Our thanks to guest blogger Elizabeth Prata:
Stephen Fowler will live in Wife Swap infamy as the most boorish and abusive of husbands ever to host a swapped wife. The day after this infamous episode the internet is howling. Why? Let me count the ways.
Liberal, upper crust, environmentally conscious, highly educated, weight appropriate San Franciscans were to swap wives with the Missouri small town ATV riding, paintball playing, overweight Middle Americans in the January 30th episode. The show in and of itself pairs couples that hold diametrically opposing views on just about everything from religion to politics to fish sticks; a recipe for conflict and emotional challenge in any situation. Nothing new there. However, the pairing on January 30th for the first time, added abuse to the mix. And that crossed line has gotten the audience into a stark raving tizzy.
Regular watchers know that most husbands on the show hold dearly to their viewpoints. Occasionally they are bombastic about it, but usually the audience member by the show’s conclusion is treated to a release, in that each pair learned something and all’s well that ends well.
In the case of the Fowler-Long swap, husband Stephen Fowler, a Briton, immediately trumpeted his education and intelligence as a license to demean all others he estimates as below him. “I never answer a question that has been asked of me twice.” And to him, just about everyone is below him. He bragged about his wealth, his degrees, his position in the world, his maid, his trophy children. And that was just the intro.
When Gayla Long arrived she was respectful and eager, at least as far as one could tell from the editing. However almost immediately Mr Fowler called her obese and uneducated, which shortly devolved into just calling her fat and stupid and mercilessly mocked her vocabulary. “Oh, you used the word agenda, that’s a big word for you,” Mr Fowler said at one point in front of his children. In another moment, he pointed to Mrs. Long and said to his children, “This is what happens if you don’t get your education.” Humiliated, Mrs. Long cried in the back yard, yet Mr. Fowler continued his attacks. Worse, he looked like he enjoyed them. The verbal abuse continued throughout the show, but Mrs. Long was restrained and to her credit kept trying to reach him, mostly for his children’s sakes.
When it came time for Mrs. Long to lay down her rules, Mr. Fowler reared up and exhibited even more deliberate cruelty than ever before seen on the five year history of the show. But wait, there’s more.
Mr Fowler stopped the taping. He insisted on a meeting with the producers because he deemed Mrs. Long’s rules unnecessary and as a result refused to go along with them. The show had never seen participant out and out renege on their show obligations, but there you have it. Subsequently, Mr Fowler then ordered his children not to talk with Mrs Long, and to ignore her completely. They would pass her in the hall and never look back as she tried to covnerse with them. Mr Fowler did the same, at one point ordering her out of his room and slamming the door in her face as she was talking. Crushed, she packed and went to a hotel. It must have been a long, lonely night for her.
Mr Fowler’s derision of our military, of small-town America, of those with a different educational path, of overweight people, were all grating in the extreme and were enough in themselves to galvanize an audience to ire. Mr Fowler’s intentionally negative and cruel focus on Mrs Long’s weight is an ultimate irony: Mr Fowler’s own wife is a weight coach for obese people and is associated with Weight Watchers.
There has not been a person so cruel, so pompous, so arrogant, so infuriating on Wife Swap in its five-year history. Still, why the severe outrage?
A moral line has been crossed. A show participant was needlessly and constantly cruel. There was no intervention from show producers. Other show participants have had their displays of temper but there is an enormous difference between being challenged to stretch your worldview and becoming irritated because of it, and what happened on the Fowler-Long episode. Mrs Long was purposely debased, Mr Fowler reneged on his obligations, and yet ABC continued with the pairing. Allowing cruelty for the sake of ratings is unconscionable, and the ABC audience viewing the mess that was last night’s episode is heartbroken and outraged over it.
Elizabeth Prata is a writer living in Georgia. She is the author of “The Quiet Life” blog.