Marriage as a TV Stunt

The sacrament of marriage is under attack like never before. Our popular culture is reducing marriage from eternal love to a temporary business merger, an elongated slumber party, with adults playacting at junior-high style "going steady." When the going gets tough, no one hangs tough. Marriage is no longer a commitment. It is merely the legalization of infatuation, which when followed almost immediately by irreconcilable differences, can be voided.

The pinup for play-marriage this week is pop tart Britney Spears, who simply will not go away until we buy her lame CD "In The Zone" (now available at all fine music stores). In the last few months, she has conducted a make-out session with Madonna on national TV, kicked off the NFL season with slinky dances in leather, and performed a song about masturbation, which she told Diane Sawyer is "something sacred." Now she's pulled something even lamer, a cheesy Las Vegas chapel wedding that lasted 55 hours before her lawyers had it annulled. It was a stunt that screamed "career move," a tacky tabloid come-hither dance that made headlines everywhere: a P.R. bonanza.

Jason Allen Alexander, the hometown Louisiana male patsy in this publicity ploy, described the quickie romance. They were sitting around watching "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" - now there's a light romantic comedy - when at 3:30 in the morning they decided they needed to "do something," like get married. (How about playing the slot machines? Couldn't they just go out for an early omelette? Didn't they know 7-Eleven now has thousands of potential coffee combinations?) No, it was time to get the scandal show on the road.

The network morning shows, the celebrity-worship shows and magazines, and the tabloids all converged on the phony love story like P.T. Barnum's suckers born every minute. MSNBC reported the jilted groom has hired an agent and is lining up the business offers swirling out of this charade. The buzz suggested Alexander could score up to a million dollars for a video of the numbskull nuptials, as well as other potentially lucrative TV and book options. A book out of this pseudo-event? It's reminiscent of the old "Saturday Night Live" spoof about the Time-Life 20-volume series on the Grenada invasion: "The war. The peace. What they did the rest of the week."

Merchandise-manipulating marriages are becoming all the rage. Trista and Ryan Sutter, the play-actors who created the only marriage to unfold out of the stilted, staged ABC shows "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," have seemingly turned their entire lives into a promotional opportunity. After turning their bachelor parties and wedding into a reality miniseries, viewers half-expect the new series "Trista and Ryan Try To Have A Baby." The latest "Bachelor," Bob Guiney, is being sued by the show's producers for capitalizing on his plastic romances by shamelessly selling his new CD, not to mention T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, and the "Bob Guiney Beanie." Another scuzzy season of "The Bachelorette" is just around the corner.

Now Fox is planning its latest putrid plot cheapening a wedding, titled "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance." Marriage is merely the subtext for what Fox is promoting as "the ultimate practical joke." The "bride" - and even Fox puts the word in quotation marks - is a 23-year-old first-grade teacher named Randi, who thinks she will earn a million dollars if she can fool her family into thinking she's really going to marry the obnoxious fat guy of the title, named Steve. But Randi is also duped, believing that Steve is also a reality-show contestant and has to fool his family - except Steve and his "family" are all professional actors aiming to make everyone else nauseous as they attempt to go through with what they believe is a real wedding ceremony.

"Obnoxious Fiance" isn't any improvement in its time slot, filling the void left open by the failure of the porn-merchant drama "Skin." Fox has a habit of replacing unsuccesful sleaze with more sleaze. Overweight people are already taking exception, with one TV critic promising "You can bet your big fat obnoxious show that this big fat obnoxious woman will be watching a different network altogether on Monday nights."

The neglected loser in this jungle of TV publicity stunts and merchandising opportunities is real-life marriage - that alternative lifestyle of everyday endurance, sacrifice, support, and eternal love and devotion. It's privately revered by so many, but publicly promoted by too few.