Shilling marriage: Why blaming gays for eroding marriage is a sham

This arts column was originally posted in the Denton Record-Chronicle in March of 2010. The season of the television show featured has since ended.

Entertainment usually gets serious consideration when pundits and parents consider its role in catastrophes – school violence, drugs and sex. All things we intuitively want to shield innocent children from until we’ve taught them how to cope with the consequences.

When things are coasting along just fine, entertainment returns to being the frosting on the cake — tasty, but not really all that important.

It’s that presumption that pricks my conscience when shows like The Bachelor begin a new season. (The same goes for heavily-produced “reality” shows like The Bachelorette, Temptation Island, Big Brother and Tool Academy.)

The Denton Record-Chronicle was hit with a small flurry of interest when hometown boy Jake Pavelka was cast on The Bachelorette, an assignment that earned him enough attention to be the leading man in the latest season of The Bachelor.

I can see the appeal. Jake is telegenic. He’s got those golden good looks. He’s got that lantern jaw. He’s had really good orthodontia.

He’s just good looking enough to be the kind of guy ABC likes as its shiny red apple in the garden of fantasy relationship that is at the center of The Bachelor.  For the uninitiated, we offer a breakdown

  • Jake — or whichever clean-cut lad has landed the role — has the chore of dating a stable of women who will fawn, chase, wear a bikini and writhe in a bubbling hot tub for a chance to get an engagement ring.

After more than 10 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, it’s clear that this is all theater. It’s a hoax that has produced very few unions, but has confirmed all our worst suspicions about men and women. We suspect that all men are dogs, and that all women are bitches.

Marriage has been a big deal in every corner of the nation within range of a television, movie or laptop screen. As gays and lesbians have rocked the blissfully heterosexual marriage boat, plenty of lip service has been paid to “traditional” marriage.

A marriage is between one man and one woman, as far as traditionalists are concerned. Pundits are still wringing their hands over the divorce rate, which is fairly stable as nearly half of marriages end in courtrooms. Vulnerable children crave and deserve a mother and father to teach them how to grow into decent men and women who should mature into good citizens.

Marriage is identified as the cornerstone of the country’s moral vault, and the foundation of a hungry goods and services economy.

“Reality” television shows don’t help Americans assess marriage as what it is: a choice made daily to be loyal to one other adult — in body, in mind, in finances and in attention. Reality television banks on the bill of goods usually marketed to women: Marriage is a happily-ever-after, where bodies never age past 25 and passion is never interrupted by the past, by children and mundane obligations of the working man or woman.

In other equally distasteful shows (The Real Housewives franchise on Bravo), marriage is a contact team sport. Whichever couple bloodies the most Joneses while social climbing wins. Extra points for the couple that uses an American Express Black card twice a season — a bauble that commits them to spending about $500,000 a year.

I don’t know Pavelka. I won’t take shots at his character. He’s had plenty of fans who “knew him when” and call him a good man with big ambitions. But I can accuse him of colluding in the crass commercialization of something that is supposed to be sacramental. If Americans are as concerned about the sanctity of marriage as they say they are, then should they be silent when the prime-time bachelors and bachelorettes profane marriage for profit? Shouldn’t heterosexual citizens be held accountable for their sins against holy matrimony?

It matters what we tell ourselves, and media are our megaphone. Either marriage is sacred, or it’s not. It’s either a privilege or a right.

Let’s say Jake and his peers on The Bachelor soundstage are right. Let’s say marriage is a high and holy privilege. Let’s say we’re rooting for Vienna Girardi and Jake to toast each other on their 50th anniversary. Let’s say this good-looking hometown boy wants his happily-ever-after and his television deal, too. We wish him no ill will. He’s only trying to make a family and a paycheck, too.

But if it’s a privilege, marriage deserves better than what The Bachelor can offer on its best day.

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