Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wedding proposals and other things TV has ruined

Posting late today, and this post is a bit less serious than the others this week, but it's just something I keep thinking about, and--well, see the sidebar quote from Mason Cooley for further explanation. :)

I've seen a bit of buzz and fuss about some TV show called "Modern Family" which will include (or perhaps already has included--I know little about contemporary American network television, so I don't know when this particular outpouring from our vast cultural cesspool airs) a gay wedding proposal.  And while progressives fall all over themselves to applaud approvingly and conservatives rush to pin this on their wall of cultural decline shame, all I can muster is a sort of "meh," a "meh" that comes from the sincere belief that of all the things TV has already pretty much ruined, the very notion of the wedding proposal is, perhaps, Exhibit A.

Consider: long ago American novels, short stories, movies, theater, and so on treated the marriage proposal as a rather serious thing.  A young man, who had not already slept with a particular young woman but loved her enough to respect her enough not to suggest any such thing, decides that he does indeed love her wholeheartedly and wants to spend the rest of his life with her, that she will be his companion and friend and lover and--should God so bless them, as he and she both hope--mother of his children.  Motivated by these thoughts and by the outpourings of a heart so full he, being male, doesn't entirely know what to do with, he muddles his way through a declaration and a question and a knee-bending, diamond-ring-flashing moment in such a way as to make a complete hash of it.  Yet she, the goddess who haunts his dreams, the angel of his waking thoughts, the saucy, spunky girl who can turn his backbone to jelly with the toss of her head and the twinkle in her eye, overlooks his blustering and unintentional buffoonery and condescends to give him that little hand he seeks so ardently; and the aura of Happily Ever After makes its appearance just in time to return him to some semblance of sanity and self-mastery, which he will retain confidently until that long wait in front of an even longer altar sometime in the very near future.

But today, the TV Wedding Proposal is a mere trope, and not worth much literary effort at all.  A man and a woman thrown together by fate, or a science lab or police department or what have you, dislike each other cordially but lust after each other fervently until in a Very Special Episode they get together for some fornication (simulated for a TV audience, of course).  They then experience Mixed Signals and Muddled Feelings and Ambivalence in between bouts of fornication until another Very Special Episode in which they move in together (or another character discovers that they've actually been living together for some time, to make the fornication bouts a bit more convenient).  The Mixed Signals/Muddled Feelings/Ambivalence will then intensify until they hit a Major Plot Twist such as the appearance of an Unresolved Ex-Lover, a child who shares roughly half of one of the couple's DNA, or a Deep Philosophical Realization of Incompatibility such as that he will never understand the depths of her feelings for decorative footwear.  At about the point at which this reaches a Crisis where viewers are invited to speculate that Separation is possible (!) the man will plan and execute a Sickeningly Sweet and Highly Decorative Wedding Proposal which will go off perfectly smoothly and involve at least one of these mandatory elements: a startling location, an abundance of rose petals, and inefficient yet romantic low-tech lighting, usually in the form of candles.  It must be noted that they will celebrate her "Yes!" with more premarital sex, sometimes right there in that startling, rose-petal strewn, candle-cluttered location (making the viewer wonder why the next episode doesn't at least occasionally involve either a court appearance on a public-indecency charge or a late night ER visit to address the problem of candle wax burns).  The Wedding Proposal, it is highly implied by those fibbers who write for TV, is the solution to whatever relationship problems you may be having, and is a good way for a regularly fornicating and/or cohabitating couple to deal with one of those holiday occasions where gifts are usually bought, because what girl doesn't want rose petals, candles, and a diamond ring?

Of course, compared to the way that TV has ruined The Wedding, the way they've ruined The Proposal is somewhat small potatoes.  That's because the television industry is hand in tentacle with the Wedding Industrial Complex to promote to small-town American girls the idea that you simply cannot be married without thousands of flowers, monogrammed cocktail napkins, ice swans, a parade of pre-wedding parties held for no particular reason (since the couple already live together and don't need household goods), all capped off by a Made For TV Wedding Reception that costs more than the entire Carter Administration.

There are other things TV has totally ruined, but they're probably better saved for another blog post.  For now, though, I would just point out that since a TV-style "gay wedding proposal" is not going to resemble the sort of proposal I described in the third paragraph above any more than TV's idea of any other wedding proposal, the reality is that the cultural damage was done long ago, when people decided that "getting married" was something you did to put some kind of seal of approval--for totally inexplicable reasons--on your fornicating/cohabitating/etc. relationship, and not an exchange of unbreakable promises you made together in the eyes of God and the community before you ever shared a bed.  Oh, I know, I know--people will argue that things were never really that good and wholesome.  But it was an ideal--and today the ideal is all about the superficial presentation of the ring, and nothing about what it ought to stand for.


Joshua Paine said...

Have you just been catching up on Castle, too? I wouldn't say you described their relationship-through-proposal exactly, but I hadn't noticed how trope-tastic it was until I read your post.

Joshua Paine said...

Have you been catching up on Castle, too? I wouldn't say you described Castle and Beckett's relationship-through-proposal exactly, but I hadn't appreciated how trope-tastic it was till I read your post.