Over Channel 4’s 33-year history there has been a whole range of programmes which have found their way into the nation’s hearts. Where would many of the older generation be without their weekday dose of Countdown? It’s brought us Phil and Kirsty, Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs, the genuinely inspiring Educating Yorkshire, classic comedies including the irrepressible Father Ted and the hard-hitting Dispatches documentaries. On the other side of the coin. it’s also brought us programmes we’d rather it hadn’t. Can we truly thank Channel 4 for Big Brother and the vast majority of the voyeuristic and vapid reality shows it spawned?
This week it plumbed new depths with Thursday night’s Married at First Sight, on which a panel of so-called experts bring together singles who have never met; introduce them to each other at a registry office, and then see if they can cope with six weeks of full-blown married life. The idea is that through extensive questionnaires, psychoanalysis and DNA testing, our relationship gurus can find the perfect match and give the show’s victims participants the best shot at a relationship that will pass the test of time. On the off-chance that the couples decide that the pseudoscience behind their coming together turned out to be a load of stinking brown stuff, then they have the option of getting divorced at the end of the series and carry on as if it had all been nothing more than a bad dream shared with several million other people.
Once upon a time, at a moment which some progressives would prefer had never happened, marriage actually meant something. It was a contract between two people who had resolved to join in union to share every part of their lives, with the explicit intention of making it last until death brought it to a close. These were solemn vows of commitment, made in the presence of family and of God, with the full intention of honouring them through thick and thin. Of course, this ideal would not always go according to plan, but the hope and expectation were there.
Marriage, once a foundation stone of our society, now lies cracked and crumbling through neglect and exposure to the elements of modern relationships. Self-sacrifice and mutual submission have given way to individualism, unrealistic expectations and a belief that if I’m not getting my needs met, it’s probably time to look elsewhere.
The respect for the institution of marriage has been eroded to the point where we now find a whole group of well-toned and driven thirty-somethings, who are just too busy with their careers to find love, asking for Channel 4 to do the job for them in front of the TV cameras. Anyone with any sense knows that love is a mysterious and unpredictable thing that defies understanding and logic, yet the show’s panel, made up of academics and, bizarrely, a Church of England vicar, believe they have the skills to plug it into a scientific formula and come up with the perfect match.
The Rev’d Nick Devenish apparently agreed to play a part in this social experiment because he heard “a cry for help from young people who have a serious intention and want to have a serious commitment to a life-long partner, but are finding it hard to find that person”. One can’t help but think that either he was duped into taking part or has a very odd understanding of what is most likely to lead to a lifelong commitment. Does he really place such little value in the words of the marriage service which, presumably, he has used on so many occasions?
Marriage is a way of life made holy by God,
and blessed by the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ
with those celebrating a wedding at Cana in Galilee.
Marriage is a sign of unity and loyalty
which all should uphold and honour.
It enriches society and strengthens community.
No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly
but reverently and responsibly in the sight of almighty God.
This is a series which claims to be of scientific value, but watching it creates a deep sense of unease beyond the feeling that the producers see marriage as nothing more than a vehicle for exhibiting a dubious form entertainment. Of the 1,500 applicants, only three couples were matched. Of these, one broke down straight away because the potential groom’s family persuaded him to pull out. It could have been an opportunity to allow this couple to get to know each other and see if anything developed, having supposedly been so ideal for each other. But no, that didn’t fit with the show’s format, so the plug was pulled without them even meeting. Conventional dating should never get in the way of television ratings, after all.
So that left Kate and Jason, whose mother was filmed visibly upset and in tears, discussing her son’s forthcoming marriage; and James and Emma, whose father refused to attend the wedding service (though the programme ignored that inconvenient fact).
We’ll mostly likely never know the damage done to family relationships and friendships by Married at First Sight. But that is the careless level at which Channel 4 operates. Marriage deserves all the support it can get for a multitude of good reasons, but Channel 4, irrespective of the their claims, is only undermining it further. As the Marriage Foundation has said in a response to the show:
This programme, despite its ‘experts,’ shows a remarkable lack of understanding of the nature of commitment and marriage. If these couples do succeed – and very good luck to them – it will be in spite of this silly programme and not because of it.