Beauty and some beastliness
Technically brilliant, but tawdry television: Married at First Sight is something unique. Steve Kilgallon says “I do” to reality shows with high production values.
There’s a beautiful shot in the TV3 programme Married at First Sight. The camera sweeps high. Seagulls rush past it, revealing the beauty of a pastel pale blue sky; it tilts downwards, and below sits the city of Auckland and its harbours, spread out in all its glory. The producers like it too, I know, because they’ve used it at least twice so far, mixed in with other beautiful establishing shots of Turnerstyle pastoral landscapes and sweeping Lowry city scenes.
There’s some magnificent technical skills at work in the production of MAFS. Almost as if the crew wished they were working on something else entirely. Because when the cameras drop back to eye level, they reveal the same old tawdry tale of human existence all over again, manipulated for our crass entertainment.
For those who can claim complete ignorance of MAFS – and to be honest, I doubt you, given its surprising pervasiveness – it is a Danish-invented format which pairs complete strangers together at the altar.
For this first New Zealand season, that meant five couples, who – unlike in the Australian version – were legally allowed to marry for real on their first meeting. After just six episodes, three of those five are already patently doomed and embroiled in bitter recriminations.
One pair looks like a reasonable match with some prospects of permanency. Another, much older couple, at least have the life skills and experience to give this flawed experiment a red-hot crack. The rest already clearly regret signing up, and so they should.
The show alleges that the couples are all scientifically matched, by an academic, Pani Farvid, and a relationship counsellor, Tony Jones. Both seem eminently likeable and suitably qualified, but their role so far has been as sideline ciphers. For this show isn’t really about science helping where chance has not. It’s about pawing over the raw emotions of people. The depth of their analysis so far was typified when the five couples were brought together for a drink. One bride stormed to the toilets, pursued by two others, to discuss what a sod her new husband was. Farvid pointed out that this was a chance for her to discuss the issues more deeply. We did not need a psychology degree to see that.
Is a hit rate of one in five worth all that pain? It’s better, at least, than the Australian show’s one in 24 success rate thus far but it hardly allows Mediaworks and Warner Bros to claim any noble motives. shifts the reality television goalposts. No longer is it about the relatively low-cost pain of not getting a rose from a C-list actor, eating a witchetty grub or trying to grab the last taxi to the ancient ruins while towing a wheely suitcase. The emotional price is much higher and yet a host of 20-somethings were so pessimistic about their prospects of finding love in their remaining three score years on the planet that they happily enrolled.
Consider this all in the light that Television New Zealand has announced a slate of 20 such shows for its 2018 calendar, a mixture of imports and local productions, including most egregiously, a format called Heartbreak Island. This appears to be a changedjust-enough-to-avoid-the-law adaptation of a disgracefully crude British show called Love Island, where singles are enticed to couple off before the cameras for $100,000.
The redeeming feature is those seagulls. If these shows are going to be made, and consumed by us so voraciously, at least let them have high production values. As a piece of television, MAFS is good work – well composed, paced, full of plot and much better than its pedestrian TV1 rival My Kitchen Rules.
There is a cruel myth that women make up stories about sexual harassment and assault – for attention, for money, to make themselves feel better about an encounter they later regret, or to ruin men.
If there is a list of women who have become celebrated or rich or soothed by alleging sexual assault, I would like t to see it. By way of contrast, there is a fairly long list of men – entertainers, sportspeople, businessmen – accused of sexual impropriety who have been able to go about t their day.
If we have learned anything so far from Harvey W Weinstein, it is this: women don’t lie and say that sexual assault or harassment happened; we lie and say that it didn’t. A lie by omission – to ourselves, to the authorities, t to each other. Like we are suffering collective Stockholm syndrome, a friend says. But we’re talking now.
Almost every woman has a story. Here’s one of mine. It is easier to tell than the others because I was 52 years old when it happened, professionally established, and in no physical danger. It’s just a work story.
I was booked to entertain at a dinner for a trade organisation in another city. I drove for three hours, booked into a hotel, turned up at the venue. First person I met was the local branch president. Immediately after hello he told me that, years before, he used to masturbate while he watched me on What Now. Explaining that he would watch me on 7Days at home tonight after he had watched me on stage, he noted that today he had two opportunities to masturbate while watching me.
This was the man who had booked me, would provide the agency with feedback on my work, and sign my cheque. “Ha-ha-ha,” I heard my voice say.
I found the event manager and started to tell her what had happened. She brushed it off with: “Everyone knows about him – he’s a character!” and I understood I had to get through this on my own.
Seated next to him at dinner, he asked questions about my work and belittled each of my answers in front of the other guests. When I snapped back at one of his responses I couldn’t tell if everyone fell into an awkward silence because of him, or me.
My comedy set went about as well as you would expect. I left as soon as I could, went back to the hotel and wept.
The next morning I had breakfast with a writer I was working with and tried to tell the story as an anecdote. “Here’s a funny thing that happened to me last night.” She was appalled. After that, I kept it to myself.
I have never been booked by that event company again. I Googled his name this week. He is no longer the president of the local branch. He is the national president. Really? What, was Roman Polanski not available for comment that day?
It is the women we need to listen to, and not only when they reach a point where they have to resort to legal action or fronting the media. It is the women in our own lives, our family, friends and colleagues. Their stories should hold just as much weight as those of the famous.
We should also listen when they are not telling these stories, and ask ourselves why.
Almost every woman I know has a story to tell, and those are just the ones they’re willing to tell me. I’m sure if you look around you, you’ll find the same thing. I wish I could say that the destruction of a reputation as giant as Harvey Weinstein would signal a sharp change in our attitudes to sexual harassment, but it won’t, just like Trump’s Access Hollywood tape didn’t stop him being elected, or the accusations against Cosby didn’t end in a criminal court. For most men, that change has actually already happened, or never needed to happen in the first place, but for most women, encountering one of those for whom it hasn’t is still a daily risk.
All we can do is talk, and most vitally, realise when it’s time to stop talking, and listen.