‘Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal,’ A Perspicacious Miniseries

‘Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal,’ A Perspicacious Miniseries

Move over Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, eHarmony, Meetic, OkCupid, Happn, Match and Raya! The position of the most controversial Dating App of our time is conquered by Ashley Madison: a membership website service based in Canada, currently present in 53 countries. This platform addresses married couples who want to have an affair.

What’s in a name? Seduction? Clandestine excitement? Both! The two most popular female names in North America during the early 2000s were, Ashley and Madison, hence the choice of calling the online dating service for adultery ‘Ashley Madison.’ The slogan ‘Life is short. Have an affair,’ encapsulated the credo of the social networking service, that claimed to guarantee absolute discretion in connecting married people who wanted to have affairs without repercussions.

In 2010 the site had 7 million members; in 2012 they became 15 million across 35 countries, available in 15 languages; and they expanded to 37 million in 2015, the year of the data breach. Ashley Madison did not shy away from establishing itself even in conservative nations such as India, with slogans such as ‘Parents arranged your marriage, let us arrange your affair.’ Early advertisements were appealing to men but disrespectful to women, sexualising them, albeit the company’s official statements would pass them off as a demonstration of female empowerment.

The early bad publicity, that questioned the morality of such a platform, was still publicity. Therefore the company was not concerned of coming across as sordid, especially because until Ashley Madison was capable of keeping its promise of secrecy everything ran smoothly. Matters changed when the site got hacked by the Impact Team, that leaked all the information of the site’s users.

The miniseries Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal — from Minnow Films and director Toby Paton — explores the creation of the website and the hack that made it all come crashing down. Every episode begins with the evolution of the marriage of YouTubers Sam and Nia and how Ashley Madison had an affect on it. Audiences will be given the entire historical background concerning the emergence of this platform — that was created by Darren J. Morgenstern with the Creative Director being Marc Morgenstern — and the way its notoriety peaked with Chief Executive Officer, Noel Biderman. The latter even brought his wife Amanda on talk shows, boasting their twenty-three years marriage devoid of infidelity; as the narrative unfolds other versions of this union will surface.

The investigative approach, used by Toby Paton in this three-episode Netflix series, is exceptionally compelling and engrossing. The data breach investigation opens Pandora’s box and releases all the demons of the actors involved in the circumstance. The irreproachable husband Noel Biderman is unveiled; the couples that seemed stainless emerge with all their shadows. We observe cyber forensic experts hired to help the Ashley Madison team find the hackers who blackmailed the shutting of the site. Names of celebrities and public figures gradually circulate amongst the various users of the dating platform. Thus, the witch hunt to shame people flares up. The consequences for some are even tragic, with  exposed adulterers taking their lives.

Moreover, the lack of vigilance of Ashley Madison is exposed when we observe that the alleged deleted accounts were not erased but still present in the system — despite the users had paid for a clean slate. The reputation of the dating App shatters with the revelation of a proliferation of fake profiles, to lure customers into purchasing additional services from the site.

At the end of the day human kind’s propensity to annihilation is attested by the fact that the site is still up and running today, despite all the ignominy that was disclosed. After the scandal, Ashley Madison continued with a new CEO reaching 70 million users.

Toby Paton — the award winning director with ten years’ experience making powerful, immersive documentaries for major broadcasters — provides an insightful look into the complexity of the Ashley Madison phenomenon. In fact, the series could have easily given into the temptation of using a sensationalistic and salacious approach, but instead chooses a sociological angle that shows the various repercussions that affected the lives of those who fell down the Ashley Madison rabbit hole.

Images are courtesy of Netflix

Final Grade: B+

Check out more of Chiara’s articles.

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