eason 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,
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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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, 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.
(appeared on Montel, 11/05 and Tyra, 10/06, among others)
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[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]