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Showtime Reactions: Letter to the Producer

Season 1 of “Polyamory: Married and Dating” has concluded, and the ratings were apparently high enough to warrant trying for another season.  Consequently, Natalia Garcia, the producer, has put out a casting call to pretty much every poly list she can find, asking for more people to volunteer to be on the show.  In the good news department, she’s actively seeking “more diversity” in a number of ways for the next season. In the bad news department, she’s still looking for “charismatic, healthy, and active,” which at least one other person has suggested probably still means, more or less, “thin and conventionally pretty.” The folks over at Modern Poly offered some detailed reviews of the show, and they, like me, and like others I’ve spoken with directly, were concerned over several main points, specifically a) diversity (racial, body-type, age, etc), b) what seems to me to be a heavy emphasis on sex, c) the lack of love and respect demonstrated on the screen, d) some seriously poor communication and relating shown at several points in the show, and e) that the emphasis on real sex on screen means that only a small and fairly privileged slice of the poly community — which tends to mean more white folks again — could possibly afford the potential downsides of appearing on the show.

Natalia, in response to one re-post of her casting call in a local poly list here in the SF Bay Area, wrote a short, enthusiastic letter thanking the re-poster of the casting call and encouraging people to contact her if they wanted to be considered.  I wrote back in response to some of what she wrote there, and you can see what I wrote below the jump. (BTW, I’ve copied as little as possible from that to contextualize my responses, since, although she’s posted a lot of words publicly, these weren’t in as obviously a “public” place. I think most of the rest of what she said in that email is covered in the other links here.)

I’m frustrated and disappointed, to some degree.  On the one hand, I DO sympathize with Natalia in working within the constraints of this medium. And yes, she accomplished something no one else had been able to do so far, in getting a show about polyamory onto a “mainstream” TV channel. And on the other hand, I feel she’s dismissive of some real concerns, and undercuts her own ability to make a positive difference with the show by failing to give serious consideration to these concerns. Some good was done, some bad effects also happened, and a lot more good could be done with a few tweaks to the show. All in all, I find it a mixed bag.

What do you think? Especially if you’ve seen the show, do you find the sex good, or too much?  Do YOU think this show has been a huge “win” for the poly community, or do you think it’s potentially caused some damage?  Or both, neither, or something else altogether?  I’d love to know what others think. As always, feel free to comment here, or over in my Facebook Page, LoveOTB.

May you always love boldly, safely, and well,

~♥ Dawn

PS: I’ve also just now seen that Alan of Poly in the News has done a little Q&A with Natalia, in which he’s asked some more interesting questions. FWIW, it’s not that I think there aren’t attractive people in the poly community; there surely are!  It’s that I think that showing ONLY people who are thin, beautiful, and (almost all) white, means that there are a whole lot of people in the poly community that do not see themselves represented on this show. And Natalia’s response there saying that “all other criticisms … are personal projections” is precisely what I criticize in my commentary below.  Natalia of course is correct that she has to work with whatever the media will buy (that’s the nature of commercial media after all), but she seems oblivious to the fact that she’s reinforcing these very stereotypes in her choices around what and who to show. In particular, she’s not adequately addressing the fact that by showing that much skin, and placing that much emphasis on sex, she narrows her potential participants to only those who have enough privilege to withstand this much public scrutiny, and who can manage the potential risk of losing jobs, custody of children, or other social standing by being out to this degree.  Many people of color, or people of lower socio-economic status, simply cannot afford to take this enormous risk, and therefore haven’t answered her calls.  So saying airily that “these are who came forward” just minimizes her own contribution to the narrow field of applicants, IMO.  Oh well, hopefully she’ll have better luck next time, now that the ground has been broken.

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Natalia:

Greetings again (we “spoke” last year on more than one list like this one.)

On Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 8:50 PM, natstertvwrote:

I’ve seen poly people on talk shows like Tyra Banks and other media that have seriously hurt polyamory. This show had done the opposite.

