[26 May 2009]
Hitched or Ditched, the latest brainchild of The Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss, ups the stakes of the dating game show. Host Tonya McQueen arrives like a Fairy Godmother in a black stretch limo, offering a young couple the chance for their dream wedding, all expenses paid. But the couple has to decide in one week whether to marry or break up, and they have to announce their decision at the altar, in front of everyone. The couple has been recommended by a “best friend” who claims this decision must be made now. It’s the “Ultimate Ultimatum,” announces the show.
No doubt, the premise generates drama: will he leave her at the altar? Will she turn him down first? Will the parents show up or stay away in protest? After a series of direct camera interviews in which bride and groom pour their hearts out, you just want it to work out okay for them, in some way. Each couple has spent anywhere from two to 10 years together. In some sense, these provide a window onto larger social trends in the U.S. Even as more individual states are moving to legalize gay marriage, the viability of marriage in general is increasingly questionable: over 50% of them end in divorce.
Each episode of Hitched or Ditched focuses on key reasons for the couple’s unwed status, including commitment anxieties, jealousy issues, family expectations, and interracial tensions. Most of these have to do with obvious immaturity, incompatibility or generational differences. In the premiere, “Bastards Out of Carolina,” seemingly likable Travis and CeLisa don’t know if they can overcome their bickering and his distrust of her, but as they talk, a deeper friction emerges in their class differences. And oh yes, he lives in fear of her father. He appears to have good reason, when CeLisa’s rough and tumble papa announces, “If he hurts her, there’s definitely gonna be felonies.”
In the second episode (airing 2 June), “The White Devil,” interracial Charlotte couple Torrino and El Lana face the disapproval of his family. After 10 years together, their relationship is under pressure because his mother would prefer he marry a black woman instead of the white El Lana; his mother insists the relationship “won’t work” because “in the Carolinas, racism is still very much alive.” Torrino has to choose between breaking his girlfriend’s heart or his mother’s. To this point, the couple has been determined to face down any social pressures arising from cultural differences and racism. But the upcoming wedding puts everything on the line.
The deal-breaking concerns receive brief attention, in the generic direct address interviews. The built-in time pressures also lead to superficiality (we begin with an image of the two at the altar about to decide, then we flash back to one week earlier and go through their seven days of preparations and soul-searching, finally returning to decision time). A “life flashing before your eyes” montage moment (which flashes back to nondescript moments from the week) right before they must choose is particularly cheesy.
This format hardly obscures a number of deeply unpleasant elements in Hitched or Ditched. The show assumes that there is something wrong with couples who don’t get married, their states of unwedded bliss is presented as a problem. If the relationship isn’t leading directly to marriage, they should break up. Indeed, by forcing a wedding or public humiliation, there’s really not much room to go back. Again, given the massive failure rate of the majority of marriages in the U.S. today, such a traditionalist argument privileges the fairy tale romance narrative of princesses in wedding dresses and Prince Charmings with glass slippers.
In this case, the slipper is a major product placement. That’s the real point to this emotional ringer. The longest segments of each episode involve wedding porn, that is, visits to wedding planners, wedding dress boutiques, cakes, flowers, champagne and jewelry sessions, all with visible commercial logos and namechecks by the dutiful couple. One wonders if they get to keep the swag if they decide to ditch. After so much loving attention paid to the multi-million dollar wedding industry, it is mildly surprising to see the end result, a sadly generic ceremony. The couple of the week has pushed their relationship to the breaking point over some free flowers that don’t even look so good.
Under such circumstances, the “money shot” will be one of a jilted bride, rushing off to sob uncontrollably, cameras eagerly following her. That kind of public humiliation is nasty gamesmanship when the outcome isn’t cheery. It’s not even so attractive even when a couple does go through with it, because so many of the family members and friends are going on about how awful marriage is and what a disaster theirs will be. If such trash-talking doesn’t get ‘em, the show’s carefully-prompted emotional sinkholes will. Through it all, viewers are invited to sit back and admire the carnage.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/hitched-or-ditched/