The LA Times released an article yesterday on the prevalence of adultery in primetime television. As the author points out, adultery has been the subject of plot drama since the Bible—it’s nothing new. At the same time, storylines involving cheating are popping up all over TV dramas at a much higher incidence than any point in the past.
Julie Albright, a sociologist at USC, attributes the trend to increasing cynicism about marriage. Marriage has never been less popular. In 1960, 72% of U.S. adults were married. Now that number is 51%. “People believe marriages don’t work anyway,” Albright says, “so seeing affairs on TV kind of serves as a model for how things can and will go bad.”
The prevalence of adultery on TV doesn’t actually reflect reality. Although it’s hard to measure infidelity, some studies suggest that 20% of married people will stray at some point in their marriage. Right now it seems that 100% of current TV drama couples have cheating in them. It appears that, once again, TV exaggerates truth for entertainment value.
So what’s wrong with some imaginary drama on TV if, as I said before, it’s been a theme of storytelling since the Bible? After all, these show certainly aren’t promoting infidelity as something good. The cheating causes real problems for the characters, and how to deal with infidelity and make amends drives the drama of the shows. In fact, viewers and producers have expressed concern when cheaters don’t get their comeuppance. Cheating is definitely still bad.
My problem is that by portraying cheating so commonplace in every marriage, our entertainment is establishing the idea that infidelity, while bad, is an expected element of a marriage. And affair is simply what happens in marriage. That is a terrible attitude to have and it reinforces negative stereotypes about marriage that can have real negative effects on peoples’ lives. Especially once they realize that how to deal with infidelity in the real world doesn’t tie up so nicely as a soap opera plotline.
Along this line, The Parents Television Council released a report stating marriage is “regularly mocked and denigrated” on television. It seems that “sex with anyone, up to and including a dead person or a farm animal, is more exciting than sex with your spouse.” I think they have a point. It is unfortunate when TV, as a whole, completely disregards marriage as anything but a state of suffering and boredom that is destined to fail.
Let’s show them they’re WRONG! Be positive about marriage. Count your joys and blessings. Don’t accept that your marriage will fail, even when things are rough. Marriage ain’t easy, and there’s plenty of help out there for you, whether it’s marriage help books or online marriage counseling. You CAN do it!