Hm. Really? To which Tyra Banks show are you referring? Was there a different one that I’m not remembering? (Always possible!) I’m particularly curious, since my recollection of the 2006 Tyra show (on which I personally appeared) was that it was actually pretty decent, and showed several positive portrayals of polyamory, including a lovely poly family in Seattle, whose story was centered around a teen growing up in a poly household. Of course, there was also the set-up “date” that I found distasteful (and obviously contrived by the producers), along with the guy who insisted that because HE was a jealous jerk and couldn’t hack it, polyamory was evil and could never work for anyone else. These things are to be expected in daytime talk shows, though… and honestly, the bright-eyed proto-triad looked like pretty fun people; just somewhat naive at allowing the producers to put them through that silly, contrived process.

So I’m really curious if there was another poly episode on Tyra that you thought was problematic, or if you were just using that show as a generic representation of “all daytime talk shows” — in which case I think you’re doing not only Tyra, but also the participants a great disservice. Lob tomatoes at other talk-show episodes showing nastiness and melodrama if you wish (I know there have been several), but please give some credit to the people on that Tyra show and others that pioneered “being out as poly on a national scale.” As much as you continuously laud the members of the families appearing in your own series for being “brave,” I think you might understand that appearing on talk shows 6 or more years ago was even braver. I personally lost family members over my appearances, and on the whole, I think I got off “light” in the consequences department.

Thank you all for your support, it means the world to me.
Natalia Garcia

Natalia, I have found your communications throughout this process to range from defensive to hostile, as well as sometimes fairly arrogant and somewhat grandiose. Having now seen at least some of your show, I will say that it’s… not bad in some ways. You’ve captured a reasonably believable and likely accurate view of some real poly families, which is, indeed, something worth celebrating. I was personally very relieved to see that the show is as decent as it is, even though I disagree with your repeated statements that you’ve “done the poly community a great favor.”

But your show IS over-sexualized (IMNSHO), and that fact is arguably at least as “damaging to the poly community at large” as the talk shows you dismiss above. Just this week I watched episodes 3&4 with a poly discussion group, and the first thing one woman said at the end of the episode was that she was going to have to do a lot of re-explaining of polyamory to people she’d just explained it to, because for HER, polyamory is NOT all about the sex, and this show focuses so much on sex — and so little on love — that she was going to have to do a lot of damage control. You’re welcome to try to handwave that away with “oh it was their idea,” but given that YOU are the producer, that honestly holds little water with me. You put the sex on the screen because you wanted it there. Nothing gets on the show without it being intentional, given the hours and hours of film that I know is lying on the cutting room floor. Yes, the sex was tasteful and even beautiful at times, but it was still a huge emphasis on sex, and that’s highly problematic, especially when so little actual LOVE managed to make it to the screen (at least in the four episodes I’ve seen so far.)

I also do not let you off the hook for showing only thin and “societally attractive” and nearly 100% white people on the show [Kamala Devi is of Latin/Jewish descent]. Again, yes, I’m grateful — as you have pointed out repeatedly — that there has been a show like this at all. I’m also grateful that you’re apparently seeking more diversity for the next season, in several ways. And at the same time, the ageism and looks-ism that you have promoted is again (in my opinion) damaging to the reputation of the poly community at large. It is not an accurate portrayal of the poly community as a whole, and causes people to simply not take polyamory seriously, because the participants just don’t look believable as real people (e.g., another person at the discussion group thought they were “actors” and that the whole show was scripted). If you took some emphasis off of the sex, perhaps there’d be more room for more accurate representations of a range of body types and ages, to start with.

So yes, let’s celebrate that the show got made. That IS progress! But honestly, I’m not so much “supporting” you as putting up with you because I have no choice in the matter. I’m gritting my teeth and repeatedly reminding myself that it’s not possible to be 100% accurate in such portrayals in mainstream for-profit media. We’re “dancing with the devil” no matter what happens, after all.

I hope you do find some people who are capable of dealing with the publicity — positive AND negative — that’s likely to come out of appearing on your show should a second season come to fruition. And I sincerely hope you find, somehow, more families willing to appear that represent a greater slice of the real poly community, and that you are able to do a better job of walking your talk in having a positive impact in the poly community. Just please, give some respect to those of us who went before, since you’d still be pitching to talk shows if we hadn’t already blazed that trail for you.

