Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan



March 28, 2013

ABC's Poly vs. Tea Party "Wife Swap": What Happened

ABC-TV

I was dreading it, but I broke down and watched it anyway. So that you don't have to. I'm talking about ABC's prime-time episode of "Wife Swap" just now, in which a mom from a polyfamily swaps homes for two weeks with a mom who's a Religious Right talk show host married to a former state senator from Missouri; they're on God's mission to save America.

I steeled myself with a pass-the-popcorn attitude.

We're first introduced to the two families. The polys have four kids, the Tea Partyers have five. The polyfamily consists of Chris Envy (his real name), a pro wrestler who works at a warehouse for his day job; his bi wife Angela, and their younger live-in girlfriend Ashley. The three sleep together. All care for the kids together. Chris explains at one point how they came to be: There was this party at the house, and Ashley got too drunk to drive home, so she stayed over, and one thing led to another. She's been with them for a year now. They and the kids eat mostly junk food and watch lots of TV together for family time. The women cook and clean. Chris would be fine with another woman getting involved but not a man — an OPP kind of guy.1

Cringe, go I.

On the other side of the country, Gina Loudon runs a radio talk show where she rattles on about how "You take Hitler. You take Mussolini. You take Pol Pot. They were all liberals. Let's not forget that." And, "the reason for Planned Parenthood was to eliminate the black race." Her youngish-looking husband John Loudon, even more of a Christian evangelical, used to be a Missouri state senator when he was even younger.

When Gina first arrives at the Envys' house it's empty, and she cannot make sense of the pictures on the wall. "I'm utterly confused about the family situation here. What I'm seeing is, two couples who live here?"

Each mom has left a family handbook for the other with explanations and house rules. Gina reads the word "polyamorous" with confusion and growing disbelief.

Meanwhile, Angela is telling Mr. Loudon and his children about her poly home, and already she is looking defensive, embarrassed, and outgunned. Literally; he and the kids take her to a shooting range for some gun education, and after a few flinching shots she says she never wants to shoot a gun again.

It goes downhill. "Wife Swap" is designed to be a drama fest, and its producers are skilled. Gina rags on Chris for being a lazy pig and makes him cook a real sit-down dinner. She views Ashley as an exploited afterthought and orders her out of the house; her new rule. Ashley breaks down crying and refuses. So do the kids; they cling to her, and Chris wades in to defend them all. Ashley stays. Still, in her smiley way, Gina sets other rules: no TV, and dump all the junk food and white sugar. And she tells Chris that he's going to be turned into someone "worthy of living in America." Starting with studying the Constitution under her tutelage.

They get into arguments over religion. Chris blurts that the Bible is "a mythical comic book where a man walks on water." Gina says she is being persecuted for her religion.

Angela, meanwhile, is trying to set a new rule on her end. In the interest of peace, there will be no discussions of politics or religion. The Loudon family will get out of their "bubble" and do new things together, like art and skateboard lessons for the kids (who have been homeschooled). It doesn't stick. John cracks belittling little jests about deviants in front of her and the kids, and reads her Leviticus where it says homosexuals (and, we presume, bi women) shall be put to death "and their blood shall be upon them." She breaks down.

And so on.

But as the two-week swap nears its end, developments take a twist. Gina leaves the Envys' home — whether she was kicked out or stormed out isn't clear to me — and she breaks the show's rules by phoning John on the other side of the country. We hear him (through a closed door) telling her to pack and return immediately: "we're definitely dealing with dark forces here."

And that's it. Usually "Wife Swap" ends with the two families sitting at a roundtable to discuss the experience. But ABC made a big thing in its publicity that this was the first time in the show's history (it's now in Season 6) when one family refused to met and discuss.

Which chickened out? The Loudons. A narrator says that John and Gina's attorney informed the show that they would no longer participate in any way. So, we are left with the triad and their kids at the roundtable alone, discussing how awfully things went, how disrespectful and judgmental the politico-religious couple were, and how utterly overjoyed they all are to be back together safe again in their own happy home.

We see a followup six weeks later. The Envys, says the narrator, continue as a happy, loving family. Angela tells the camera that one good thing to come from the experience is that they feed the kids healthier snacks now, and Chris helps cook. Angela laments for their naive early hope that they would make new friends on the show. We close with a heartwarming scene of the three adults and four kids joyfully gathered on the couch in each other's arms.

And then a black screen with the narrator saying that despite repeated attempts, the show was unable to make any further contact with the Loudons.

My assessment:  The show displayed Religious Right evangelicals being their worst. No viewer can have missed this. The poly family came off as trashy at first, but became much more sympathetic during the ordeal as they pulled together and stuck up for each other at every turn. The happy ending was lopsidedly pro-poly.

