The marriage game

Culture | A terrible TV show isn't much worse than what we do already

Issue: "Bush: Crunch time," March 4, 2000

Since the family is the basic unit of the culture, American culture may have hit a new low with FOX's two-hour special, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? Fifty women from across the country-selected from even more who crowded into local auditions-paraded their charms before a mystery man hidden in an isolation booth. Like a sultan selecting candidates for his harem, the multi-millionaire listened to the women tell a little about themselves and answer relationship questions. He watched as they walked by, barely clothed, in swimsuits. Finally, they did another walk across the stage in wedding dresses. After the herd was culled down to five finalists, the multi-millionaire made his choice. Rick Rockwell, a 42-year-old real-estate developer from San Diego, walked out in a tuxedo. Whereupon he proposed to Darva Conger, a 34-year-old ER nurse from Santa Monica. Though by this time he knew far more about her than she did about him--she had never even seen him-she accepted. Whereupon, the two actually got married, right then and there, and were sent on their way to a lavish honeymoon. How romantic. The show gave FOX some of its biggest ratings ever. Nearly 23 million viewers attended not only the wedding but the courtship. The biggest viewership was among women 18 to 34, many of whom, no doubt, also want to marry a multi-millionaire. One would think women would be offended at all this-seeing a woman reduced to a sex object, put in the humiliating position of trying to entice a man; being manipulated to give herself in marriage to a man she had not even met. One would think men would be offended by a woman marrying exclusively for money. It is hard to know who should be the more humiliated, who is more cynical. And yet, polls of viewers showed both women and men to be envious of the couple. The show taught these viewers an inadvertent lesson on why marriage has to involve something more. While the couple was still honeymooning, it came out that Mr. Rockwell was under a restraining order for allegedly hitting and threatening to kill a former fiancée. And the new bride, who was just doing it all for "a lark" and did not expect to be chosen, is getting an annullment. Obviously, money alone is no formula for marital bliss, and it helps to know whom you are marrying. Most criticism of the show hinged on the lack of romance. You are supposed to fall in love before you get married, went the standard critique. Using marriage as a game show prize takes the love and romance out of it. And yet, in one sense our culture's dating games are just as trivializing as the TV show. Douglas Wilson has pointed out how the serial romances of dating are a preparation not for marriage but for divorce. A couple dates on the basis of romantic attraction, until the feeling dies on the part of either the man or the woman. This person initiates a breakup, and the "dumped" person goes through the trauma of rejection, unrequited love, and heartbreak. And then the romantic vicious circle starts all over again with a new relationship. Eventually, dating can end in marriage, but it is easy for someone who has gone through the romance/rejection cycle many times to bring the dating mindset into marriage. When the emotional rush wears off, the temptation is to slip back into the dating syndrome of dumping and being dumped. In marriage, this is called divorce. Dating is a new invention, unknown to nearly every age and culture of the world. In other societies, marriage is too important to allow it to rest on the vagaries of mere emotion. Families arranged the marriage of their children, taking into consideration a wide range of objective factors-including money. But it was usually the man who married for money. Daughters were given dowries, befitting the family's wealth and social class. For an aristocratic young man whose older brother inherited the family fortune, finding a bride from a wealthy family was the only way he could keep up his standard of living. And yet, as impersonal as these contracts sound, the relationships tended to grow into strong, close, loving marriages, in which-as letters from that time demonstrate-the couple had a strong romantic love for each other. Today, many Christians are trying to find alternatives to the dating game. Some are even reviving the ancient practice of betrothal, in which the families of the children play a major role. Others are reinventing courtship in different ways. Instead of forming romantic relationships as adolescents, young men and women wait until they are of marriageable age and seek a life-long partner in an intentional, not a random, way. Romance grows out of compatibility, a common faith, and friendship. The reason Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? strikes such a chord is that our culture currently does not have a good way to form its most basic unit. Getting it done in a two-hour game show sure would be a lot easier. And the show, for all its pathetic superficiality, does display at least some remnants of traditional values. The woman wants to be taken care of. The couple is not letting mere romantic feelings get in the way of what they need. What is needed, though, for their own lifelong happiness, is for couples to enter into marriage, not as a game, but as a holy covenant, a God-given vocation that He promises to bless.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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