Dawn Davidson
(appeared on Montel, 11/05 and Tyra, 10/06, among others)

 

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[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

8 thoughts on “Showtime Reactions: Letter to the Producer

  1. Pingback: Is Polyamory All About the Sex? (Or, Reality TV vs Reality) | Love Outside the Box (formerly: Uncharted Love)

  2. Jessica K

    I’m guessing that they couldn’t outright name resources on the show. However, that’s where personal websites and social media tools like Twitter and Facebook could be leveraged. Given that Kamala posted her list of poly books in her blog post on September 15th (responses to fan/hate mail), I think that the lack of resource info was more due to the cast/team not thinking about it than due to the network forbidding it.

    Something that was learned for next time – have a social media/follow-up strategy – whether it’s done by the cast/show or by allied activists.

    Reply
    1. Uncharted Love Post author

      You’re welcome, TC! I have nothing against the individuals shown (they are indeed taking some real risks in appearing in the show, and I applaud their bravery), and at the same time, I have a real longing for MORE: More diversity, more real emotional love to be demonstrated, more GOOD communication and behaviors to be shown. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to hope things improve in the future, if there is one for this show!

      Reply
  3. Carolyn Cox

    Ive read your complaints several times now since I also saw it posted on another site. Its probably just me but your letter seemed to have more validity before I happened to look over to the right and saw you requesting “Tips” alongside your letter. That is where You lost pretty much all your credibility with me. Surely you coulld choose ANY other place to ask for handouts than right next to (in your own words) your Not So Humble Opinion.
    To me it seems like you are do ing all the things that you are condemming the Poly producer (Natalia is it? Im sorry going back up to look. Yes, again my apologies) for. I dont know any of you so I think IMHHO that I can listen to both sides and judge for myself. I too have seen the 4 shows you are referring to having to grit your teeth and bare it. why? You dont hace to have anything to do with it at all if you find it, them, and her (the show, the people on the show, and Natalia the shows producer) so hard to stand. I certainly dont have to force myself to tolerate any show. if there is only one TV show on that represents just a portion of my life, I simply change the channel and know that every show has people on it that are a mere representation of people living that lifestyle, moving on up, or dancing around a ballroom stage where acctually can be more like a popularity contest than a dance contest. But there has to be the first show and a second before there are CSis in every majoe city! Im glad that my black friends dont have only a show with people in black face make up to represent their demographic. I dont know of any casting call for boring, sick, people with no zest for life what so ever who expect their show to be a hit!!!
    Could it be that the way could have paved in a nore positive way? Or with a more positivve attitude, so the show would nothave to go through the growing pins that it is? Possibly was the groupassembeled to watch the shows and discuss them filled with your friends who you knew would share your opinion, or didnt exist at all? I doubt it but it could be argued against you. and the fact that the show has done damage that will set Poloamory back years? Well I dont know about that. You see It is a relatively new concept to me! And it was this show that made me say to mysefl (speaking only for myself) Thank goodness!!! Just maybe theere is nothing broken in me that I cant keep a monogamous relationship going. Could it be possible that the thing that I keep saying about the way we should be treating each other in life can also be true into our relationships? Its all about Love. Love each other unconditionally, and without judgment. What anyone else chooses is none of my business if they do not hurt anybody else along the way. and maybe those who agree about specific things should band together instead of fighting and attacking from within. Just sayin

    Reply
    1. Uncharted Love Post author

      Carolyn: Thanks for your response. I appreciate your willingness to discuss this with me. I’ll respond in order.

      Regarding my “tips”: My business is coaching and counseling. Blogging is one way I promote my business, as well as a way that I provide information. As of this moment, the vast majority of the information I offer on my blog and on my other website is free, unless you choose to donate something. As it says on my tips spot, “you are always at choice.” 🙂 And as to “choosing” to post my tip jar exactly beside me writing “In My Not So Humble Opinion”–that’s an artifact of how the blog post shows up against my WordPress format. It just happened to be there, due to the particular length of the piece. If I ever manage to get someone to overhaul my site, then it might show up in a completely different spot!