P.S.:  One useful lesson learned: To get overweening fundies out of your hair, make them think they're "definitely dealing with dark forces here." They'll vanish.

(Disclaimer: I scribbled notes while watching the show just once, so I don't guarantee that all details above are error-free.)

Update: You can now watch the full episode. Also, here is Wife Swap's webpage.

Wife Swap typically has about 5 million viewers. And there will be reruns.

Oh-The-Irony Followup: A local online newspaper where the Loudons live, the Imperial Beach Patch, has a story on the episode the morning after, including this:


While on the show, Gina said she participated to overcome stereotypes about conservatives, but on her website and radio show last week, Gina explained that her family moved to California and appeared on the show to be a part of a "culture war."

"I think there comes a time when you look at the culture we're in and you ask yourself the question 'What am I really doing?' We all enjoy calling ourselves culture warriors but how do you really fight that culture war?" she asked.

Conversatives can't fight a culture war by addressing people with similar views and beliefs, said Gina, who has appeared on Fox News and written a book.

"Anytime I have a platform I'm going to take the opportunity to fight for what I believe in. You can't very well call yourself a culture warrior and then be afraid to engage in the battle."


Some warrior. Once outside her bubble she broke and ran, the first in the show's six years to do so, leaving the "enemy" in uncontested control of the battlefield. Yet here she is back on the air telling her bubble of believers what a great warrior she is.

More update: Rush Limbaugh weighs in, fuming that the Tea Party family was portrayed as “intolerant, Bible-thumping prudes” while the polyamorous family was portrayed as “the normal, loving, sympathetic characters whose worst trait is eating a lot of junk food.” But apparently he couldn't find much so bad to say about them either.

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1. "One-Penis Policy," highly snarkable in the poly world.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

Your link was to the celeberty wife swap - wife swap is
http://abc.go.com/shows/wife-swap

The Envy family manual that describes the relationship
http://abc.go.com/shows/wife-swap/envy-manual

March 29, 2013 5:14 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

> Your link was to the celebrity wife swap.

Fixed.

March 29, 2013 7:05 PM  
Blogger Wes said...

I prefer the term "Highlander Penis" http://polyskeptic.com/2012/11/07/there-can-be-only-one/

March 29, 2013 11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would think it doesn't really matter what a person's policy is..nor is it anyone else's business..I thought the whole judging thing was for conservatives..I really don't think there is such a thing as "true" poly.

March 30, 2013 10:40 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Anon,

The issue with OPP, in my experience, is that it is when it is imposed by the single man in the relationships. There is nothing wrong with a relationship having just one man it. There is something wrong when:

1)One partner (the man) imposes his rules on the other partners (the women)

2)When there is a double standard (I can have all the opposite-sex relationships I want, but you can only have same-sex relationships except with me.)

3)This imposed rule is driven by a very subtle sexism (other men in the relationship are a threat to me, but other women aren't)>

There are plenty of relationships where the women in the relationship say "I'm happy with just one man, but I'd like to have a girlfriend or two," and no one has a problem with that. As soon as it's about one person imposing restrictions on other people in the relationship, hackles go up, because the ability to choose for ourselves is something that the more outspoken polyfolk hold very highly. You'll see similar debates over veto power, rules vs boundaries vs agreements and several other areas.

As Miss Poly Manners likes to say, there is no right way to do poly, but there many wrong ways. There are plenty of things that just plain don't work in poly relationships. OPP is one hat opten doesn't work because of the resentment that can generate when it is imposed rather than chosen. That said, if everyone in the relationship is happy, that's their business.

March 30, 2013 11:41 AM  
Blogger Anita Wagner Illig said...

Well said, Jessica! Nothing judgmental about it. And thank you for at least using your name instead of critiquing in anonymity.

March 31, 2013 2:40 AM  
Anonymous Robin said...

I personally hate OPP for all the reasons you listed. But how can you say it's not successful? It's the most successful form of poly in history! Look at all those successful mormon relationships and polygamist relationships in other cultures! All OPP poly relationships. They violate my morals because of the sexism, but many participants seem to like it.

March 31, 2013 8:05 PM  
Blogger Scott Hamilton said...

So in the Imperial Patch article, she has a comment saying that the show was cut for dramatic purposes, not factual (which is true) and says her family is really down to earth.

I'm sorry, you don't get to compare mainstream American liberals (or conservatives, for thart matter) to Hitler and Pol Pot and claim the description "down to earth" at the same time. You go straight to "way out there" - do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

March 31, 2013 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I've been around since before television and enjoyed early television, I rarely watch TV now. What was normal then is now ridiculed, and the ridiculed is normal. Wife swap should be swapped for not following its own format The producers didn't follow their own formula. They allowed every single previous wife to change their family. This one tea party wife wasn't allowed to change this family. The producers broke their own framework by allowing the person not to be the wife. The shows premise is that the wife changes the family to her worldview. Obviously, the producers were unable to handle that.

