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July 30th, 2009


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01:09 am - Polyamory in the Media + Data about Polyamory
Here's a remarkably balanced and non-stupid 3-page article on polyamory in Newsweek. I'm wondering if polyamory is getting ready to move a rung up in the ladder of subcultural media visibility - it's been on the bare lower edges of stage 1 (see link), and may be headed up from there.

Interestingly, there's also now some survey data - the sample size is only about 1,000 (good but not excellent) and it sounds like it only sampled readers of Loving More magazine (a poly magazine, that I've heard of, but have never seen), so it's not great data, but it's a start. One of the interesting bits of data found there that is only briefly touched upon in the Newsweek article is how closely connected it is to bisexuality (with common estimates of the prevalence of bisexuality among poly people being between 30 & 60%). Here's an article discussing this connection.

Of course, that's only for poly people who are either bi or straight – the polyamorous community as a whole, much like the poly people that I know, is in general either straight or bi – almost none are gay or lesbian, and that seems to be common. My friend Aaron (who is gay and who is moderately connected to the gay community) is puzzled by the straight/bi poly community, because according to him, these sorts of relationships are very common in the gay and lesbian community, but they aren't defined as anything particularly special or separate, and these communities have essentially no connection to the poly community that's composed of straight and bi people. Here's an article about this difference, that also links to an article about multiple partner relationships in a gay and lesbian magazine, which is fascinating in both how it treats such relationships are a fairly normal and unsurprising part of the gay & lesbian community, and also how the language used to talk about such relationships is subtly but profoundly different from the language used to talk about polyamorous relationships in the poly community.
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Comments:


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From:postrodent
Date:July 30th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)
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Wow, now this I did not expect to see.
Ever since the end of the Bush presidency and the housing bubble, it feels like all kinds of social and political topics are moving from "unspeakable" to being openly discussed. It's not exactly a flowering social revolution, more, to steal a phrase, the green shoots of some kind of awakening. Which is great, except that any political sentiment that springs from this will be politically homeless. There isn't even a watered-down reform party, let alone a really radical party. Obama's first half-year have conclusively shown that we can expect nothing but the same (disastrous) old shit from the Democratic party.
I'd hold out hope for a third party, but I think the more likely scenario is a collapse of the federal government, as it floats increasingly away from reality and thus loses its legitimacy. Not tomorrow, maybe not in the next ten years, but the message of the 21st century is really "change or die", and change at the federal level may be impossible.
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From:heron61
Date:July 30th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
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I'd hold out hope for a third party, but I think the more likely scenario is a collapse of the federal government, as it floats increasingly away from reality and thus loses its legitimacy.

I don't see a viable 3rd party happening, and while I'm not certain if the US will still be around in its present form in 70s years, I'm certain it will still be around in 20. Obama is moderately disappointing (although infinitely better than the alternative), but with luck we'll get some sort of (watered down) national healthcare in the next three months. From my PoV, the (sad but true) lesson of Obama's administration is that change happens very slowly. Of course, that was also true of Shrub, which is why, even with 8 years and near total control, he wasn't able to totally ruin the nation.
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From:postrodent
Date:July 30th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
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I'm sure there will be some entity called "The United States of America" still existing in 20 years and still doing _something_. The question is how much power that entity will wield, how that power is used and to what end, and (following naturally from the previous) how many citizens it will realistically be able to claim the loyalty of. There are a lot of "hollowed out" states in the world today; most of them are post-colonial places where the "state" was an alien concept with no legitimacy to start with, but even old-established states are having a rough time these days. Mexico is a great example of a fairly powerful state that is rapidly hollowing out; you know a state is in deep trouble when they have to send soldiers into the streets to fight gangs because the gangs own all the cops. We aren't remotely there yet, but as the federal government fails over and over again to serve the actual interests of the public, it can't help but bleed legitimacy. I still feel that Katrina was a signal moment in that respect; it was plain to see that the state and federal governments wouldn't and/or couldn't act to protect their citizens. The housing bubble crisis was another, if less visually dramatic example, and you can only have so many of those before even the dumbest citizen starts to get the picture. Of course, reasonable people can disagree about the rate of decay or the possibility of substantial reform. I'd very much like to be wrong, I was just getting the hang of being a citizen-consumer in a postindustrial corporate republic.

As for the rate of change... I don't know. Obviously there's a lot about this world that isn't changing nearly fast enough for my taste, but I see the ground shifting. Years ago, I was reading a bad novel where tracer bullets fired in one's direction were described as seeming to drift lazily along for a few moments, and then suddenly snap past at a terrific speed. It's another way to describe the tipping point phenomenon, of course. I get the sense that we're near a lot of those tipping points, more than we know. Again, this may be indicative only of where my attention is, rather than what the reality is.
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From:heron61
Date:July 30th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
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In general, I have found predictions of national collapse, failed or hollowed-out states, and suchlike to be largely nonsense (at least in the first world). Look at Japan, it's economy collapsed in the early 90s, and it kept on going, and eventually struggled back to having a vageuly functional economy. The biggest lesson that I've seen from the post WWII era is that first world nations are surprisingly durable.

