When news broke that Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro were parting, a nation was stunned. After all, if a one-time Prince groupie who married Dennis Rodman on a whim, and a former Jane’s Addiction guitarist taking his third ride on the marriage-go-round can’t make it work, what hope is there for the rest of us?
All right, so maybe it wasn’t the most shocking separation of our time. After all, newlyweds with a much cleaner track record, Nick and Jessica, already set the MTV marriage success rate at 0 for 1. At least we could have imagined Nick and Jessica lasting. They sang songs about each other, went camping, ate pancakes. Carmen and Dave engaged in less traditional activities. For one thing, they took the “’til death do us part” of their show’s name literally. The pair posed as corpses for their bachelor and bachelorette party invitations. One of their series’ first episodes featured a midget stripper, which — while enjoyable — isn’t up there with a peaceful white dove as a great omen for lasting matrimony.
Of course, whether you’re two bubble-gum pop singers on the rise, or a rock star and a former “Baywatch” bombshell turned strip-aerobics queen, there is an easily extracted moral here: Don’t film your marriage. At the very least, don’t film your marriage for mass consumption. It’s almost as big a kiss of death as tattooing Roseanne’s name on your bicep or appearing in a J. Lo music video.
Putting your relationship on reality TV is humiliating. Even if you do stay together, the whole country knows that you’re needy, he’s demanding, and that both of you are profoundly unpleasant to be around. If the pressure of living a real life “Truman Show” isn’t directly responsible for shattering your marriage, then it will surely provide some painful residue when you do divorce. Imagine seeing the DVD box set of your marriage swimming in the discount bin next to Season 1 of “Joey,” or knowing that “J.A.G.” outlasted you, many seasons over.
As we sift through the ashes of Carmen and Dave’s marriage, it’s seems natural to blame the stress of life in front of the cameras. Think of the everyday frustrations! Sharing a bathroom with a new spouse is bad enough without extending your personal space to a camera crew of strangers. Then there are vanity issues: Microphone packs make you look lumpy, and tend to capture the most unromantic noises. You don’t have a moment of privacy. In addition to being sized up and tried out by your new spouse, you have to endure the scrutiny of a larger viewing public.
But perhaps there is a secondary, often overlooked explanation for the poor performance of reality marriage: People who let camera crews take up residence in their love nest are a self-selected bunch. They are publicity junkies — unstable, needy, and perpetually starved for attention. If you don’t mind a boom microphone hovering over your morning Cheerios, you are a special breed of human being and, I’d wager to say, one who is more prone to interpersonal strife than the average person.
When they invited MTV cameras into their personal lives, Carmen and Dave joined a great tradition of media junkies, people who cease to exist unless someone is watching. The great pantheon of media junkies includes Tom Arnold, Paris Hilton, Janice Dickinson, that guy who played Peter Brady, his surly “America’s Next Top Model” consort and anyone else who has ever appeared on “The Surreal Life.”
If reality television was not the go-to medium of our day, all of these people would be showcasing themselves in some way — be it providing webcam access to their boudoirs, penning tell-all books or, in days of yore, shocking the neighbors with nude trips to fetch the paper or hashing out domestic squabbles, street-side. Had Carmen and Dave not been famous enough to generate interest in “’Til Death Do Us Part,” they more than likely would have tried out for “Couples Fear Factor.”
Media junkies they may be, but there’s a beautiful naiveté to the idea that Electra and Navarro — both of whom have been involved in previous quickie marriages — would be willing to film their wedding preparations. They were presumably so in love that they were undeterred by the challenges of filmed matrimony. This, of course, is predicated on the assumption that no one would agree to film their marriage if they thought it was in danger of dissolving.
It’s possible that I’m underestimating the pull of the publicity. Endangering your marriage — or at least speeding its demise through lots of shameless publicity — can result in quite the career boost. After all, Nick and Jessica’s “Newlyweds” show made them both famous. Would their marriage have lasted longer had they not let the cameras in? If so, does anyone think that they would give back their current stardom for an uninterrupted domestic life?
Reality used to be a friend of theirsThe truth is, the breakups of Dave and Carmen, or Nick and Jessica, should be reminders to us — not only of the folly of filming your marriage but of reality TV’s inherently brutal nature. While Ty Pennington may occasionally fix up a house, and the “Queer Eye” guys may teach a schlub the wonders of exfoliation, these are the exception to the rule.
After all, reality TV is the medium that brought you “Survivor,” “Temptation Island” and, lest we forget, “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire.” Reality TV wasn’t created to affirm committed relationships, it was created to destroy bonds between friends, lovers and family members, all in the name of cheap entertainment. A good reality show destroys its attention-starved participants in a way that allows average, lonely, disenfranchised, and otherwise unhappy members of the viewing public to watch and say, “Sure glad that’s not me.” It’s no place for a marriage.
At least there are hints that some networks are recognizing reality TV’s incompatibility with long-term happiness. Shannon Doherty is launching her new series, “Breaking up With Shannon Doherty,” in which she capitalizes on what she — and reality TV — do best: tearing down the ties that bind, giving another human being the old heave-ho, capturing embarrassment and rejection and pain without any sort of decency or concern. Dave and Carmen, we hardly knew you, and while we wished you many years of midget strippers and morbid party invitations, “Til death do us part” seemed a bit of an overreach, even to the romantics among us.
Paige Ferrari is a freelance writer in New York City. She blogs at .