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Infidelity: An Affair of the Heart, or More?

In the Netflix TV series FUBAR, a character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger claims that an affair is a matter of the “heart”. Is that true? Is infidelity a matter of the heart, or more?

In the recently-released Netflix series FUBAR (rated M18 in Singapore), a father (Luke Brunner, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his daughter (Emma Brunner, played by Monica Barbaro) are shocked to find out that they are both working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States. Adrenaline-loaded hilarity ensues as they embark on various missions to thwart the plans of a terrorist named Boro.

In one episode, Emma Brunner finds herself thrust into a “honeypot” mission, where she is required to seduce a foreign government agent in order to get her hands on a secret document. Being in a stable relationship with her boyfriend Carter, she struggles intensely on the inside. Nevertheless, she ends up kissing the foreign government agent and having sexual relations with him in order to succeed in her mission.

“I’m so proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself,” Luke says to his daughter after the mission succeeded.

Emma, clearly distraught over what she had done, questions why she feels so bad. Her father dishes out advice about how not to spark Carter’s suspicions about infidelity. He then advises her, “Never feel bad about doing your job.”

“You didn’t cheat on Carter. All the times I did whatever it took to get the job done, but I never was unfaithful to your mother,” Luke continues, speaking about his former wife.

“You said you never had an affair,” Emma questions.

“I didn’t. An affair is a connection of the heart. Your mother owned my heart from the time we met. When I needed to, I did my job, and today, you did yours.”

FUBAR TV series poster. Source: IMDb

What do Singaporeans think?

Most Singaporeans would probably disagree with the views voiced by the character Luke Brunner in FUBAR, as infidelity is largely frowned upon here, and is seen as an act involving one’s sexual behaviour, not only one’s emotions. According to a 2019 Institute of Policy Studies survey, 63.4% of Singaporeans said sexual relations with someone other than one’s marriage partner was “always wrong”, and another 17.8% said that it was “almost always wrong”. Such behaviour was characterised in the study as infidelity, and the disapproval of infidelity was consistent between older and younger people.

This position is reflected in public policy as well. In 2014, Minister Chan Chun Sing, as then-Minister for Social and Family Development, voiced his opposition to Ashley Madison, a dating website targeting married spouses, adding that he “[did] not welcome such a website into Singapore” and was “against any company or website that harms marriage”.

The Minister added: “Promoting infidelity undermines trust and commitment between a husband and wife, which are core to marriage. Our marriage vows make it clear that marriage is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. This includes staying faithful to one another.”

Chan Chun Sing’s Facebook post. Source: Facebook

The disapproval of infidelity is strong here, such that marital infidelity could be career-ending for politicians. For example, in 2016, Member of Parliament (MP) David Ong suddenly tendered his resignation, citing “personal indiscretion”. Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the People’s Action Party took “decisive action” when it found out about Ong’s extramarital relationship with a woman who was a fellow PAP member and Bukit Batok grassroots volunteer. In 2012, Worker’s Party (WP) MP Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from his party following allegations of an extramarital affair, triggering a by-election. The WP said that this was because Yaw “failed to present himself to the Central Executive Committee to explain and discuss” these allegations. That same year, then-Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer resigned from his positions and from the PAP because of marital infidelity, stating that he did so “to take full responsibility for a grave mistake that [he had] committed”. More recently, in 2023, former Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and MP Cheng Li Hui resigned because of an affair. At around the same time, WP senior members Leon Perera and Nicole Seah also resigned from their party, after having lied to their party in early 2021 that they were not having an affair.

Lessons from Schwarzenegger’s Own Life

It is true that infidelity, in a sense, involves the heart. However, it is not only an affair of the heart, but a person’s body and more. Since marriage involves the union of a person’s entire self – heart, soul, mind and body – infidelity can occur on multiple levels in different forms.

Schwarzenegger’s own life demonstrates this. It also shows that there can be long-term consequences to sexual activity with a person other than one’s spouse, as sexual activity is capable of producing new life.

Ten years into his marriage with Maria Shriver, in 1996, Schwarzenegger had an affair with a housekeeper, Mildred Baena, resulting in the birth of a son, Joseph Baena. He said in a Netflix documentary that his former wife was “obviously crushed” when he confessed that Joseph was his son at a counselling session in 2011, confirming her suspicions. He said in a statement: “There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry.” In various interviews, he has characterised this as a “major failure” and the “stupidest thing I’ve done in the whole relationship”. Shriver filed for divorce that same year, and their divorce was finalised in 2021.

Nevertheless, one redeeming factor is the way Schwarzenegger has made an effort to build and maintain a good relationship with Joseph Baena, who has stepped into his father’s shoes as an actor and bodybuilder, aside from his job as a real estate agent. The young man said his father was one of his “greatest inspirations” whom he looks up to.

“It was wrong, what I did, but I don’t want to make Joseph feel that he’s not welcome in this world,” Schwarzenegger said concerning his son, “because he’s very much welcome in this world, and I love him, and he has turned out to be an extraordinary young man.” Back in the FUBAR episode, it seems that Emma is not too comforted by her father’s words, and sees the fundamental contradiction between her father’s ideas about marriage on one hand, and infidelity on the other.

“The job destroyed you and Mom,” she replies her father, adding that she had seen what the job did to her parents’ marriage and to the family. “I can’t be with Carter and do this job.”

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