Publicity stunt or shortcut to true love: marriages by media

The heated debate over the value, relevance and moral implications of reality entertainment has ratcheted up another notch this week with the news that a couple have wed after coming face to face for the first time at the altar after winning a competition organised by Birmingham radio station BRMB.

The contest, entitled “Two Strangers and a Wedding”, exposed 250 hopeful applicants to the scrutiny of a panel of relationship experts including counsellors and astrologers followed by a public vote, with the aim of identifying the best matched couple and marrying them off.

The prize also included a Bermudan honeymoon and the use of a luxury flat and sports car for a year – if the couple, Craig Cooper and Rebecca Duffy, can stay together.

The precedents are not good; on the previous occasion on which BRMB ran a similar competition in 1999, the marriage lasted just three months, with the new bride and groom blaming media intrusion for wrecking their fledgling relationship.

The new Mr and Mrs Cooper have already had a taste of the sensation their union has caused; Church figures have been united in their condemnation of what they see as, in the words of the Reverend Mervyn Roberts, “a pure publicity stunt” that cheapens the institution of wedlock. The newlyweds have shrugged off the criticism, though, with 28-year-old secretary Rebecca and salesman Craig, 30, describing their feelings towards their relationship as (respectively) “very comfortable” and “fantastic… very natural”.

Celebrity marriage has of course been a hot topic for almost as long as there has been mass media to report it; the recent high-profile coverage of the Spears/Federline, Price/André and Simpson/Lachey nuptials showing that our appetite for the inside story on the relationships of the rich and famous – or infamous – remains as keen as ever.

There’s a strong feeling, though, that the use of marriage in the fifteen-minutes-of-fame market of ‘ordinary public’ reality entertainment is symptomatic of an increasing desperation to identify the next big thing to fuel the continued growth of an already stretched phenomenon – a desperation tellingly exposed in the recent documentary “Let’s Make a Baby”, where stand-up comic Danny Robins went undercover to test how seriously the industry would consider an apparently unworkable idea – a reality show where contestants vie for the opportunity to procreate with a total stranger, with a £100,000 prize for the first couple to conceive.

The result? Worryingly positive; if Robins’ conclusions are correct, the concept was on the verge of becoming reality (no pun intended) when abandoned. In such a climate, perhaps the marriage of strangers to boost radio ratings is less of a phenomenon than it at first appears.

Doug Brett-Matthewson


9th February 2006

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