Thoughts on Wife Swapping

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

No, not that kind.

It seems there is a show on in the US where families switch wives and moms for a couple of weeks. The first week the switched wife has to abide by the existing rules of the house, but the second week things change and the house runs under her rules. I haven’t seen it of course, not being in the states. So why would I comment on it, you ask? Hang with me, it gets better.

Among the channels we get that are actually in English is one called Star World. It’s mostly American programming. Among this programming is the venerable Oprah show. I think Oprah is a long ways from the beginning of her talk show career, and has progressed beyond the morass that sunk a lot of her competition from those days. I recall a friend who had some personal experience with her not liking her all that much. It does seem to me that “it’s all about Oprah” and she is definitely not worried about her shameless self-promotion. Well, enough about Oprah herself. The show was essentially a long commercial for this other series. She had a few families on and gave overviews of their episodes.

In the first, we have some kind of completely self-centered heiress that spends her whole day shopping, working out, being pampered at spa, and then goes home for a bit to meet her upper-class businessman husband so they can go out to dinner every night. The 3 kids are raised by the 3 nannies while the cook cooks and the maid maids. Disgusted yet? She has to switch with a working class mom who splits firewood for two hours before driving the school bus and later taking care of her own family. I think we can all see this one coming. One woman sees this horrible imposition on herself while the other tries to grasp how a family lives the way it does.

Come the second week, when it’s time to re-make the rules, it gets pretty bad. The heiress decides she isn’t going to do anything at all except indulge in her “me time” and make the daughters do the same. Hubbie has to do everything. Working class mom tries to inject some sanity and healthy family togetherness, sending the maid, cook, and nannies home for the week. Results? One man nearly breaks from the pressure while gaining a new appreciation for his wife, while another resents the intrusion into his unfeeling cocoon by some po hillbilly who he treats like low class trash. I feel sorry for the moneyed family, as they are totally messed up. I take that back — I feel sorry for the kids, and feel disgusted at the parents.

Episode 2 is similar, though they don’t seem to be so different as the first were. We have a dairy farming family who seem to work and bond well together, and a upper middle class (or so) family where the husband has so completely spoiled his wife by giving her breakfast in bed and doing all the housework before driving the kids to school and going to work. Lazywife doesn’t even get out of bed until midafternoon. She turns out not to be of much use on the farm while the other tries to figure out just what she is supposed to do as a spoiled do-nothing. Nothing, apparently.

At role reversal time, we find a similar situation where Spoiledwife decides not only is she no longer participating in the daily duties, neither will any of the 2-3 sons! Hubby breaks down under the strain, gaining a further appreciation of how much his wife does help out. The other family is not so bad while hubby actually gets a kind of vacation. The kids don’t react so well to doing chores or riding the bus to school.

We get some good stereotypes out of this. A couple of women so arrogant, selfish, and conceited they don’t seem salvageable. It’s interesting they both opt out of any work or doing anything for anyone. Another couple of women try to do something sensible, with varying degrees of success. The spoiler dad / husband truly seemed to enjoy doing things for his family, but in completely taking on all the duties he made the family not want to do anything for themselves. Of course, teenagers tend toward the punk as a matter of course, but the mom should know better. It’s not unreasonable to let things slide a Bit, but at some point your sense of respect for yourself needs to come into play.

What conclusions can we draw from this? None, really. It’s a TV show, what did you expect? Something deep and well reasoned? Entertainment is just that, and anyone who paired up families that complemented each other would have a fairly boring show on their hands, followed shortly by a pink slip and a “you’ll never work in this town again!” They intentionally mismatch them to cause tension. Some people will learn something about themselves and their families, but some will only be useful as targets of our disgust and ire. Do they bad guys simply get edited to appear that way? Doubtful, since smoke indicates fire, but I bet the editors are no friend to a potential unsympathetic bad guy. To be sure, we saw an “edited for time” version of a show that was already edited to be on TV in the first place. But at least it gives us people to look at and be glad not to be like, huh? At least we hope we aren’t…

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