April 01, 2013 2:12 AM  
Anonymous Theresa said...

I agree with Anonymous when they said the show did not allow the wife to swap. Instead Gina was placed in a position of 2 adults against one. While the other wife had an advantage only having to deal with one adult. And the conservative hubby didn't make her breakdown. If she was so strong in her conviction that what she was doing was right and good, he wouldn't have been able to make her feel bad about herself. And being in a relationship with a self-centered man who doesn't have the manners to allow someone to help him understand the foundation of the country he lives in is worse than being stupid. It's ignorant.

April 02, 2013 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Theresa said...

@Scott Hamilton - Gina was making a point about the liberal view in general. And not so long ago (and even currently) there exists socialists, facists, and marxists in America. And to pretend they don't exist and don't have an influence on our culture today would be a horrible mistake. Saying out loud makes it possible for people to become aware of what is going on around us and once you are aware, there is no going back. It's like the choice between the blue pill and the red one. You can choose to remain ignorant or you can choose to know the truth.

April 02, 2013 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Dawn Davidson of Love Outside the Box said...

@Teresa and Anon: I understand that you don't feel it was fair for the girlfriend in the poly family not to leave when the Tea Party wife ordered her to. I disagree. I feel it would have been like the Tea Party wife deciding that she didn't like an Aunt living in the house, and asking her to leave. You just don't toss someone out of their home! She DID in fact make changes in the poly family home: The husband did sit down for education about the Constitution, for instance, and she was successful at throwing out the junk food... and in fact got them to make a permanent change in their diet. I think that part was very successful.

I think it would have been fair to have asked the girlfriend not to participate in family *decisions* during the swap. But what she asked was that this person be summarily removed from her HOME, and that the children completely lose access to someone who is effectively another parent. It might have seemed a reasonable request to the Tea Party wife, but I can see why everyone in the family -- including the kids -- felt it was unfair and out of bounds. Would you turf out an aunt or a grandmother who was involved in the family?

On the other side of things, the Tea Party husband broke the rules as well, by refusing to abide by the poly woman's changes. She tried to make it possible for her to live in that environment without undue stress (by instituting the jar for religious or political discussions), and he refused to let her opt out of his religion. Yes, she could use some more self-esteem, but browbeating her about how she is of the dark forces is not exactly a loving, Christian thing to do, in my view. He bullied her emotionally in a way that was far more damaging than the poly man's somewhat sexist demands to be waited upon.

Also, I actually agree that the Show should be taken to task for breaking their own rules... I just disagree which broken rules are at issue. I think the problem was that they allowed the Loudons not to come back to the roundtable. That has never happened in the history of the show, apparently.

As it happens, I think that served to have the poly family look better in comparison (since they did what they were supposed to do, and did abide by the agreements they made.) However, it absolutely is against the policy of the show. In my opinion, it shows how the Tea Party family, with their greater financial resources, were able to buy their way out of the situation they didn't like. Nice display of the mechanism of privilege, there.

If Wife Swap were to do this again with a polyamorous family, it might do well for them to consider educating themselves on the dynamics of such a family before making the switch. Frankly, if they had been doing it right, they should have transplanted BOTH "wives" to the Tea Party household. THAT would have given both families the opportunity to truly experience the others' family dynamic. Besides, I would have loved to have seen the reactions of both husbands to suddenly being faced with either only one, or two wives, respectively!

April 02, 2013 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone with eyes could see that Ashley, was in love with a FAMILY. She looked to the "husband" for approval of everything she said, and you could see that she did not always agree, and in fact said that he was not very nice several times in the beginning. I think Gina saw through that, and was trying to convey a sense of self-worth, which was clearly lacking as evidenced by her constantly looking at the husband for approval. She WAS a third wheel. She was not a wife--on the same level as the married partners. She was their "girlfriend." She is young, and clearly fulfilling something the controlling husband could not, and the family was fulfilling something she was missing. Sad and not healthy, regardless of the parameters of the relationship. It was no different than any controlling dynamic.

April 07, 2013 2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the mother of a 22 yr old and a 23 yr old, I found the Envy husband and wife to be sexually and emotionally usurious. The barely cooked 23 yr old young girl is the live in unpaid babysitter, assistant cook and maid and provider of sex services. Mr&Mrs Envy are empty, just inadequate losers. The poly fam children were unkempt, poorly fed, dullwitted TV drone children. If it was my 23 yr old daughter, I'd bodily pull her out of this dysfunctional situation and giving Mr Envy a swift kick in his sorry butt or a whack with my cast iron fry pan.

April 27, 2013 2:42 AM  

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