As the unofficial Bloggernacle chronicler of TV shows about polygamy, it’s about time that I put up a post about the latest entry in the genre, TLC’s “Breaking the Faith,” which is about eight or so young refugees from the FLDS living in a safe house in the Salt Lake area and trying to acclimate to gentile life. I have not seen all the episodes, but I just watched several on On Demand.
The show is modeled after Breaking Amish, and it comes with some of the same caveats. The people being portrayed are genuine ex-FLDS, and while the story arcs are in general based on reality there is still scripting involved. So it’s not exactly a documentary; rather, it gives you the feel of what it’s like for these young people to leave their homes, their families, the only lives they’ve ever known, and go to what they’ve been taught is the dregs of Babylon.
One aspect of their experience that is consistently portrayed is how ill equipped these young people are to have normal relationships of any kind with the opposite sex, much less to date. FLDS don’t date, and so they have no experience in that kind of setting, and it shows. One FLDS boy asks an LDS girl who obviously likes him out for a hike. She is interested, and off they go. But instead of the easy hike she’s expecting he leads her on a fairly difficult climb up the side of a small mountain. The view is beautiful and worth the strenuous journey, but when she asks when they are going back he indicates that they’re not, they’re going to camp up there over night. (He never bothered to disclose this plan to her in advance.) For dinner he has two cans of cold beans and a can opener; no tent or sleeping bags or other preparations. She says she doesn’t know what he has in mind, but she’s not staying up there on that mountain with him overnight. He seems flummoxed by his mistakes. She tells him that if he wants to get closer to her, he should go with her to church. He agrees to give it a shot.
In another scene the boys in the house want to encourage the girls to give up their prairie dresses and upswept hair, so they decide to take them out to a dance club. This is a terrible idea, as the girls are in no way prepared for such an environment. One big guy with a beard who looks like Brother Brigham comes up and asks one of the girls to dance, but she is repulsed. The evening is a disaster.
One of the girls becomes friends with a group of LDS girls and hangs out with them quite a bit, which the other ex-FLDS girls do not approve of. At one point one of the LDS girls comes over and gives her ex-FLDS friend a gift she picked up at the mall–a biography of her church’s current prophet. (They don’t name the prophet or show the book, but presumably it’s the Thomas S. Monson bio.) This results in a fight among the ex-FLDS girls, who are mortified she would read a book about the LDS prophet, and she counters that she can read the book without necessarily joining the Church. (As an aside, I really hope that story arc was just a bit of ham-handed scripting, and not a real story. It’s fantastic for the LDS girls to be open to the ex-FLDS and become their friends; it is less than helpful for them to revert to their proselyting instincts in this particular context. There will be plenty of time for them to consider the LDS option later should they want to; for right now what they need is a friend, not a gung ho missionary.)
One of the weird things about the show is that every now and then they play actual Warren Jeffs audio clips, which are appropriately enough creepy as hell.
Also, Carolyn Jessop, author of Escape, makes an appearance as a sort of mentor to the young people. The LDS girls had referred to the FLDS as a cult, which offended a couple of the ex girls, who were still protective of much of their religious culture. Carolyn took the position that the FLDS are indeed a cult, and when one of the girls asked how the LDS are any different, she started to list differences like being able to choose for yourself who you will marry and not being compelled to marry at age 14, and so forth. Still, the ex girls seem unconvinced.
There’s one scene where one of the ex girls finally decides to give up her FLDS uniform. She goes clothes shopping (and is rather flummoxed by the variety) and lets her hair down, and the transformation is dramatic. Even though she’s still conservatively dressed, she feels naked, but she believes this is a transformation she needs to make and she goes through with it.
Well, that’s pretty much the gist of the episodes I watched. Have any of you seen this show? If so, what did you think? And do you agree with me that missionary efforts to ex-FLDS fresh off the crick are not what is needed in that particular context? (I realize the idea that missionary work could ever be inappropriate is completely foreign to our way of thinking.)