It was with some amazement that I read Father Mick MacAndrew’s recent CathBlog about Channel Nine’s reality show, The Farmer Wants A Wife. It turns out Father Mick is something of a tragic for the show, and even asks friends to record the program for him when he can’t settle down in front the tele with a cup of tea to watch in real time.
‘It’s the simplicity of the plot of course, isn’t it?’ he CathBlogged. ‘A simple feel-good story, so common in our lives - boy meets girl or girl meets boy, a desire to explore commitment and possibly a future marriage. As a priest, I’ve been part of such things in all the couples I’ve assisted in preparing for their wedding days.’
Despite being a romantic, I actually can’t watch this program – the possibility of rejection for some really lovely young person makes me anxious. When the axe finally falls, I am incredibly sad. I thought I would be on safer ground with Seven’s newest entry into the reality stakes with Four Weddings.
Love a good wedding. It was an inherent interest, but when I was a young cadet and wrote ‘social’ for The Courier-Mail, I wrote about thousands of them. As a result, I turned into something of a wedding expert, really, and along with my colleagues in Women’s News, alive to the latest trends and the hottest spots for civil ceremonies. The focus that some people put on the externals of these events used to fascinate me, but an older, wiser head gave me an insight: ‘This is the one day in their entire lives when for many of these young women it is all about them. No matter what happens after, they will have been the focus of attention for at least this time.’
So I settled down on Wednesday night with my cup of tea to watch four young women called Sothy, Allana, Chez (named, apparently, after a French preposition of place) and Tracey, revel in their big days. No fear of rejection here, I thought, just the beginning of a happy ever after story. I could hardly wait, despite the promos for the show, which showed a slightly worse for wear and impressively inked ‘Bridezilla’ (it seemed to be her bridegroom describing her thus), desperately searching for a supporter called April (‘I can’t survive without April!’ she insisted as she glowed neon pink and glistened in the TV lights).
The premise is simple, like those of most reality TV shows: throw a group of people together, stress them, and let the cameras roll. As if there is not enough stress in a wedding already, these women added to theirs by competing for a luxury honeymoon in the Maldives. Gold, the programmer at Seven must have been thinking.
The twist is that the brides – four an episode – have to judge each other’s efforts, so like Cinderella’s step-sisters, the three non-brides at the ceremonies stood back, pencils sharpened, to critique the efforts of the bride on her big day. And they were big days! One lasted all day; another had 450 guests and an ear-splitting decibel level; another’s reception climaxed with a broadsword fight, not a bridal waltz; and one had an Elvis impersonator AND fireworks at her wedding breakfast. The show was fast, and furious, and occasionally mean.
In the middle of all the show, was the multi-million dollar business of weddings – reception venues, menus, dresses and dinners for tens of thousands of dollars, the details (Hummers that looked like tanks as wedding cars, flowers that looked like basketballs) – and moments of intense competition.
‘My church is nicer than her church,’ declared one bride. This was the precise moment I started to go off the show. The aesthetics of a church in real life are hardly the point – it should be a holy place people are attached to spiritually, not because it wins some notional beautiful church competition. (The stone, Anglican church was pretty, though.)
But there was a lot missing. The husbands to be, for a start, got short shrift. The families were largely absent. The relationships between the couples were briefly sketched (‘high school sweethearts’, ‘shared an interest in Medieval history’) and they were hardly ever together in shot except and the church and the reception. The men were reduced to bystanders as the women got on with the business of tying the knots.
In the end, it was more trying than tying. Four couples married, and Sothy declared the winner. But I felt a little cheated. Where was the love? Where was any idea that these relationships are sacred commitments, triumphs of hope in a venal, secular world which are undertaken with gravity and purpose and courage? Where were the priests? Where was anyone who had a word to say about what these ceremonies meant, not just what they cost?
If you want to see the tipsy, tattooed bridezilla, you have your chance tomorrow (Wednesday night) on Seven. I hope she wins the prize, because heaven knows that young woman needs some compensation for being made such a figure of mockery on her big day. Father Mick – just look away.
Christine Hogan is the Communications Manager for Church Resources, and moderates the sometime immoderate discussion boards of CathNews.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.