Marriage is a necessary cornerstone of a civilized society. Crumble that building block and the waves of instability can be felt like tremors foreshadowing an earthquake. Sift through the wreckage of the collapsed mariage, and all too often, you'll find the broken bodies of children. It's never fails to be heartbreaking.
So hey, let's go Hollywood! It's so much more fun there! Tinseltown thinks that subverting marriage and nuking the nuclear family is all good fun, and a savvy profit strategy, to boot. HBO subjected viewers to a whole series glorifying polygamy ("Big Love"). ABC just had a banner week for gay activists with a gay "wedding" on "Brothers and Sisters."
Now CBS, still mocked by avant-garde-adoring TV critics as the home of Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury solving murders for the Geritol set, is trying to build its own marriage-mangling brand with a new summer series called "Swingtown," scheduled to debut on June 5. Set in a suburban neighborhood in 1976, the show will explore the polyester joys of infidelity and drug abuse, choreographed to a disco beat.
Smack dab in the Thursday-night time slot of "Without a Trace," the series that dug deep for the ratings gold with a teen-orgy scene a few years ago, CBS looks to set new records in broadcast debauchery. Jacques Steinberg of The New York Times reported the first episode is stacked with a sexual threesome; a high school junior smoking marijuana and then flirting with her English teacher; the glorified enjoyment of Quaaludes and cocaine; and the sight of the "neighborhood scold" stumbling upon a basement orgy, only to hear some mutton-chopped participant say with a smirk, "Why don't you kick off your shoes, Mom, and join the party?"
CBS is so proud of itself. "We wanted to give people something fun and fresh in the summer, declared Nina Tassler, the president of CBS who approved the series. "The summer gives you a kind of different license." Underline that word "license." When Tassler, whose second cousin had written the swinging Seventies best-seller "Open Marriage," heard of the "Swingtown" premise, she recalled, "I said, Oh, my God, that's right in my sweet spot, in terms of my nostalgia."
But in that oppressive, nagging place called "reality," the practice of "open marriage" often becomes a prelude to divorce. Marriage is defined by exclusivity, the pledge to spend one's life devoted to one spouse, one love. If you consistently consider that some other partner might be groovier, it won't be surprising if soon, one half of a marriage -- or both -- decides to opt out. Where is the romance in "I love you -- or maybe her? Or him?"