Reviews > Television

Wife Swap and Trading Spouses

Television | Despite their titles, the premise of these two reality shows is to see how other families live

Issue: "Iraq: Fallujah's fallen," Nov. 27, 2004

Two of the season's most popular reality shows have exactly the same premise: Wives and moms from two different families switch places. Despite their lurid titles, Wife Swap (ABC) and Trading Spouses (Fox), no improper sexual behavior goes on. Rather, two women and their families get to see how the other side lives.

The shows are about the differences in families. More than that, they are about the differences in social class and culture. Specifically, they are about the differences between what the election map symbolizes as "blue" and "red," which is not just a political divide but a difference in values and state of mind.

The producers make a point of switching rich and poor, city and country, career women and stay-at-home moms. In the pilot of Wife Swap, Jody Spolanski, a wealthy Manhattan society woman-with a nanny, a cook, and a maid-trades places with Lynn Bradley, a blue-collar woman from rural New Jersey, who works two jobs and takes care of her house and kids.

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Under the rules of Wife Swap, the first week the guest mom follows the way of life of the family she is staying with and does whatever the actual wife does every day. We get to see the socialite trying to cook for the first time, cleaning the toilet, and turning her nose up at the modest home's décor. We see the blue-collar woman bemusedly trying to spend $2,000 a day shopping and being shocked to learn that in this home the parents spend only an hour a day with the kids.

The second week, the visiting mom gets to change the rules and make the family abide by her ways. The socialite makes the husband do all of the cleaning and cooking, while she pursues her "me-time." The blue-collar woman dismisses the nanny and requires the husband to leave his high-powered corporate office early so he can spend time with his kids. A telling television moment was seeing his little boy's eyes light up at hearing this new rule, while his dad's expression fell.

Invariably, the more down-to-earth wife comes across better, as we see the snobbishness and cluelessness of the upper crust. At the conclusion of the Wife Swap episode, the socialite realizes that she has been neglecting her own children and starts having family dinners and quantity time with them. The blue-collar husband comes to appreciate his wife more and becomes much more helpful than he used to be. Family values triumph after all.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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