Why too much TV is bad for you

Of late, there’s been a new topic to rant about in week-end calls with friends. Polygamy. At least 2 of my friends have watched the new HBO show, and well, so do I. There’ve only been about 2-3 episodes so far, and already I see a disturbing pattern emerging. My blood comes close to boiling when watching the show, and I relish making caustic remarks about it with friends, who in turn agree and come back with equally caustic responses. We swear we won’t watch it again. And the next week end, we’re having the same conversation all over again.

In this week’s episode, the question that my friends and I had anticipated, and which has fuming with indignation but also stuttering with nothing better than “But…but that’s not the same thing! At all!” finally came. If same-sex marriages are unions between consenting adults, doesn’t the same principle apply to polygamy? Let’s face it – it is the same thing. I just don’t happen to like it.

I almost miss the days in which the only thing on TV that made me feel this indignant was Chitthiiiiiiii (God, I used to hate that show!). It felt so easy to rant against media empires that gave away prime time slots to shows where wives were beaten up (remember Deepa Venkat!), ambitious women were portrayed as evil, to rave against women content creators who were so lost to greed that they only cared about making money (did I find male content creators who were as greedy to be equally offensive? No – But I was more sexist then.)…

I digress. To return to polygamy. Would I like it any better if the question were about polyandry, as opposed to polygamy? I doubt it. Because in both cases, the victims continue to be women[1]. And that’s the crux, really – my apparently unshakable conviction that in polygamy/andry, there are victims. Whereas that’s not how I feel about same-sex marriages. Big Love doesn’t make it easy for me to revise my opinions. Can’t help feeling that the men are smug. The women come across as needy (wife # 3), don’t-know-any-better (wife #2), or inscrutable (wife #1). It’s impossible for me to feel sorry for the husbands who’re under tremendous financial pressure to support multiple families, and get more than their fair share of wifely nagging. The minute I feel they must be regretting their lifestyle, along comes a bout of love-making that seems to make these men feel that the financial hassle’s worth the trouble. One fatso character actually believes that taking on wife #4 is his way of answering God’s calling. [2] Clearly, I have issues with the show.

Morality is a way to speed up decision-making. You don’t have to agonize over the pros and cons of a situation. You agree with some side because it is the “right” thing to do. It’s more efficient. In situations where morals fail or don’t apply, one can at least fall back on personal preferences:
– stealing: bad (moral reasons),
– killing: bad (ditto),
– cosmetic surgery (to get sexier looking lips / boobs / whatever): bad (surprisingly enough, moral reasons – I feel that you’re not dealing with the hand nature gave you – corrective surgery, OK – elective surgery NOT OK),
– smoking – bad (Here I leave morality and move into the realm of personal taste. I don’t like it myself, so I won’t do it. I vaguely think you’re foolish to do it, but I won’t hate you for it, or stop you from doing it, so long as you don’t blow smoke in my face),
– eating meat – distasteful (to me. You can eat whatever pleases you, so long as you don’t mess about with dead flesh in my kitchen), and so on and so forth.

I suspect I have strong “moral” beliefs about questions like stealing, killing etc. because these were instilled into me as a child (growing up with desi movies, for the longest time, I actually used to believe that the minute you commit a crime, you’d hear sirens blowing as the cops would be on their way. I must have been 12 or older before I figured out that in most cases the police really have no way of knowing the instant a crime is committed).

I’m sure my parents must have emanated a sense of “polygamy: not good” because I feel so very comfortable making that call. On the other hand, I am 100% certain there was no talk what so ever about same-sex marriages. (In all fairness we never even had the birds & the bees talk, so this topic had no chance at all. I was quite into science in those days, and they must’ve figured I’d get around to it sooner or later). And yet, I appear to have acquired strong “moral” beliefs, and unfortunately conflicting beliefs about both.

Here’s the thing about morals … They have this nasty habit of turning into umbrellas. Over-arching principles, which if they apply to situation A1 demand they be applied to situation A2 as well. With polygamy, I’m not sure what I’ll decide. I see three options before me:
– go down fighting,
– after a while bump the question from an ethical one to one of personal taste.
– stop taking stuff on TV personally. HBO wants to make money. I want to spend money. We’ve already struck a deal. Why sour the relationship with silly questions?

In the meanwhile, I’ll day-dream of situation A3 – nogamy – where people who wish to be left alone are left alone – by people of all sexes.

[1] I’m afraid I don’t recall specific evidence that I can use to back my claim. Regular readers of Kalpana Sharma will know what I mean. Or you could try watching Matrubhoomi. Yes, the latter’s fiction, but so is Big Love. All very apples to apples.
[2] My cattiness apart, the acting is really good. So far the show’s been interesting, and one hopes it will not soon run out of steam, even if carton-loads of Viagra continue to keep it steamy.

Update: Update: When I say “polyandry as opposed to polygamy”, I mean “polyandry as opposed to polygyny”. Thanks to Sudha & Pete for catching that oversight.

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