Even the Feds are playing their part.
Meet ruthless polygamist Warren Jeffs, newly cast on the Ten Most Wanted List," produced by the FBI. Jeffs is identified as an insidious cult leader and prophet to 6,000 to 10,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a break-away branch of the Mormons. Jeffs is presumed to have as many as fifty wives and is "wanted" for having had sex with a minor. Along with Jeffs comes a supporting cast of abused and exploited children and a cavalcade of subjugated women... just the right spice for sensational TV.
So here's the scenario. In the 2004 election, the Conservative Right, directed by Karl Rove and a cabal of deranged evangelists, garnered support for George Bush by invoking the wedge issue of banning gay marriage. They energized a portion of their base and stimulated some lively discussion, but failed to pass a Constitutional Amendment that would categorically define the law.
For one, millions of Americans weren't threatened enough by gay marriage or didn't care one way or the other. Millions more, including members of the U.S. Senate, recognized the Marriage Amendment for what it was... an unnecessary Republican wedge issue to detract from the War in Iraq and stir fundamentalists into a frenzy.
But the measure failed for a third reason as well. It failed because Conservatives couldn't muster support for the other side of the issue... the side proclaiming legitimate marriage as the union between 'one' man and 'one' woman. Lacking evidence to drum up polygamous fear, their argument was merely 'half-cocked.' They were shooting a two barreled shotgun with one barrel loaded and the other filled only with air.
As if Jeffs wasn't enough to provoke an unneeded debate, HBO's brilliant avant-garde television series, "Big Love," which spotlights the histrionics of a loving, principled "law-abiding" polygamist, will also do the trick.
In "Big Love," the writers have crafted a "good man" polygamist, with three intriguing wives, many adorable children, and an extra-ordinary life, triggered by non-traditional living in a "traditional" people locale. Bill, the "every man" is beautifully played by Bill Paxton. His only peccadillo is that he is 'husband' to three wives. He provides well for his families, respects and honors his wives, and deeply loves his children. The series also features an evil polygamous prophet, augustly portrayed by Harry Dean Stanton, with the character name of Roland. Interestingly, Warren Jeffs' own father, the FLDS prophet prior to the ascendancy of his son, was named Rulan... hardly a coincidence for the well researched writers of this very polished show.
The writers of "Big Love" do an excellent job presenting the complexity of polygamy, contrasting the evil Roland to the principled Bill. While Roland lives in the noxious enclave he rules, the creators locate Bill in suburbia trying valiantly to seem "normal." A difficult endeavor when careening between three houses of 'next-door-neighbors' who 'in reality' are all his own family.
Given the perfect storm of the Feds, Jeffs, HBO, and especially the Press, the Rovian 'amendment' gun is preparing to explode.
The media is at the ready. CNN's Anderson Cooper can't get enough of Warren Jeffs. He's abandoned the devastation of the bayou to pursue the polygamist King. He squats outside Jeffs' compounds, waiting for members to appear. The famously emotional anchor is bewitched by the polygamous world, trading his "I'm a reporter" proclamation for these endless tabloid stays. A further testament to the dumbed-down sensationalism of 'round the clock cable TV.
Between HBO's "Big Love," MSNBC's creepy Rita Cosby and boring Joe Scarborough, CNN's Anderson Cooper and raspy Larry King, polygamy has become the exponential replacement for Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. Since the start of the search for Warren Jeffs, Larry King has likely spent more time with polygamists' wives than the polygamists have themselves, to say nothing of his separate shows with Mormons, Fundamentalist Mormons, and Super-Mormons Donny and Marie.
Even though polygamy is practiced by a tiny fraction of American society, the greater the media spotlight the more spectacular the issue becomes. Efforts to research the actual numbers of practicing polygamists produced no absolute accounting. According to a recent report by NPR, the number of practicing polygamists ranges from 20,000 to 50,000 nationwide. In an American population of just under 300 million, that's a miniscule number of practitioners in a nation of this size.