Friday, February 6, 2009

TV vs Reality

I'm not by nature a sceptic, but it's always nice to get confirmation of a piece of information I haven't formally researched ["research" in this case referring to a quick Google search]. For years now I've heard that newspaper reading is mostly a pursuit of "older" Americans. Well, I'm 51, and lately, I've found myself reading the paper. Having grown up in Buffalo, NY, I find myself drawn to the only regional newspaper, The Buffalo News. I'm far from alone in this pursuit, of course; indeed, the News either tops, or is in the top 3 of, annual lists of US newspaper circulation [a reflection, no doubt, of the area's aging population. It also explains why uber-investor Warren Buffett owns it]. I can't speak for anyone else, of course, but I find myself poring over the pages for news of Buffalo and its environs [I get most of the world and national news on TV, and find that local TV doesn't really cover non-visual stories].

For instance, yesterday's paper carried an update on a missing-person story from last fall. A few details were missing, both from the Lackawanna police investigators who explored the case and the News story, but we can fill most of them in with a little reading between the lines. The girl, you'll remember if you read the article, disappeared shortly after her betrothal to a man from Yemen was announced. She apparently moved in with a friend's family, and remained there until this week. Then, she appeared at the Lackawanna police station, which ended the investigation. It's believed she contacted the police anonymously shortly after leaving home, noting that she was safe. One police investigator noted that the matter was closed, adding that they had no plans to further explore what they considered a "family matter".

I'm guessing here, of course, but this looks like an arranged marriage gone wrong. Such arrangements are common in Muslim families [the girl was wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf in the News photo], as well as in several other cultures. For some reason, the betrothal went sour. The girl disappeared for a period of time, during which, I'd guess, the arrangement became null and void [I have virtually no knowledge of such matters, and if my speculations are wrong, I sincerely apologize to those who follow such custom]. Once the wedding was off, she was free to resume life with her family.

The reason this whole thing caught my eye was the announcement, earlier this week, that CBS-TV in the United States will present a "reality" series, based on the idea of arranged marriages being set up in America, where such weddings have become rare(Now understand; while I don't believe in the arranged marriage system, I'm not really critical of it, either. After all, any nation whose divorce rate has reached 50 % has no business criticising anybody else's way of doing things. And, it should be noted, under such a plan, the in-laws are likely to meet at least once before the Big Day].

Now, you'd think CBS would know better: after all, this is the network that aired the notorious Kid Nation series a couple of seasons back [of course, no one seems to have gotten that message; Britain's Channel 4 is currently broadcasting a series based on the same premise. Its chief innovation is that, unlike Kid Nation, the suddenly-emancipated children have the advantage of modern conveniences. Wii...]. Of course, in the arranged marriage series, all of the participants are probably over the age of 18; if adults want to put the control of who becomes their life partners in the hands of friends and family, that's their business. It's likely the show's producers have the "players" under some sort of contract, so that they can make a follow-up series in a year or two, noting how many couples are still together [anybody want early odds on how many are?]. And, unlike the FOX series, these couples have to get married [if a couple divorces, does the show cover their legal costs?].

In conclusion: In any battle between reality and "reality TV", put your money on reality. It's almost always unpredictable, and usually more entertaining.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get the paper...

-Mike Riley