Friday, June 5, 2009

I Married A Stranger: New Idiocy From Fox TV

Fox TV has picked up the pilot for a new TV show called "I Married a Stranger. Reuters News describes the show as follows.

"The premise of the show is that a woman frustrated by the dating scene agrees to wed a man she's never met. While she prepares for her blind wedding, friends and family select a spouse from a pool of six eligible suitors offered by the show's producers. The men are eliminated one by one until only two candidates remain. Both finalists walk down the aisle, but only one makes it to the altar to reveal himself to his new wife."

Society has been preparing for such foolishness for a very long time. The latest fad is "starter marriages" which are childless live in relationships that are officially marriages. Unlike the regular shack up they have the legal status of marriages and are preceded by an official ceremony and a sit down dinner. The understanding is that a divorce is likely with no hard feelings. The couple are not exactly going for a "test drive" but a "test road trip". With marriage thus trivialised the idea of getting a spouse as a game show prize is not quite as unthinkable.

When I was little there was "Divorce Court" which was presumably based on real cases. If a couple wanted to get divorced their reasons needed to be pretty convincing. I caught a little bit of the show as a kid but my mother interrupted my education by changing the channel and telling me that divorce should only be a last resort. The program was pretty famous. My mother in law interrupted an episode of Divorce Court to go to the hospital and give birth to my wife. I don't know why she shared that information with me but I have been sufficiently well behaved to remain married to her daughter for over a quarter of a century.

I personally favour Joy Browne. The way I like to listen is to match my wits against hers. With one of my children or my wife I will discuss during a commercial break what our advice would be to a caller. I agree with her about 90% of the time. I almost never have a strong disagreement with her advice. She is professional and not trendy. When she has to admonish a caller she is pretty civil about it.

I live and work around people who have what Americans would describe as "arranged marriages." Among orthodox Jews it is very common for parents to do a background check on a prospective spouse before allowing things to go forward. Meetings before marriage are limited in frequency. When things are done correctly there is no physical contact before marriage. I feel that there should be talks in yeshiva about spousal communication and sharing responsibilities. Society has changed since prewar Europe. But the fundamental idea of a courtship and marriage process with parental and communal involvement is fundamentally sound. I have spoken with westernised yet traditional Hindus and Muslims about these issues in their communities and in the Jewish community. Most of those I spoke with believed that women should be educated respected and not hit. They did not practice some of the more infamous forms of abuse that are widespread in the Arab and Hindu world. I feel a lot less alienated from people like that than I do when I look at western marriage portrayed in its debased and caricatured form on television . I share with a lot of traditionalist immigrants the feeling that popular culture should be kept at arm's length.

I like TV shows in which a camera crew goes around with a pair of police officers in a cruiser. It creates understanding for police and the situations they face. I have no doubt that the camera brings with it subtle distortions. Despite this a person should behave as though they are being watched. I have had traffic stops that compared very favourably with what I have seen portrayed on TV.

There should be no law against adults getting married on television. Despite this I think it is stupid. It trivialises marriage. We have millions of children in America who are walking wounded. Too many children must fight with their parents over the right to be children. Fox TV has apparently joined in the progressively more difficult quest to shock awe and entertain the public.

I do not like preachy or propagandistic entertainment. But there should be some attempt among those who entertain us to ask what effect their creations will have on individuals and upon society. The best art walks a tightrope between portraying reality and attempting to shape it. There are shows out there such as Extreme Home Makeover that show an awareness of this responsibility.

We have a lot of freedom in our society. I hope that the free market will banish "I Married a Stranger to the television graveyard along with "My Mother the Car" and "Mr. Ed". The internet and cable TV offer a lot of alternatives to "I Married a Stranger". It will be possible to "vote by remote". I hope viewers send a message to FOX about fluff programs like "I Married a Stranger."


On a lighter note I am presenting a song by Croatian musical star Josipa Lisac as an alternative to American Idol. She was wildly popular in the 1970's and 1980's. Her singing style reminds me a bit of Barbra Streisand. I would love to see her music on American top 40. Check it out.

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