I published an article on polyamory and the media late last year in the journal SCAN. I wanted to spread the word on polyamory amongst academic communities and to start my own research project on polyamory. But most of all I wanted to delve into the topic of how the media represents polyamory and uncover whether poly is still unacceptable or not.
Polyamory is receiving more and more attention in the last decade or so. Popular interest in this way of life is increasing and there’s strong evidence that there’s a steady increase in the number of people who are ‘practicing’ it.
What I found, by doing media content analysis, is that the popular representation of polyamory bunches around three types.
The first one sees polyamory as a titillating choice but really fails to grasp what it is actually about. This type of representation speaks of monogamous anxieties and the desires of the masses, which is obviously not contained by their monogamous norms. In the end, titillation gives way to rejection of polyamory, in order to reassert compulsive monogamy and perhaps solve the cognitive dissonance caused by the readers’ desires to live a life they won’t allow themselves to live.
The second bunch clearly rejects polyamory as completely unacceptable. Conservative and Christian media outlets dominate this section and they see polyamory as the next stop on the slippery slope towards complete societal breakdown. For this segment polyamory is immoral and dangerous and there is more than a whiff of moral panic in the air.
And finally, the third bunch portrays polyamory on its own terms. Poly activists are often behind these positive representations. They do their best to show poly lives as prosaic/everyday as any other, and try to clear up confusions (poly does not equal cheating or polygamy).
Finally, I discuss how polyamory is/isn’t the ‘new gay’. Both the gay movement and the poly one strive to abolish discrimination and achieve societal acceptance. However, polyamory is not currently a legal sexual orientation (yet), it resists neat categorisation and challenges several social conventions at once. ‘Mainstreaming’ poses dilemmas for polyamorists… to find out what these are you might just have to check out the end of my article!