December 23, 2008

Wife Swap

Wives switch families for two weeks. Usually the families are very different, distinguished by different senses of responsibility, different needs for control, different levels of acceptance of the conventional American obsessions. Occasionally, somebody seems to be mentally ill.

This is great ethics television. It teaches very simple but A-list lessons. There are usually points on which the couples disagree without any compromise possible: fundamentalists do not become liberals, patriots do not become anti-American. But, over the two weeks, the families find something to learn from each other, something they like better in the other family’s “set.? This in one way says something helpful about dogmatic relativism: it just ain’t so. Given a chance to look at alternatives, people come to some new realizations; they converge on some points – especially about the importance of time with young children.

Also, the show develops a kind of slow-burning compassion for kids. They are the helpless subjects in all of these little feudal fiefs. (As the song says, “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.?) If mom makes them drill and march, they drill and march – and think it's normal. If the height of ambition is really smeary fingerpaintings, they smear. And then, when they emerge from this all into public light, people blame them for what they have become, without seeing how they were made that way.

This isn’t deeply profound stuff. But Americans are not a deeply profound people. This show gets the level pretty right.

Posted by shea0017 at December 23, 2008 11:31 AM