illustrated by Cara Gallina
In the last few years the fight for marriage equality has become increasingly powerful and supporters have been more vocal than at any point in history. If we look at the way representations of homosexuals have positively developed and increased in the media, it is clear to see the change in mindset that has helped President Barack Obama to express his support for same-sex marriages. This endorsement has become an important step forward especially since he is the first US president to ever do so. Yet in Australia, our Prime Minister remains reluctant to offer such support, and millions of people worldwide must continue their fight for equality. Although sadly, despite the marriage equality debate roaring in the background, many short and somewhat meaningless marriages will continue to be performed on reality TV shows.
This is what makes the marriage equality fight more poignant. For a reality show to simply have the option of offering marriage as the prize means something is wrong with society. One of the worst offenders is The Bachelor/Bachelorette. But it’s not just the Americans. Australia has The Farmer Wants a Wife and Please Marry My Boy, both of which give The Bachelor a run for its money in terms of its nonchalant approach to marriage.
The aforementioned Bachelor is a fitting example because the prize is not just the possibility of love, like dating games of yore. It is actually offering a fully functional, legally recognisable union, televised for anyone to see. This in itself does not cheapen the act of marriage. I don’t doubt these couples have some kind of feelings for one another but, more often than not, it’s a euphoria that doesn’t last long. In a list regarding the “success” of the couples from the show’s fifteen seasons, we see that most of the relationships ended relatively soon after the cameras stopped rolling.
And, unsettlingly, past contestants are sometimes reused as the next bachelor/bachelorette, even after they have recently professed their love and experienced a heartbreak from their rejection (which apparently only a seasonal break could mend).
It is interesting to compare this speedy process of meeting, “falling in love” and marriage, to the frustration same-sex couples must endure whilst being denied such rights. Only since 2001 have many countries begun to legalise same-sex marriages nationwide. Many others have started to recognise marriages that have been performed elsewhere. The Australian Bureau of Statistics states, “Changing social attitudes during the late 20th century have led to an increase in de facto and same-sex relationships…” Ten years ago there wasn’t the same amount of freedom and support that allows such couples live more openly today. The Bachelor, however, has been on the air since 2002. So while millions of people worldwide have been working hard to gain equality, this show has been performing marriages that don’t last for more than a matter of months.
Australia has mimicked this Bachelor idea and slapped an Aussie facade to it in The Farmer Wants a Wife. The only discernible difference with this show is the higher number of bachelors, the fact that they live and work on a farm and their selection of women is smaller. In one season there was a female farmer looking for a man, which was just enough to mix things up for a little while. The contestants are from the city and their job is to see if they are willing to move away from their comfort zone and go rural all in the name of love, supposedly. On paper it doesn’t sound so horrible. It may even make a great character study and social commentary about the disparate nature of both lifestyles. However, seeing the bachelor go on “group dates” and making out with each of the contestants on rotation ultimately turns it into a sickly carbon copy of what has come before.
I’m a believer that you can genuinely fall in love with more than one person (sometimes concurrently), but this is not what’s happening in these shows. Love appears to be a fleeting by-product of the show’s ultimate prize—marriage—and that’s depressing. And to a minority that’s fighting hard to have the same basic rights as the majority, it can be insulting.
The most recent incarnation of the find-a-soul-mate-from-these-preselected-few idea, and in my opinion one of the lowest of the low, is Channel 7’s Please Marry My Boy. The twist? The men’s mothers decide which woman is suited for her son. I’m not saying the mother shouldn’t have her say—it is important that the woman will get along with the man’s family—but that’s not how it plays out. It’s almost like an arranged marriage except without the cultural background/traditional significance and with more criticisms, snide comments and pettiness. Have a look at how it’s advertised:
The men are made out to be burdens and the only way to get rid of them is to marry them off and pass the inconvenience on to another woman. This shouldn’t be the basis for a marriage; if it is, there is no sanctity in it, and no respect for what the union represents. It just becomes a mockery.
These are just three examples of shows using marriage as a prize but, unfortunately, there are more out there. My question is: when did it become okay to make a gimmick out of marriage? This question is particularly pertinent to all those people who use morality or religion as a defence. Why not oppose these shows as well? Why not campaign so fervently to stop them? Surely these shows can’t be morally just. They trivialise the idea of love and the concept of marriage. To quote a paper from the Parliamentary Library on arguments in support of same-sex marriages: “Perhaps the most prominent argument centres on the need to treat people as equals, regardless of their sexual preference, and to recognise and respect the equality of a commitment between people of the same-sex and people of different sexes…” So why is a reality TV marriage treated as more sacred than that of two men, of two women?
I’m not saying all same-sex marriages will last forever. It’s impossible. People drift apart and problems arise; it’s human nature. But these shows add insult to injury by portraying how effortless marriage is for heterosexual couples while activists (both straight and gay) are fighting hard for this basic right to be available for all same-sex couples.
The funny (but also sad) thing about all this is that when marriage equality is achieved, it probably won’t take long before we see the same-sex versions of these shows. But at least it will be a sign of progress.
Closets are for Clothes is a column dedicated to issues and news related to the LGBTI community. If you are interested in contributing, or have something relevant for us to write about, don’t hesitate: firstname.lastname@example.org