Wednesday, March 1, 2017


As someone who has adrenal malfunctions, I do not find myself enjoying or watching horror movies, shows, or anything of the like. However, it has recently come to my attention a different kind of horror glorified on television shows: Infidelity. 

While I was sitting on the couch with my partner trying to decide what to watch on Netflix, he asks if we can watch Mad Men, a series I’d heard about but never watched. As we begin watching, he tells me how Don is an awesome guy and how it would be cool to “live his life.” For a while, I could see how that would be true, but then I got upset when I began to realize how much the show, and especially Don’s character, glorified and even encouraged adultery. During the show, there are main plot lines about how Don uses his extra-marital affairs to get ahead in the business world. He is even fine lying to his wife when she suspects he has been unfaithful. 

This got me to thinking about just how many shows glorify infidelity or being a mistress and how few shows focus on committed, loving marriages. There are shows that the main protagonist is the mistress, or others that the protagonists are the ones committing these transgressions, either way they are painted in a light that we want to root for them, and we find ways to accept or even justify their actions.  I’d like to delve a little deeper into why that is, and what effects it has on our mentality toward infidelity.

Mad Men is not the only show to glorify infidelity on TV. The PTC was formed in 1995 and began tackling issues of negative messages to families on television. PTC analysts reviewed 207.5 hours of prime time broadcast programming on five networks during a four-week period in the fall of 2007.  The analysis found that verbal references to non-marital sex outnumbered references to sex in the context of marriage by nearly 3 to 1, and scenes depicting or implying sex between non-married partners outnumbered similar scenes between married couples by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1.  They wrote an article about 2012 being a year fueled by television shows glorifying extra-marital affairs and how the problem would continue until it became financial harmful to show these scenarios. 

The problem is, people loved it, and ratings for shows whose plot lines circled around cheating skyrocketed. Whereas, shows that had messages of faithfulness and commitment in a marriage lost significant numbers of viewers. Some of the shows that have been successful are Scandal, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Power, The Good Wife, The Affair, Orange is the New Black, Girls, Satisfaction, Luther, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Soprano’s to name a few. 

I cannot think of a single person who says, “I’m so glad I got caught my person cheating.” So why do we get so much entertainment from watching it happen to other people?  Television writers spend a lot of time working to make certain characters likable and certain characters villainous. Obviously, the writing has a lot to do with how people feel about certain characters.

Social constructs do play a factor at times as well. One analysis of why people encourage one mistress and condemn another is as follows, “Both characters knowingly engage in a relationship with an unfaithful, married, family man. But what makes Olivia and Fitz’s affair more acceptable is the social construct and simply the story being told. The obvious factor is race. We are more inclined to root for the black woman because no one ever really roots for the black woman. The idea that white man left his white wife for a black woman can be read as some weird unspoken yet understood “victory.” The actual infidelity is overshadowed by the portrayal of a black woman as the object of desire in a world that suggests otherwise.”

It isn’t even that viewers want these plot lines, networks are ENCOURAGING this plot line. I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan. I grew up loving Buffy, I watch The Avengers, and am in love with his lesser known Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. When he was trying to get Firefly picked up by a network, Fox told Whedon that they would not pick up the show unless he either had the married no longer be married, or she has an affair with the ship’s captain. Whedon refused as he believed the happy marriage was an important part of the show, but this lead to Fox causing the show to flop. 

It is important to note that normal, intelligent people can separate entertainment from reality and right from wrong. However, we cannot negate the subtle messages that infidelity is okay and even can be glamorous that is sent by the popularity of these shows.

What do you think? 

Is infidelity over glorified on television? 

Why do you think this topic is so popular? 

How does the portrayal of cheating on current shows influence perception and behavior about the topic, or does it?

1 comment:

  1. When I was working for the forest service fighting fires during my summer break I had a boss that had a turn of phrase that went something like this: "It's like watching a monkey play with a hand grenade, you know what's going to happen, but you can't look away".

    Infidelity is absolutely over glorified on television, but there's a reason no one wants to watch a show about a guy who gets up at 6, drives to work for an hour, works for 8 hours shuffling papers at an uneventful job, drives home for an hour and then has dinner and goes to bed.

    I think as an audience we want that slow motion train wreck, anything to escape the monotony of our largely uneventful lives. We crave escapism, debauchery, violence and dishonesty, but we don't want to suffer the consequences of participation. That's one reason why I think that television, movies and videogames offer such a catharsis to the masses.

    I used to find the image of bumbling self centered fathers like Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin to be mildly offensive. TV of yesteryear had a responsible down to earth alpha male leading his family. Guys like Ward Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) or Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith show) were once the norm.

    My thoughts on this have changed when I realized two things.

    1. No one cares if I'm offended.

    2. I like watching The Simpsons way more than I like watching Leave it to Beaver.

    However, I don't think any of that invalidates the point you are making. With the example of Firefly it is important to note that Wash and Zoe's relationship brought a great deal of strength to the cast of characters in the show. Whedon avoided the static supportive role that most stable married couples play in television and injected their relationship with a dynamic sense of development that made them just as interesting as any other member of the cast.

    In the end I think it just comes down to lazy writing. It's easy to pigeon hole married couples into the dichotomy of stable and boring or volatile and unfaithful. Firefly is fantastic in that it defies those definitions and proves that a faithful married couple can be hella interesting.

    P.S. did you know that Opie Taylor from the Andy Griffith show is played by Ron Howard?