Saturday, July 19, 2014

Guilty Pleasures: Married at First Sight

I don't work every waking hour, just most of them. I have time to watch about one to two hours of television a week, and for the next several weeks, one of the hours will be this reality TV show, Married at First Sight, on FYI. People who know me know that I hate reality TV. I watched The Bachelor one season when a whole bunch of friends were watching it as a group - and even then didn't watch all the episodes, and I watched Survivor when a family friend was on it. As soon as he got voted off, I quit watching. This kind of stuff doesn't hold my interest.

So why am I watching a show with the premise of marrying complete strangers and having them live together for five weeks before deciding if they want to stay married or get divorced? Well, I'm hoping this is a different kind of reality TV. Specifically, I hope this is using the reality format to do something groundbreaking. Here are my thoughts so far:

- The "object" of this show is for everybody to win, and that's a new one for reality TV as far as I know. Four experts (that's what they're referred to as in the show, hence I'll just use that same term) in four areas of specialty went through all the candidates for the show and paired off three couples. At this point in the broadcast schedule, those couples have met, gotten married, and had their receptions. If the show creators wanted to set up a train wreck, then they have very poor memories. Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, with its ridiculous sham marriage and subsequent blow-up did not make for good television and did not earn itself a second season, so if all Married... does is create a disastrous situation, then the network execs should know enough from reality TV history to know that this is going to be a big hurdle for the newly revamped FYI network to clear. Also, this show is based on a show of the same format and premise that aired in Denmark, and two of the three couples did elect to stay married.

- Arranged marriage doesn't squick me the same way it may squick other people. I'm not sure why. Because I went to an international school and saw a plethora of cultures? Because I'm well aware of the fact that I, and anyone else on this planet, is the product of thousands of arranged marriages down through the ages? Because I agree with the assertion at the beginning of this show that love-match marriages are relatively new, from a historical perspective, and divorce rates have increased since they became commonplace? Now, that isn't to say that love-match marriages are the cause of divorces. Despite statistics that show that arranged marriages have only a 4% divorce rate on average around the world, that does not convey the complete picture. Cultures that still practice arranged marriage tend to be more conservative and more condemning of divorce. In some countries, divorce is very difficult if not almost impossible to obtain. Also, the purpose of marriage in these cultures is often quite different and the individuals have had their expectations of marriage cultivated accordingly over the course of their lives.

- If this idea works, the fact that it was implemented in reality TV will make all the difference. A sitcom or a prime time drama about couples who are put into arranged marriages obviously would not be comparable. Any writer can put together a fictional storyline where it all works out or doesn't. The point of this experiment is to see if it works on real people.

What I'm curious to learn:

- Whether arranged marriage could ever work in modern American culture - where people are raised with the expectation that they choose their own spouse, and where property, social status, and other traditional concerns tied to marriage have been largely left by the wayside. These people in the experiment didn't grow up thinking they would marry complete strangers, so without that lifetime of cultivated expectation, can they switch gears and do this?

My predictions, FWIW:

- Jamie and Doug make it and stay married. Okay, so spoiler alert for anyone who wants to click over and watch the first episodes on FYI. Jamie is not exactly happy on her wedding day. She's horrified because she isn't attracted to her spouse. Why do I think they'll make it? Because all the footage has already been shot. The experiment is over. Hence I assume the show is edited to create compelling narratives (reality TV isn't scripted in the traditional sense, but there's still room for plenty of spin.) The experts say up front that they expect Jamie will not be attracted to Doug. When this proves true, the sociologist says a short piece on how our society believes that attraction needs to be there at first sight or it will never grow, and that she thinks this attitude eliminates opportunities in love unnecessarily.

The weddings were *obviously* edited - Jason and Cortney's vows are backwards, if you pay attention. In the show he makes his second. In the actual ceremony he would have made his first. They switched them around for dramatic timing purposes. For Jamie and Doug, we're shown only awkward moments. Her hesitating at the altar. Him telling her he lives with his parents. Her asking the wedding photographer to not require them to be touchy-feely, etc. One of the only positive moments is when Jamie's nephew goes up to greet "Uncle Doug", which fits into the storyline of a nice guy with a strong sense of family and loyalty winning the heart of a woman who has limited experience on the receiving end of either. If Jamie and Doug made it to a happy marriage, then the show creators/editors/etc. are being clever. The premise has been set down: You can fall in love with someone you wouldn't have looked twice at when you first met. This also emphasizes the point of this show: that we don't always pick the best partners for ourselves. So can strangers with areas of expertise in sociology, sexuality, etc. do better than you would do on your own? My prediction is that they'll sure make it look like they can with the editing of this couple's storyline.

- If anyone doesn't make it, I'd say Vaughn and Monet, not because there's anything wrong with these two, but because they're both presented as very independent, self directed people, and that can be an extra challenge in any relationship. I'd think an arranged marriage might amplify that because they go straight from having their own structured life into having to compromise at every turn. Again, I'm not saying that's how these two people actually are - I've seen 120 minutes of footage of them, so I don't know them. That is how they are presented, though, so it seems plausible to me that this could be the narrative.
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Anyhow, it's been a while since I've blogged, so while figuring out what to blog, I decided to share my interest in this show. I think most reality television is pretty dumb, especially the romantic reality shows. The Bachelor/Bachelorette is, in my opinion, a thoroughly stupid premise. Courtship where a bunch of prospective mates are in direct competition with each other and the one doing the choosing has everyone competing for them, plus the opulent locations and excursions thrown in on the show, make it un-ideal to create lasting romance - to put it mildly. The fact that anyone off this show has gotten married is a testament to human ingenuity and resilience. It looks like the worst possible way to start a relationship. And I'm not a huge fan of watching train wrecks for the sake of entertainment. If a show is supposed to be "reality" then why would I want to watch people "really" get scared, hurt, humiliated, voted off the island, put into orchestrated opposition with one another, etc.? If I take the attitude that the show is mostly fiction - I'd rather watch something that was scripted.