As for the US, the sad truth that I've seen is that to a large extent people with actual political ideals and ideologies are extreme outliers in the US. Most people were happy with Shrub for most of his reign, and most people are equally happy with Obama. Folks like US on the far left fringe thought Shrub was a moronic criminal who stole the presidency, just like folks on the far right fringe now think Obama is a foreign-born Muslim - at least 80% of the US doesn't care and saw Shrub and see Obama as the fully legitimate president.
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From:postrodent
Date:July 31st, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
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It occurs to me I've totally dragged the topic into the weeds and stolen its lunch money, that, in fact, I did that with my first comment. :)
Anyway, I agree with you that the dominant political sentiment in America is apathy, in various flavors. If we could expect for American life to mostly continue as it mostly is now, with its shitty but survivable jobs and ten billion glittering commercial distractions, I would think that the United States was in little danger, almost regardless of the state of its political system. Unfortunately, it is exactly the present state of affairs that is ending, not for political but for physical reasons; we are looking at two massive crises that will take at least the next 50 years to deal with, the energy shortfall and the ongoing climatic disruptions. These basically dictate an end to consumer capitalism as we know it, and that is going to radicalize an awful lot of people who suddenly face a drastically, perhaps terminally lower standard of living.
These are the issues we should have been grappling with over the last eight years. Instead we fretted about scary Others, ie, "terrorism". A bit like a guy driving down the highway, trying to swat a bee that's blown into the car, too distracted to notice someone pulling into his lane from an on-ramp ahead (shit, did I get that right? I don't actually drive.)
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From:heron61
Date:July 31st, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)
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we are looking at two massive crises that will take at least the next 50 years to deal with, the energy shortfall and the ongoing climatic disruptions. These basically dictate an end to consumer capitalism as we know it,

I seriously doubt it. First off, there's no energy shortfall. There are a vast multitude of options and the first world is by and large taking them. I expect energy prices (especially for vehicles) to go up somewhat, but I find predictions of serious shortfalls and massive price increases to be exceptionally unlikely.

OTOH, although climate change is definitely a major factor, I don't expect it to hit most of the first world all that hard, at least not for the next century, and I'm betting that CO2 levels will be falling in 30-40 years, so that's all we'll really need to worry about. I wouldn't want to be living in Africa or some of the equatorial regions, and in terms of wildlife extinctions, it's going to suck hugely, but I don't see all that many disruptions for first world life. Also, it's definitely possible to do more to reduce global warming - I'm personally hoping for massive use of gas core nuclear reactors fueled by Thorium breeder reactors, but there are a host of other options (solar is doing impressively well these days).
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From:helen99
Date:July 30th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
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Among the people I associate with (mostly bi, some strictly het), being poly seems to be treated as not particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, it seems to be common enough that not being poly is a bit extraordinary. I've never been part of either the straight/bi/poly or the gay/lesbian/poly communities at large, though, nor have I tried to discuss poly relationships with parents and others unfamiliar with the concept. I can see where a larger community that interfaces with others not in the community may find that its practices are differentiated from "normal". I think if a community is a bit insulated, its practices will seem very ordinary to itself, but very odd to someone unfamiliar with it.
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From:heron61
Date:July 30th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
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I largely count your community out there as part of the straight/bi poly community, in large part because the default assumptions and (more importantly) the language used is identical to that found in the rest of the straight/bi poly community. In the modern era, many communities are solely defined by access to the same websites and use of the same language, and that's very much what I've seen being true of the poly community as a whole.
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From:xuenay
Date:July 30th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
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Random thought - purely straight people seem to often instinctively consider people of their own sex as competitors in the "struggle" to find and keep a mate. Might bisexuals, seeing people of both sexes as potential romantic companions instead of pure competitors, be naturally more inclined towards polyamory? That would also explain why gay and lesbian communities are more naturally poly-like: if the group you're competing with and the group you're trying to attract is basically the same (at least in terms of one's sex), that might help to reduce the jealous reactions that might otherwise occur.
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From:heron61
Date:July 30th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
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That definitely makes sense. What puzzles me is that there are two poly communities, one of which is composed of straight and bi people and the other of which is composed of gay & lesbian people (the later of which is essentially 2 separate communities linked by common social & political interests). Approximately half of the people in the straight/bi poly community are straight.
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From:athenian_abroad
Date:July 31st, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
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I agree that the Newsweek article is less cringe-worthy than most mainstream coverage of polyamory; it has a noticeably lower "snicker-and-leer quotient" than the norm. (Which, sigh, isn't saying very much.)

Perhaps foolishly, I also read the comments. (Note to self: never read the comments.) There were a number of striking things about the responses, but the common theme (other than eeek!) was a marked tendency to approach the discussion from the perspective that there is a Right Way (tm) to organize all relationships and that, if some other way isn't wrong, then "my" way isn't Right (tm).

