Had no clue what I was going to write about tonight, but I decided to stick with the marriage theme this time extending into reality TV. Married At First Sight is a social experiment, but not really, after all arranged marriages have been around for centuries. The real appeal of the show is almost akin to watching Fear Factor; the attraction is the shock and awe of seeing real people doing something you would never do. The premise: three couples are matched by four experts; they marry sight unseen, go on a honeymoon, and move in together over the course of six weeks and at the end decide whether or not to stay together. The first season was mostly a success with two couples staying married. Last season…not so much. Everyone divorced leaving viewers wondering if after only two showings, whether or not the show had run out of steam.
My gut says the show’s problem is in it’s all white panel of matchmakers. The first season, despite not being a fan of the show, I was disappointed to see that the lone black couple got a divorce. When all three pairs split the following season, I figured out the problem: there’s a culture gap between the experts and the participants of color. Personality, character and dealbreakers are all nice to talk about, but much of that stems from where and what they grew up in. If the show wants better success, they need to incorporate feedback from family to give a fuller picture of what kind of person is looking to get married.
A recent episode of WatchMojo featured a top ten list of celebrities that are famous for no reason. What struck me was that the only ones who made the cut were females. A tired trend on a lot of these lists. Search the term ‘famous for nothing,’ and you’ll see countdowns littered with the usual suspects (reality stars, children of celebs) and topped by the mother of them all, Kim Kardashian. A few years ago, I would have nodded my head to the beat and banged the drum in the hater parade, but now, I see two things:
Self-righteous judgment masquerading as promotion of talent and true art. The 2000s ushered in the golden (or dark, depending on who you ask) age of reality TV as well the communication landscape known as social media. Suddenly, reaching thousands or millions of people was not the sole province of the chosen few. ANYONE can cross the threshold from obscurity into celebrity without having to beg permission from the establishment. So what happens? Card carrying members of the elite don’t want to walk red carpets and be named in the same breath with someone who’s most famous for pooping on a flight of stairs. So, the argument goes that reality TV celebrates what’s wrong with America and gives a tremendous platform for foolishness, so the success of any person in that genre makes a mockery of success. Only hard workers and people with discernible gifts (not hood rats and rednecks) get touched by Midas. But that’s what so great about reality TV… it democratizes fame. But this type of notoriety, while the easiest to attain, is tremendously difficult to manage because it requires YOU. When an actor or singer gets criticized, it’s about what they do (or maybe what they wear), something separate from their individual selves. For a reality star, you’re getting railed on for who you are on a regular basis (multiply that through social media and you’ve got a recipe for disaster). This is not a life that many can handle much less maintain for a long time, so some credit is due to those who survive which leads to…
Why all the hate? Especially for women that have managed to make something of themselves in a field littered with burnouts and has-beens? So many of the tirades that mention people who are ‘famous for no reason’ almost NEVER mention men. For all the Kardashian talk, no one seems to remember that Brody Jenner’s fame stems almost entirely from reality TV and his debut (in 2005 with The Princes of Malibu) predates his step-sisters’. But mentioning a few male examples isn’t the point. In our culture, there’s something infuriating about a woman who figures out how to monetize her good looks or charisma or both in a way that increases her capital and status. We get mad about the pretty twenty-something who marries the millionaire; she gets called a gold-digger (he doesn’t get called any names); we roll our eyes and suck our teeth at the size 2 supermodel making thousands per fashion shoot (but give a pass to the (likely male) designer and agent who require she maintain her size to fit the clothes) and we gossip about that cute (and competent) co-worker getting all the attention from the front office (but we’re not questioning the fact that the ones at the top of the chain are all men). Women who succeed at using their feminine wiles turn the system on it’s head because they win at game they’re supposed to lose. They snub the idea that the only time it’s acceptable for a woman to be pretty and charming is in service of a man. They also turn their backs on conventional wisdom about what it means to be ladylike. Are Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton this century’s greatest feminists? I’m not sure, but they’re definitely doing something.
The news of Josh Duggar’s past indiscretions as a teenager has saturated the media the past couple of days. There are some who have been calling the family hypocrites and others, Mama June included, who think the show should be cancelled. TLC has responded by pulling the show from its network schedule, but they haven’t quite pulled the plug yet and they shouldn’t. We love to devour people when they make mistakes especially people who have presented themselves as the picture of piety, but what does that do except foster the environment that forces people to hide and lie (and worse) in an effort to keep transgressions under wraps.
What Mama June is too naïve (ignorant?) to understand is that there is typically a comprehension gap between adults and children. Adults are responsible for protecting their children, so June keeping company with a man who molested her daughter is beyond reprehensible and negligent and couldn’t be condoned by the network; on the other hand you have a child who committed a sexual offense over 10 years ago, for which he was not punished through no fault of his own. There is a tremendous difference. The focus shouldn’t be on Josh, who was a minor at the time, who according to the offense report, apologized for his behavior, and, as far as currently known, has not committed any punishable offenses. His story might be one of redemption, and rightfully so. There’s no reason to think that someone at 27 is the same person they were at 14/15.
Instead, focus should be on: the writer of the letter (which detailed the assaults), who instead put pen to paper instead of hand to phone to call police; the discoverer of the letter, who instead of reporting information to authorities, seemed more interested in publicly shaming the family (by asking ‘Oprah’ show runners to confront the Duggars about abuse allegations); the parent(s) of the the fifth victim, who in the report states that they ‘didn’t want to make this into a bigger deal than what it was,’ grossly minimizing what happened to their child and finally and most egregiously, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. I’m a parent now and I write this carefully because I don’t want to rain anymore judgement on this family, but like I wrote before, adults are responsible for protecting their children. I shuddered to think about what I and my husband would have to do if faced with similar circumstances.
The pressures to parent effectively, lovingly and unconditionally are daunting in a world that damns you for mistakes, no matter how old. I don’t think that they are terrible people, but they erred in shielding their son from real consequences and not providing him with legitimate counseling; and they sent a message to their daughters that their protection can be nullified under certain conditions. Whether they did so in an honest attempt to protect everyone involved or in an effort to protect the political career of Jim Bob (who was running for Senator at the time) remains to be seen, but I’ll be honest: I’d like to see it. Taking them off TV is no punishment. In no time, all will be forgotten and they’ll be back to living their lives as it once was, surrounded by supporters in their quiet community in Arkansas. Taking the show off the air is cliched and a tired remedy to satisfy those eager for swift justice. Not for me. I would rather them face this music, ON AIR with no place to hide.