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.

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.)

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