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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The "Here We Go Again" File: Newlyweds and Reality TV

Not so long ago, in late summer of 2003, the world (well, at least the part of the world that watched MTV) was introduced to former boy-bander Nick Lachey and his wife, pop princess Jessica Simpson. She was the buxom "dumb blond" known as much for her purported virginity and controlling daddy/manager as her singing chops, and Nick was the level-headed, down to earth chap who tolerated Jessica's naivete bordering on idiocy. He laughed at her, we laughed at them, and after 41 episodes of their televised marriage (and 3 years of their ACTUAL marriage), the pair filed for divorce. And while the two have moved on to other partners, the damage was done, and soon, like lambs led to the slaughter, other couples signed up for their 15 minutes of fame and reality TV marital curse was born.

Bravo's "Real Housewives of Orange County" launched in 2006 (a.k.a. the year that Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson's divorce was finalized) and a whole new crop of husbands and wives were spilling the inner workings of their relationships on basic cable. By the end of the first season, marriages were on the brink, and now, seven years later, all of those first season Orange County marriages have ended. In fact, in successive iterations of the  "Real Housewives" franchise, reality TV marriages from Beverly Hills to Atlanta to Washington, DC, New York, New Jersey and Miami have continued on the fast-track to reality TV divorce. 

So, we've all learned a valuable lesson, right? 

Marriage + reality TV = bad news

Apparently, I'll need to adjust the learning curve because Bravo debuted a new show called simply, "Newlyweds: The First Year" which puts four newlywed couples in front of the cameras for the first 365 days (and nights) of their marriages. There's John and Kathryn, the former independent city gal who left the mean streets of Manhattan for the life of a stay-at-home wife with a honeymoon baby on the way. Tarz and Tina - he, a tech entrepreneur and she a Bollywood actress looking to have a baby before her biological clock stops ticking. Blair and Jeff - the handsome gay couple overcoming Jeff's painful rejection by his family. And, lastly, Alaska and Kim - the A&R rep for a music label and his stylish stylist wife, torn between the east and west coasts, and struggling for control in their marriage. 

So why would anyone sign up for this? What would possess two people who have committed themselves to a partnership eternal to allow cameras access to every fight, every pregnancy test, every eye roll, every empty toilet tissue roll, dirty bath towel, and unintended slight? I don't have an answer, but, for those of you with dreams of spilling the beans about your marital habits on camera, DON'T! 

Look, I'm a married woman and I have lots of friends who are married, as well, and the one thing that a marriage definitely doesn't need is an audience. Your marriage is not a play, it's not a movie - if it was, you'd have better writers and your choice of actors and actresses to stand in as a body double for some of those close-ups. Like Ben Affleck's Academy Awards acceptance speech, marriage is messy, in that there generally are no clear-cut winners and losers. There is commitment and love and partnership, and they form the boundaries within which the chaos and challenges of lives lived together exist. A camera is not a silent, objective witness that can settle your domestic clashes, but the couples featured on reality TV treat the camera as such. Instead of building love and trust and good communication with each other, reality TV couples argue their case before the camera, and, once the episode airs, before the social media universe. True intimacy is destroyed as viewers line up behind Team Kim or Team Alaska. 

Now, if you think that I'm anticipating an epidemic of more reality TV-induced divorces, I'm not. But, I am concerned that the bad habits of reality TV might have filtered into our everyday lives. Pay a visit to YouTube and you'll see thousands of videos in the "promposal" genre, an adolescent off-shoot of the unique proposal phenomenon that has been going full-steam over the past few years. This isn't cute - it's a cry for help that you shouldn't click to view. I'm just saying:)

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