Therefore I was first in line to watch the latest reality television offering, Channel 4’s Married At First Sight.
The show, which originated in Denmark, but has since sold the rights to thirteen other countries, does what it says in the tin. Two strangers who have never laid eyes on each other meet for the first time at the altar. Gone is the notion that God Himself is the author of marriage, instead a “meticulous team of specialists” including an evolutionary anthropologist, a psycho-sexual therapist and a psychologist match two strangers together after creating some formula in a lab that seeks to match people with their “perfect partner”. Spoiler alert: the results are as you would expect. Despite the high number of divorces that take place every year, seeking an alternative approach to marriage and allowing a panel of experts to choose you a spouse, turns out not to be the perfect solution. A series of disastrous rows, second guessing and finally regret rapidly ensue.
The head of Channel 4, Jay Hunt, rebutted the notion that the show was making a mockery of marriage, arguing “I think it’s the opposite”
Since the dawn of reality television, there have been ethical questions surrounding its production. Was locking 12 strangers in a house and depriving them of any contact of the outside world, as seen on Big Brother, a breach of people’s human rights? Can one give really consent to something they don’t fully understand? But Married At First Sight feels slightly more sinister. The show takes people that are desperate for companionship, or attention (I don’t know which is worse) and places them in the so-called care of group of people with doctorates who assure and encourage them that marrying a stranger on national television is a good idea.
The head of Channel 4, Jay Hunt, rebutted the notion that the show was making a mockery of marriage arguing, “I think it’s the opposite”. In Britain, since 1964 around a third of marriages end in divorce (a figure that is on the rise) and Hunt has argued that instead of making “the biggest decision in our lives informed by gut instinct … if you got an array of experts to help … you will be more likely to make the right choice”. At best you could argue that this is an entirely baseless claim, at worst it’s a statement used to manipulate the lonely into making a decision that changes their lives forever. The team of “specialists” who seek to formulate the perfect marriage fails to ask the most glaringly obvious question, why on earth would anyone marry a complete stranger on national television? One has to question how invested the so-called experts are in creating well matched, happy couples. I’m (also) no expert, but I can see that a content and compatible marriage would not ratchet up viewing numbers.
In the United Kingdom the marriage rate has declined 47% since 1972 and today, just one in five couples chooses to get married in a religious ceremony.
In the United Kingdom the marriage rate has declined 47% since 1972 and today just one in five couples chooses to get married in a religious ceremony. In case the figures did not prove it, the decline in the belief of the sanctity of marriage is evident in Marriage at First Sight. Not just because of the willing participants or the “experts” who facilitate the marriages, but the millions of people who watch the show. Divorces have a long-term impact on mental health, on the health and happiness of any children involved and have long been associated with an increase in anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse. And excluding these damaging consequences, let us not forget that in marriage, husband and wife become “one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
The effects of this wicked show will be felt by the contestants for a long time after the cameras have stopped rolling. I may have finally found a reality television show that goes too far, even for a super-fan like me.
Esther Watson writes for The Spectator.
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