Saturday, August 12, 2006

Elizabeth Smart and America's "Lurking Polygamists" Fantasy

Audio file / podcast / downloadable mp3 file

When the young teen-ager, Elizabeth Smart, had the misfortune of being spirited away in the middle of the night from her Salt Lake City home in by what was, at the time, an unknown abductor, the nation erupted in wild speculation. Beyond the justifiable fear of abduction by a serial pedophile rapist, tabloids and serious journals alike erupted in lurid depictions of lurking polygamists who were always scouting for additional candidates for their communities. It was, after all, Utah, and the home of Mormons, whose history of sanctioned polygamy, is a source of embarrassment for some, titillation for outsiders.

In a terrible case of "no good deed goes unpunished," a homeless man for whom the Smarts felt sympathy and employed in order to help him, kidnapped Elizabeth and forced her to become his second "wife" in his own self-designed variant of a polygamous apocalyptic cult.

In the way the story was depicted, and Elizabeth Smart's miraculous return, thanks to her sister's observations, it became fairly evident that non-Mormon America continued to be morbidly fascinated by the idea of polygamists in Utah, even though the Mormon church will not tolerate polygamy of any kind.

The truth is, the American public desperately wants polygamy to exist.

If polygamy (or the lurking polygamist) does not exist in fact, the tabloids twist the stories to make them conform to a convenient a narrative that features insatiable males, nubile virgins, and complicit older "wives."

What is this about? What does polygamy represent?

Polygamy posits the existence of desire, but this is not any ordinary desire. This is a Big, Behemoth Desire that can never quite be sated. It is desire with a physical manifestation, one that envelopes and engulfs first one women, and then another and another. It is male libido, unchained.

Polygamy is limitless desire, limitless potential, and limitless satisfaction. The cynic might connect polygamy with consumer behavior. If so, perhaps the following statement is true: Polygamy IS America.



Here are the necessary elements of the representation of polygamy that has been proposed:

1. The male of the species is capable of boundless desire.

2. The female, through an act of will, is capable of infinite accommodation (this is the willing middle wife, the willing female participant).

3. That infinite accommodation is the key to deep satisfaction, and that there is some sort of meaning in the satisfaction.

4. That boundlessness, both of desire and in accommodation, expand one's possibilities. They expand "the Real." They expand the size of one's emotional world. By means of desire, something the size of a ping-pong ball blows up to a beach ball.

5. That what the world views as passivity is not passivity at all. Envisioning accommodation is an effective empowering strategy for women. It is perhaps even more powerful than the male's boundless desire. Why?

Well, in point of fact, more people will recognize and acknowledge accommodation than boundless desire. They realize that to accommodate is harder than to simply want (and take). Plus, the taking is not possible without a least some sort of accommodation (willing or unwilling). Accommodation is the air that fills the deflated beach ball.

Even though the accommodator is rewarded by society, it's not a role I would willingly assume. After all, it's painful having to be as self-sacrificing as one has to be in order to achieve infinite accommodation.

Boundless desire means boundless promise. It also means that the male is permitted to engulf others and to impose his needs and desires. Perhaps there is some scenario in which this could be healthy, but for the life of me, I can't think of it. Although it seems to be a great life, it is not as fabulous as it seems. After all, boundlessness, burgeoning desire, and engulfment with impunity are the building blocks of hubris.

As we know, hubris always leads to a fall. Hubris is the key element in tragedy.






photo credit: dave feiden, 2006

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