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ORLANDO, Fla. - Robert Brown Jr. faces the cuckolds every day.
They pop into his tiny U-Spy Store in Orlando, Fla., to check out the surveillance equipment. After a while, they sidle up to the counter and whisper that they think their husband or wife is cheating on them - but they need proof. Sometimes they wait until everyone else leaves the store, so they can talk to Brown privately.
What they don't realize is this: Seventy-five percent of his customers are in the same situation. They're all trying to catch a cheating lover.
Brown shows them an arsenal of spyware, from computer software that can track the Web sites a wayward spouse is visiting to GPS devices for the cheater's car.
But the latest gadget looks like something you'd see on the TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" - a DNA collection kit to detect if your spouse has been intimate with someone else.
The kits might help spouses catch a cheating heart, but there's no invention that can stop infidelity - or our fascination with the topic.
It's simply human nature.
"Americans, as all humans, are obsessed with sex in any form, infidelity or otherwise," says Leslie Wilson, editor in chief of Americana: The Journal for the Study of American Popular Culture in Los Angeles.
While most cultures are based on marriage and fidelity - a custom enforced by society so that children can inherit their father's property - Americans might be a little more interested in fidelity and adultery.
For that, you can thank the Puritans.
"We are, after all, this Calvinist-based, Puritan society," says Gary Hoppenstand, a professor of American thought and language at Michigan State University. "There's the element of the forbidden or taboo that's being explored there. It's sensational because marital fidelity is valued in terms of our religious heritage."
As odd as it sounds, sex sells in American culture, perhaps even more so than in more liberal European societies. "Sex and violence sells in this country, whether it's movies or TV or in politicians' lives, because we come from a religious heritage that says no-no to that," says Hoppenstand. "And whenever someone says no-no, our first impulse is to go out and do it."
Certainly, cheating has been a universal story line for eons - at least since humanoids discovered they had different moving parts.
"Desperate Housewives" features Gabrielle cheating with a hunky young gardener and Bree's husband having a heart attack during an extramarital tryst. But go back in TV history, and you'll find the airwaves have been thick with cheaters, from radio soap operas to "Temptation Island."
Literature is similarly rife with cheaters, from "The Scarlet Letter" to "Madame Bovary."
"If you look at entertainment, sex in general, and adultery in particular, is a theme going all the way back to the Old Testament," says Tom W. Smith, who has tracked the nation's sexual behavior as director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
"There's nothing new about
Desperate Housewives.' Go back toPeyton Place,' to Moll Flanders and Don Juan. This is a theme of popular culture for centuries and probably millennia."
Still, pop culture might have reached a new low with the arrival of "Cheaters," a voyeuristic reality show.
Each episode features host Joey Greco tracking down a cheating boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse and confronting the cheater on camera.
It doesn't usually end happily ever after. In one episode, the cuckold pushed the cheater's car into a lake. In another, a jilted lover pushed a portable toilet onto a smooching couple.
And in one of the show's most talked-about episodes, Greco was stabbed in the abdomen by an angry man after the host and the man's wife confronted him on camera.
You can call it trash. Some people call it a guilty pleasure.
NAMES AND NUMBERS
Americans have long feasted on news of politicians who broke their marriage vows.
Scribe, unroll the parchment, please.
Let's see: John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton.
Don't forget Grover Cleveland. While running for president, Cleveland admitted he had fathered a child with a prostitute - and was elected anyway.
Or Warren G. Harding, whose political advisers bribed one mistress to take an extended vacation abroad during the campaign of 1920.
And Washington roared at news of Wilbur Mills and Fanne Foxe. In 1974, Mills, a powerful congressman, got drunk with his stripper-girlfriend and, after police pulled Mills' car over for driving without lights, Foxe - also known as the "Argentine Firecracker" - dove into Washington's Tidal Basin.
But few can top Alexander Hamilton. While serving as secretary of the treasury in the late 18th century, Hamilton was having an affair with a married woman and being blackmailed by her husband. When his rivals charged that he was mishandling Treasury money, he published a 95-page pamphlet about his adulterous relationship - to clear his name. (Take that, tabloids!).
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and cheating among the masses apparently has become more widespread.
In a survey that Smith conducted of 19,000 Americans between 1991 and 2004, 13 percent of women and 22 percent of men reported having sex with someone other than their spouse while married.
Although some magazines claim higher numbers - including one recent survey that claimed 62 percent of Americans are philanderers - Smith says those numbers are often exaggerated.
The problem, he says, is that many of those so-called surveys are unscientific magazine polls. In some cases, the only people who respond are those who feel strongly enough to call or write.
"It's not people who have a normal, dull, boring relationship, with nothing much to say about it," says Smith. "It's those who want to speak out about it."
DNA AND UV LIGHT
The Hank Williams song says your cheatin' heart will tell on you.
Or maybe your clothes will.
That is, if your suspicious spouse orders David Vitelli's Tru-Test Home Collection Kit.
Using an ultraviolet light, this $80 kit can detect stains on clothing that are normally impossible to see or feel. Protein and enzyme formulas included in the kit also identify the presence of bodily fluids. And, if that's not enough proof, kit buyers can mail specimens of the samples to a laboratory to determine if they match the wife's DNA, the husband's DNA - or someone else's. At about $500, DNA testing isn't cheap.
But Vitelli, a private investigator, says it's cheaper than hiring a private investigator.
And the kit - even without the additional DNA testing - gives people proof, Vitelli said.
"Cheating's been around since the beginning of recorded time," he says. "Before, when you wanted proof that someone had cheated, it was always, `I saw him here or I saw him there.' Technology has now made it a science, and you can get caught."
And, if things are really bad, your spouse could call Cheaters.
And we can all watch you squirm.
(c) 2005, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.