Married at First Sight has six adults who agreed to the premise, willing to give this a try, and we are all invited to cheer them on, learn to care about them, and maybe even gain some insights into how marriages do and don't work. I'm very curious to see how this turns out. (And if it's a train wreck, I will be sorely disappointed.)


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Friday, June 13, 2014

COVER REVEAL: Courting Magic, a Kat Stephenson novella by Stephanie Burgis


I am beyond excited for more stories about Kat Stephenson, the heroine of Burgis's Unladylike Adventures trilogy, out from Atheneum. Here's the synopsis of this one:

In Kat Stephenson's Regency England, magic is even more shocking than a stolen kiss. But now that she's eighteen, it's time for wild and magical Kat to be introduced to high society by her older sisters, whether she likes it or not...and to finally have a romance of her own!

Of course, her true love is hopelessly ineligible. But when has Kat ever let Society's opinion stop her from making up her own mind? Once she realizes she's found her perfect match, she's not going to let anything or anyone stand in their way - even if she does have to solve a magical mystery, matchmake for an old friend, and break a few rules along the way!

This novella will be published August 12, 2014.

Go add it on Goodreads, quick!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Girl Scout Twilight Camp

Last night I had a rather emotional experience. My friend, Debbie Chrissinger and I went to do a presentation at the Girl Scout Twilight Camp in Los Alamos, New Mexico - where both she and I grew up. Why did we do this? Because twenty-two years ago, we started this camp for our Gold Award projects.

Not everyone knows what the Gold Award is, but it's the highest honor in Girl Scouts. Some would call it equivalent to the Eagle Scout honor, but... well... Boy Scouts bristle when I say this, but I think the Eagle Scout Award is more like the Silver Award, the second highest honor in Girl Scouts that can be done in middle/junior high school. Read on to see what it is we had to do to earn our Gold Awards.

When Debbie and I were sixteen, we'd already worked together planning a variety of council-wide events all over the state of New Mexico, including a new badge program that we launched with a weekend long event with some help from a grant from Reader's Digest - which we applied for ourselves. We had mentors, but they encouraged us to work on our own. So for our Gold Awards, it seemed to make sense to plan another event, but not a simple, weekend event. We thought back to ten years before, in 1983, when we'd gone to a Girl Scout Day Camp, which had ceased running after that session. It seemed like a great resource for girls, but we looked into why it had ceased, and tried to find another option.

What we came up with was a twilight camp, meaning a day camp that runs in the evenings, after working parents are off for the day. This way, we figured, more parents could be involved, and the program might be more sustainable in the long term. Debbie and I each designed a program (I for Brownies, she for Juniors) for our week long camp, and then set about getting volunteers.

We recruited the camp director, all the core staff, the nurse, and the PAs (older scouts to help out with the units.) With a laser printer and some rubber stamps, we designed information flyers, registration forms, and resource packets. All of the camp registrations, which we distributed county-wide through Brownie and Junior leaders, came in to us, and we divided them up into units and designed the name tags and color bandannas they would wear. Using an ever so rare color printer, we printed iron on logos that we put on T-shirts. That took several hours, ironing all those on, but then we gave them to the campers to tie-die the first night and that was a big hit.

Debbie and I trained the staff, briefed them on their responsibilities, and put together the schedule. The first camp took place in the summer of 1993 at Ponderosa Campground, where our old Day Camp had been, and we had roughly 100 girls. A volunteer to be the following year's camp director stepped forward within hours of the opening ceremonies.

And now, 22 years later, it's still running. We were invited back the second year to design a second program, so that returning girls wouldn't do the same activities twice, but then the camp took on a life of its own. When they invited Debbie and me back this year, it was pretty surreal. 22 years means two generations of Girl Scouts have attended all six years that they were eligible as campers, and then volunteered all 4 years they were eligible as PAs. When the camp took a year hiatus a few years back, another scout did her Gold Award by relaunching it and expanding recruitment to nearby towns. Now, to put this in perspective, this grown woman who is a rising sophomore in college was not born when we created Twilight Camp. She began attending years after we were no longer involved, and claims she demanded her parents schedule any summer vacations around it. She had to fight to make her project eligible for her Gold Award; her committee felt that running a program that had already been created wasn't a big enough project to qualify.

The camp even has its own theme song now, composed by one of the adult volunteers, and the campers all knew it by heart. A few of the attendees went out of their way to thank us for creating a program that they have loved and enjoyed year after year and one PA even came up and admitted she always wanted to meet us, ever since she found out the history of Twilight Camp.

Debbie and I were invited so that we could do a short presentation on who we are and how we created the camp, then we had all the girls write notes to their future selves, listing things they wanted to do in Girl Scouting. The notes were placed in little plastic tubes that were sealed with a cork and had a blank tag, on which they were to write the date they'd open the letter again.

We suggested they open it when they each earn their own Gold Awards. Much of what I know about how to run my own business, I learned hands-on from Girl Scouting. People may mock the program, but I think that just goes to show how ridiculous people can be. I'm guessing few of these detractors have ever had an experience like Debbie and I got to have last night, and Twilight Camp isn't over yet. We met next year's camp director during the closing ceremonies. Girl Scouting didn't just teach us how to plan a program, it taught us how to leave a legacy.