Monday, February 10, 2003

I read the news of celebrity scandals with as much voyeuristic compulsion as the next person. If nothing else, it comes in handy at trash tournaments. But, a more skeptical assessment of its appeal is instructive. Jude and Sadie today; yesterday it was Tom and Nicole, the day before, Bruce and Demi. I'm sorry to hear about anyone's marriage falling apart. But, let's look at this kind of news from the perspective that my friend Joe took with the Columbia disaster. A fatal accident in the workplace is a dreadful thing. Do we give the same publicity to an accident in a factory that kills seven hourly workers?

There's a couple in your home town, maybe in your neighborhood. You probably know them. They've been married nearly five years, and have two small children. He works for a small manufacturing business. She used to be a part-time secretary until the second baby came. She wanted to spend more time with the kids. He agreed, even though the money was tight; it's not like they could afford day care. They wanted to have a few nice things for their apartment. They bought furniture on credit. Maybe it got a little out of hand, and the bills are kind of high. The rent's about to go up, too; they've stopped thinking about buying a house for now.

She wasn't feeling too great during and after the second pregnancy, even though there doesn't seem to be anything seriously wrong with her. Her doctor thinks she might have post-partum depression, but their insurance doesn't cover either prescriptions or psychotherapy, so she's toughing it out without drugs or counseling. Sometimes she snaps at him, or at the kids. He used to let it bounce off, but lately there's been some talk of layoffs at the plant, and he's started giving it right back. Over the past couple of months he's been going out for a beer with the guys. Well, okay, four or five beers. Or six or seven. He got into a fender-bender on the way back from the bar last week; the repairs cost a few hundred more dollars they couldn't afford. She called him an asshole. The next time he went out with the guys on a Friday night, he came back Sunday afternoon. She threatened to divorce him. Now they're barely speaking to each other.

She's a bitch and a nag. He's a jerk and a liar. It's all a matter of perspective. Maybe it would make a good country and western song, but it doesn't make it into the entertainment news. They're not rich. They're not famous. Maybe if they actually know any of their neighbors, someone will gossip about their marital strife. But no one will publish photos of them on the web, from happier days, dressed in designer evening clothes. For one thing, they don't own any. No one will buy exclusive rights to their story and pay them handsomely to print it in a glossy magazine. This is the sad story of our divorce. No, this is the happy story of how we pulled it all together and saved our marriage.

The resolution matters less than the presentation. That's the message of the mass media.


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