That would help to explain why the reflexive response to a non-negative portrayal of polyamory is so frequently inventing a list of things that must be wrong with it: it's not "real love" or "real intimacy;" it's going to give you an STD; they're "fooling themselves" in some unspecified fashion; and, the old reliable fallback, "that'll never work." The one Right Way (tm) framework may also help explain why so many people feel moved to immediately declare that they "could never live like that," which would be irrelevant if they didn't somehow read the story as a suggestion that they should.

I really like your "stages of media acceptance," particularly the way the framework highlights the idea that Stage 2 ("Sympathy") is the crucial bridge between Stage 1 ("Freakshow") and Stage 3 ("Tolerance"). I worry a bit about whether and how polyamory is going to get across that bridge. For gay men, it was the AIDS catastrophe of the '80's that really did it. Since monogamous people tend to fantasize that polys have something that the monogamous want and can't have, polyamory tends to evoke envy (and sour grapes -- see above) rather than pity. The only sympathy-building scenario that comes to mind would be a backlash against a concerted, and initially successful, effort to deprive polys all over the country of custody of their children. And I'd rather not see that. Sigh. So I don't know how this get better.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:July 31st, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
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Wow, I hadn't read the comments. Once again, mainstream America proves itself to be scary.
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From:athenian_abroad
Date:July 31st, 2009 02:21 am (UTC)
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Yeah. I forget sometimes just how isolated from the mainstream I am. And I try to remind myself that the comments come from Internet Trolls, not a representative sampling of Americans. But sheesh!
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From:heron61
Date:July 31st, 2009 12:47 am (UTC)
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As for the jump, AIDs likely helped, but mostly it just seems to happen. There's solid evidence that familiarity does indeed breed acceptance (or at least reduce fear). Ultimately, increased visibility means more people finding out about people they know being poly or family members being poly, and more media exposure gets more people thinking about the issue, and from everything I've seen, the various media stages simply happen. I'm wondering if poly is actually about to enter full visibility soon, which will mean no shortage of freakshow moments, including dreadful poly-focused episodes on various CSI & similar shows, which will cause more people to google polyamory, and more local news stories, and thus more interest among the general public for poly stuff in media...
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From:kyra_neko_rei
Date:August 3rd, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
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I've heard it said that something AIDS did was let everyday people know that they knew someone gay---because their closeted relatives and friends started dying from "the gay disease," and the acceptance of gay people was helped by this, by people realizing that it wasn't just some group of easy-to-depersonalize people they didn't know.
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From:kyra_neko_rei
Date:August 3rd, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC)

I'm really rushed right now, apologies if I'm not making sense

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The other way poly could move towards acceptance is simply by means of generational shift---if poly is more common/visable among young adults, then as children grow up and join the community of adults, they will learn from their peers that this is a viable and avaliable relationship option.

If it is not made into a legal issue by older adults or others who don't approve, it could become tolerated or accepted by a majority of society over time, by a few generations learning about it upon reaching adulthood, and then from childhood spent knowing (or being raised by) a poly group. And then it can sneak into public consciousness as acceptable, with minimal resistance, simply through stealth.
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From:amberite
Date:August 3rd, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
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Against my better instincts, I just joined the fray. *sigh* (oops, accidentally said "married for five years" instead of "married for four, in a relationship for five" -- it's not that much of an untruth, though.)

if some other way isn't wrong, then "my" way isn't Right (tm).

Really good observation. Yes, I'm definitely tuning in to that one in there.

You remind me of one of the reasons I'm determined to be out about being poly -- we're not planning on children, and especially now that John's parents own the house we're living in, there's not that much people can take away from us. I still fear the reaction in the professional world, but I'm also planning later on to apply for GLBT scholarships, partly because in the fields I want to go into, locally, that's a protected category and I'm hoping I can use that protection to allow for more visibility without compromising my professional status.

Edited at 2009-08-03 10:45 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:krinndnz
Date:September 3rd, 2009 03:25 am (UTC)
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In light of this, I'd be curious to hear your opinion of bradhicks' spiel about the "Funny Zoo Animals," "Threat or Menace," and "Surprisingly Nice" narratives. I imagine you've seen it before and I haven't read it because I haven't been following you for very long (it's bracing, following people who have a whole c.v. on LJ !).
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:September 3rd, 2009 04:55 am (UTC)
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I actually hadn't seen that post, thanks. That post was written in 2006, and while US culture hasn't shifted much, it has shifted (in a progressive direction) some, and more importantly, individuals who are not hideously right-wing are less in power of local, state, and national levels. As a result, I think it is safer to be visible now than it was 3 years ago. OTOH, I can definitely see anyone who is both poly and who has children wanting absolutely nothing to do with visibility - unless (possibly) they are in a large West Coast city.

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