Monday, October 11, 2010

Fundamentalism and Reality Television

In her article “A Framework for Understanding Fundamentalism,” (from Quoting God) Rebecca Moore discusses how fundamentalists, while often assumed to be “antitechnological or antimodern,” actually embrace technology and communication media in many ways. Moore defines fundamentalism as a way to classify a range of movements that oppose the beliefs and principles of the contemporary world. The cable network TLC provides an excellent example of a fundamentalist group with its new series “Sister Wives.” The show features a fundamentalist Mormon family, the Browns. TLC’s website provides a short summary of the new series: “Sister Wives introduces you to Kody Brown — along with his three wives: Meri, Janelle and Christine and their combined 13 children — and takes a look at how they attempt to navigate life as a "normal" family in a society that shuns their lifestyle. Sister Wives gives you an open look into a man trying to juggle three wives while trying to keep it a secret from the rest of the world.” The Browns are a perfect example of a group who is embracing modernity in attempt to introduce their beliefs to the rest of the world. They are, as Moore writes, “using mass media and the latest technologies in order to realize their vision of a future based on God-given truths.” The Browns certainly devote significant effort to explaining how well their “lifestyle” works. Kody Brown makes sure to spread the message that his love for a new wife does not replace the love for an old wife, making statements such as “love should be multiplied, not divided.” In spite of the Brown’s brave effort to shed light on polygamy, the show has recently caused a Utah investigation. This raises several interesting questions about the relationship between fundamentalism and the media. As this case illustrates, fundamentalists must weigh the benefits of using media to shed light on their beliefs against the risks of exposing too much to a world that for the most part does not understand. This show also raises questions about religious coverage in the age of reality television. Unlike news articles or even television news reports, reality television has the ability to follow the story line of one small group of people, in this case the Browns, who can explain their viewpoints thoroughly and whose daily lives are captured in a more personal setting. Perhaps most importantly, reality television allows viewers to develop deeper understanding of its characters. “Sister Wives” has the potential to unveil a plethora of new questions about the relationship between media and fundamentalism. The Browns have already demonstrated their want to embrace mass media, but now the question is whether this method will work for them.

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