Performed Polygamy and Polyamory in the Media Age : The "Tel-education" of Nonmonogamous Religious and Spiritual Families in Reality Television
Graduate Theological Union
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
This dissertation is a study of consensually nonmonogamous religious minority families who have performed in the reality television series, Sister Wives, My Five Wives, and Polyamory: Married and Dating. Its thesis is that religious minority families have utilized reality television as a medium for transformative advocacy, to which I give the name “tel-education.” These families make use of storytelling and documentary formats in reality television to educate viewers about their lives, normalize by example, and thereby change public opinion about the minority group. The methodology is a mixed methods approach of content analysis, participant-observation, and qualitative interviews with reality television performers and members of the represented communities where possible. The communities represented include Mormon fundamentalists, progressive polygamists, secular polyamorists, and Western Tantric polyamorists. I discuss reality television content and its relation to distinctive characteristics between Mormon fundamentalist groups, spiritual affiliations found in the polyamory movement including consideration for cultural appropriation in polyamorists’ Western Tantra, nonmonogamous families’ relation to U.S. federal and state anti-bigamy and anti-cohabitation laws, and the effect of race, class, beauty and size privilege in Hollywood reality television on the representation of U.S. religious and spiritual nonmonogamous families. My observations relate with findings from Stuart A. Wright and Susan J. Palmer (2015) about the stigmatization of new religious movements. Marginalized religious and spiritual nonmonogamous families make use of the reality television medium to change their media story. They present scenarios from their lives to counter common stereotypes and to raise awareness around the possible injustices of U.S. legal policy for nonmonogamous families. The dissertation contributes to religion and media studies, religion and sexuality, new religious movements, and religion and the law.