FIRST-PERSON: Reality TV's new low
JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--The explosion of reality television shows like "Survivor," "The Bachelor," "The Bachelorette," "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!" and "Are You Hot?" is a sad and shining testimony of our culture's fascination with image, popularity and novelty. People everywhere are rushing home from work, scrambling to get supper ready, gulping it down and racing to the couch so they can finally have some reality in their day. Many sit through these shows gasping with wide eyes and open mouths asking, "Can you believe that?"
The growing incredulity of what people are able and willing to do on national television draws back more and more people for more potent doses of "reality."
Now, with the culture's dictate that television be more real than it was on the last reality show, we await the soon-coming "Married by America" on Fox Television. This latest show will feature five couples who are paired for the purpose of allowing the American people to watch and vote on which couple should be married.
The couple chosen by America will win $1 million if they can stay married for 180 days. Forget individual preference or even personal commitment. These people are planning to do whatever the American people tell them to do. Those appearing on Married by America are submitting their wills and indeed their futures to the popular opinions of the populace. Let the American people watch! Let the American people vote! And by all means, and above all else, let the American people be entertained!
Before television, if people wanted reality, they had to live their own lives. Now, through daytime soap operas, situation comedies, evening dramas and reality shows society can experience the realities of others through the big box that sits as the centerpiece of dens and living rooms across America. Many seem to be content living vicariously through the actions of others and attempting to achieve desired intimacy through images on a two-dimensional screen.
This latest reality show is another cause for concern. While many in our nation will watch and exercise the democratic privilege of voting, one's thoughts about this show must not focus on democracy, television or even entertainment. Rather, such reflection should revolve around the nature of marriage itself.
Marriage is serious and sacred. The union that exists between a man and a woman is to be a permanent, lifelong relationship. Established by God, marriage is a sacred institution in which man and woman become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The apostle Paul spoke of marriage in terms of Christ's love for the church and its implications for marriage (Ephesians 5:22-25).
Married by America cheapens the God-ordained institution of marriage by using it solely as a shallow avenue for monetary gain. The worth of a couple's relationship is not valued because of the covenant of marriage but because the couple can stick it out in the marriage for 180 days.
According to the show, only then will the man and woman fully realize the value of marriage -- a financial value of $1 million. Motivated by money and unconcerned with the seriousness of a vow (Numbers 30:1), the participants of this show will be trampling holy matrimony as they run toward celebrity status and worldly wealth.
The seriousness of marriage should not be trivialized as a tool of entertainment for the masses. Nor should it be used as a way of making money. Marriage is an end in itself and not a means to another end.
Paul's words to the young Timothy should be sobering for us all: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:10). From the deceptions of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 to the actions of Clay Carter III in John Grisham's "King of Torts," it is obvious that the consequences of loving money are disastrous.
Married by America may entertain for a season. But history will tell its ultimate impact upon us. Statistics related to divorce in our society are staggering. Families are torn apart, and the children of broken relationships are usually left struggling with issues of intimacy and belonging the rest of their lives. The issues of marriage and divorce affect not only the man and woman who experience them, but the family and society around them. The family is built upon the foundation of the marriage relationship. Strong communities are grounded in the families that compose them. Nations are built upon those communities. The nature and foundation of the marriage relationship in the fabric of society necessitates that it be revered.
The trivializing of marriage and the complete disregard for its sanctity may not prevent a young couple from being married by America, but in the long run the institution of marriage as well as the fabric of our society will end up being further marred by America.
Todd E. Brady is minister to the university at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.