      I’m not sure how you’re getting that I’m “doing the things that I’m condemning” Natalia for doing, though. My concerns for her center around how the particular way she’s presenting polyamory — e.g., as primarily about sex, showing numerous group-sex scenes, as if all poly relationships engage in group sex on a daily basis — and the effect that some of those choices have on the diversity of people who might be able to appear on the show. I’m in no way upset that she’s personally made money off her show, or that anyone else associated with the production itself might be doing so. She’s done a good job of creating what she created, and a lot of people liked it. *I* even like parts of it. Just not all of it, especially not from an activist perspective. If you’d like to explain to me how I’m being hypocritical here, I’d welcome the feedback. At the moment, I’m honestly clueless as to why you think so.

      With regard to gritting my teeth, I’m not gritting my teeth at the show because it bothers me to see sex on the screen in any way. I’m sorry if I gave that impression. You’re right, that I can always change the channel if I don’t like something, personally. But I’m not here as “just myself”; I’m also here as a poly activist. So I’m aware of the ways in which the choices she makes, and what gets shown on the media, influence the quality of life of individual people practicing polyamory, for instance. How does this depiction of polyamory as being sex-focused influence the opinions of policy-makers, for instance? Might someone in the future attempt to sway a judge in a custody case, based on an erroneous idea that ALL polyamorous people have group sex daily, because of what they saw on this show? These are my concerns about some of her choices.

      As far as being happy there aren’t just people in black-face on the screen for your black friends: That’s kinda my point. At this point, there are NO black faces on that screen (at least in the first 4 episodes). And part of why there are no black faces might be because it takes an amazing amount of privilege to be seen naked on TV and not lose your job over it, for instance. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so, and I”m by no means the only person to be concerned about this effect. See Jessica Karels’ reviews over in Modern Poly, for instance.

      I’m having a bit of a hard time following some of your feedback about the group assembled to watch. No, it wasn’t assembled with the purpose of having only people who share my opinions. It was a regularly-meeting poly discussion group, with a variety of participants of all walks of life, and a variety of races, genders, ages, and classes. These shows have been providing particularly “lively” discussions! That’s a GOOD thing about the show. As you mention, it is absolutely TRUE that this show (and by extension, Natalia) has increased the awareness of polyamory in our country (and to a lesser degree in other countries.) I am GLAD that the show has helped you to feel like you aren’t so “broken,” for instance. That’s a major reason that I agreed to appear on the various shows on which I appeared–to increase awareness of polyamory as a valid relationship style option. I’m glad to hear from someone for whom this show had that effect, truly. It’s heartening.

      I think in general what I’m hearing is that you don’t much like how strongly I called Natalia out on some of these things. I can understand that. I’ll admit I was a bit heated in my response to her, because I didn’t think she was showing respect to those who’d gone before, and also wasn’t heeding the feedback from the general poly community that was anything less than glowing about her work. Another thing that doesn’t show up here is the enormous amount of conversation I had with her BEFORE the show was produced, in which I discussed many of these same issues, most to as little effect. So yes, I’m frustrated with her, in particular in the way she’s apparently brushing off some really valid concerns. However, I’m not “attacking her” out of the blue, and in fact, I’m not attacking her at all. I’m taking a strong stance and voicing my concerns. That said, I do hear you that perhaps I could have tempered my words a bit more in this case. I’ll keep that in mind.

      If there’s more you’d like to talk to me about, or more clarifications you’d like to make, I’m open to more discussion. Thanks for writing.

      Reply
  4. Jessica K

    Dawn,

    Thank you for your thoughts on the show and for sharing your correspondence with Natalia. I’m hoping that she is taking the feedback that she’s receiving – both positive and negative – to heart. I was saddened when she told me she stopped reading my reviews, since I did my best to be as balanced/neutral as possible. The focus of my reviews was to critique some of the messages that the show gave on relating and to educate “poly newbies” on various concepts, since the show and it’s web presence lacked info on the next steps that people could take if they wanted to learn more about polyamory or polyamorous relationships.

    Reply
    1. Uncharted Love Post author

      Thanks, Jessica. I agree with you that more of a support structure around where to go next for “poly newbies” would be pretty awesome. I wonder if they weren’t able to do that, though, since it would be tacitly (or explicitly, even) supporting whoever they quoted. Perhaps there are issues around not “promoting” particular sites and whatnot. And yes, I really hope that she’ll ultimately actually listen to some of these concerns, whether or not she appears to be doing so right now. :^/ I’d love to see an even stronger, better show in the future.

      Reply

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