It's happening. We've seen it on TLC show after TLC show, and "Sister Wives" has started down the same road. TLC programming has an element of "freak show," an opportunity to stare at someone who is different, with the later promise of humanizing the subjects. We've had The Amazing Woman with the Human Litter with Kate Gosselin, and now The Man with Three, No, Wait, Make that Four Wives! starring polygamist Kody Brown and wives Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn.
But freak shows of old only allowed a quick peek in a tent before the people who stepped right up were ushered right out, because the longer you look at something, the less novel, the less weird, and the less different it seems. This change in the perception of others may well be the goal of TLC's reality shows; after a while, you realize that people are people, no matter what the painting on the canvas outside the tent says.
That normalization is fantastic for tolerance and understanding, but not all that great when it comes to interesting television. Once the novelty wears off, is watching a woman who had sextuplets doing laundry all that interesting? No, it isn't.
Which is why, after an initial season or two of a genuine view of others' lives, they start manufacturing situations to create draw and excitement. Instead of showing their genuine selves to the world, the once-regular people start caring about things such as ratings, fame, and the money that they are paid for their participation in the show, but which is never discussed.
Like "Jon & Kate Plus Eight" before it, "Sister Wives" is in the infancy of the same changes, and they're not good -- not for the viewers, and certainly not for the nearly 17 children involved.
Though polygamy is a foreign concept to most of us in the U.S., "Sister Wives" gave us an inside glimpse into how a family with multiple wives functions. The children seemed happy and incredibly normal given the fact that they were being raised by three women all "married" to the same man; even the addition of a fourth wife did not slow them down.
Yet due to the publicity of the show, the family was investigated for bigamy -- a crime in Utah -- and so they moved to Nevada, a place where no one in the family had any anchors. The likelihood of legal backlash from their "coming out" as polygamists was predictable; the family said they knew it could happen.
So this season of "Sister Wives" opens with the four factions of the family in four separate houses. Gone is the easy access for the children from household to household; in one particular moment, one of Janelle's kids, a teenager, asks Christine if he could come over and spend some time with his infant younger sister. Where before it would have been an easy walk through a doorway, he now needs an invitation.
All of the children look listless, though some try to hide it through manufactured joviality. They seem adrift, unsettled with this major change in the structure of their family unit. And yet that thing that we saw start and rise in Kate, that settling in to the spotlight, we see in Kody, now, too, insistent that his children participate in a family religious service covered by cameras. Even when one of his daughters says she feels uncomfortable using something as private as expressing her faith as TV fodder, he was undeterred. Instead, he stood in front of his family and preached to the cameras, not to them.
Yes, looking into the lives of polygamists is interesting, and watching the dynamic among the wives is an aspect of humanity most of us don't see. But it looks like, for the kids, it still feels like a freak show, and that is simply not OK.
Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Join the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own articles.
- Kate Gosselin