.
I wonder, however, why the word "polyamory" never once appeared in the article or on air. It's not like ABC has been afraid of the word in the past.
The segment was part of a one-hour show titled “The New Sex: Strange Arrangements.” The other parts were an interview with 50 Shades of Grey author E. L. James, stuff about celebrity sex, and gigolos. (You can watch the whole thing.)
A leading spokesperson for the poly group was Sierra Black, who has recently written about her open marriage and raising her children in it for Salon and the parenting sites Strollerderby and Babble.com. Here's her blog Childwild, in which she's been talking about the 20/20 experience. Excerpt:
I did this because I wanted to give mainstream America a peek at a healthy, happy, thriving circle of poly families. It’s my hope that we’ve done just that, and that this is a step toward a future where news shows won’t want to do segments on how “kooky” polyamory is, because it’s just a thing some people do. I am fairly confident positive portrayals on TV can make a difference, and I’m grateful to ABC for their approach in this one.
My great thanks go out to ABC, 20/20 and in particular anchor Elizabeth Vargas and our producers Marc and Michael. I felt they gave a respectful, balanced portrayal of our family life and relationships.
I’m also grateful beyond words to the family, friends and loved ones who appeared in the segment: thank you for your courage and wisdom. To those who counseled me off-screen, practiced interviews, loaned me pretty things to wear (thanks mom!), hosted the viewing party, recorded the show and were there when I needed a hand to hold or a kind word: thank you from the bottom and the top and every in between part of my heart. This couldn’t have happened without each of you.
Another Strollerderby regular posts,
...Watching Sierra’s relationship profile on TV just now, I realized how incredibly stable her unusual family is.
The best part, I thought, was listening to Sierra’s elder daughter Rio describe her parents’ open marriage. From ABC News:
You might think Sierra and Martin’s daughters think their parents’ arrangement is unusual, but when “20/20″ anchor Elizabeth Vargas asked their daughter, Rio, if she thought her family was different from other families, she replied, “Not really.”
Rio’s definition of an open marriage was fairly precise, for a 7-year-old: “Your parent or one of your parents is dating a different person that’s not part of your family,” she said.
Vargas proved herself a bit conventional during the interview process, asking questions like, “Aren’t you just committing adultery?” The obvious answer is, of course not, though Sierra and her husband Martin gave an even better retort. “As Martin put it, ‘There’s no cheating.’ Sierra added, ‘We are committed to being an open book with each other, and it’s all based on a really high degree of love and trust.’”
Precisely.... There’s communication, dialogue, even bargaining amongst those involved about the types of behaviors that are acceptable to all parties and those that are off limits. I don’t doubt that more marriages could benefit from that kind of honesty.
In a tweet, anchor Elizabeth Vargas commented to a viewer right afterward, "i will admit, i really dont get it. But they all seem to really care about each other. Just cant imagine it myself..."
Update: Sierra writes us, "I'm trying to encourage positive feedback about the 20/20 piece to ABC. If you liked ABC's take on #polyamory, let them know @ABC2020 [twitter] or leave a supportive comment on this article: http://abcn.ws/IvnyTS .
"PS -- I saw you mentioned that the word polyamory wasn't used in the piece. The producers were confused about what polyamory means. They thought it was always and only households with three or more adults living together as equal partners; what you probably think of as polyfidelity or plural marriage. We tried to set them right about it and I think mostly succeeded, but they seem to have wound up thinking any term of art was confusing and just going with 'open marriage.' Meh."