BIG LOVE, BIG ISSUES The new HBO series, Big Love, has created quite a stir among media watchers, cultural critics, and Mormons. Why the buzz? The show centers on the family of Bill Hendrickson, the owner of a growing chain of home improvement stores who owns three homes of his own, each occupied by one of his wives and their children. HBO is known for producing series that explore unusual families (The Sopranos, Six Feet Under) but suburban polygamy? The family’s lifestyle is informed by Mormonism. In the second episode, it is revealed that at age fourteen, Bill, like other young men, was cast out of the fundamentalist Mormon polygamous community in which he was raised because senior leaders didn’t want competition for younger wives. And they practice religious devotions such as personal prayer, grace at meals, and spiritual blessings. But they are not portrayed as Mormons nor even as typical fundamentalists. They don’t attend church nor wear temple garments, and only one family member, second wife Nikki (whose father is the prophet/leader of the community that ostracized Bill),dresses anything like what one usually associates with fundamentalist Mormon women. Still, the show is set in Utah with Mormon references popping up everywhere, a prayer in which Bill expresses gratitude for their being a family sealed for ‘time and all eternity,’ casual references to Relief Society, Young Women’s, Mormon bishops, teen slang terms such as ‘Morg’ and ‘Morbot’ for super-devout LDS, the local high school’s name and mascot: the ‘Cumorah Cougars.’ Given its uncomfortable history with its polygamist past and the great lengths the LDS Church has gone to in order to distinguish today’s Mormonism from its nineteenth-century incarnation, LDS leaders are quite uncomfortable with the series, urging producers to place disclaimers in the credits and issuing statements to the press and local Mormon leaders clarifying the current LDS stance toward the practice of polygamy. In contrast, however, some Latter-day Saints are quietly pleased that Big Love has come along because it is forcing a fresh discussion of polygamy and the difficult balancing act Church leaders have tried to perform this past century of renouncing the practice while never denouncing the doctrine of plural marriage. In this session, we’re pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the series and the issues it raises. How many families like the Hendricksons live in the United States today? How accurate are the series’ portrayals of the joys and trials of plural families? What might the fallout, both positive and negative, be for the LDS Church should the series become a hit and genuine player in America’s culture wars?
Anne Wilde, Mary Batchelor, Richard Dutcher and Doe Daughtrey