Marriage 'reality' show crosses the line, some say
By ANNE KAPLER Courier Staff Writer
Romantic black-and-white pictures grace the screen: A man slips a wedding band on a woman's hand. The happy couple smiles and kisses. Understated white text floats by: "Marriage is a sacred union ... between two people who have grown together over time."
A lingering moment.
Then, in bright red letters: "Fox says, #@*% that!"
The introduction on the "Married by America" Web page ably sums up the thinking behind Fox's latest "reality" TV show.
The network behind the ill-fated "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" has taken "Blind Date," crossed it with "The Bachelor" and added the voter participation of "American Idol" to create "Married By America," premiering Monday at 7 p.m.
The concept is pretty simple. As Fox puts it, "You match. You vote. They marry." During the seven-week show, five singles will entrust the TV viewing public to match them with the perfect spouse. Friends, family and relationship experts will choose five potential mates for each participant, but it will be up to viewers to pick the perfect spouse.
After votes are tallied, the winning couple will become engaged. Only then will they be allowed to see each other and "embark on a journey toward matrimony in hopes that they have indeed found their one true love," according to the Web site.
This higher-stakes relationship "reality" show has some pastors and marriage counselors shaking their heads.
"One assumes that behind the show is the idea that if it doesn't work out, they'll just get a divorce," says Cedar Falls psychologist and marriage counselor Kristine Conditt. "That doesn't reflect marriage as a very serious or lifetime commitment."
Divorce is costly, she adds, both financially and emotionally.
"When people divorce, they talk to me about how they're never going to see (their in-laws) again, or how certain friends are going to side with one person over another," Conditt says. "Or maybe they can't go to the same church anymore because both of them went there and it's too awkward."
The show's setup may sound similar to arranged marriages -- a still-common practice in some parts of the world -- but there's an important difference, notes the Rev. Jerry Kopacek, a pastor at St. Edward Catholic Church. It's not family or friends making the match, it's complete strangers.
"This show is supposedly reality TV -- that just seems like a misnomer," Kopacek says. "What's real about this? There's nothing real about this whatsoever. It's a totally contrived environment with cameras all around. People don't act normal when they know they're going to be watched by millions of people."