Beast of the Month - April 2000
Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? and William J. "Pete" Knight, Mockers of Marriage
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Sometimes it is quite amusing to see the depths that civilization can sink to. In a world dominated by Jerry Springer, The Backstreet Boys, and Michael Bay, it's hard to believe that culture could fall to even worse levels, but recently it did precisely that. At the same time, a wrong-headed political campaign echoing irrational sentiments was an overwhelming success. On the surface, bad cultural taste and bad politics appear to be two entirely different issues, but in reality, they are reflections of the same social dysfunction, which is why they share The Konformist Beast of the Month.
Anyone who has been through a divorce can confirm that it's not an enjoyable event. On the stress-o-meter, it is right up there at the top, and it certainly isn't a pleasant experience for children to go through, either. And yet, half of all marriages end up in this state. What's up with that?
There are certainly many reasons behind this tragic phenomenon, but ultimately, a major factor is that many people rush into the commitment of marriage unable or unwilling to contemplate the meaning of lifelong union. That's no surprise, since there is so much social pressure to marry that a good portion of people don't ponder the consequences of such a ceremony. Instead, people often focus on the attributes that society tend to emphasize, for women being good looks and for men lots of money. Such things (even if they can be attained indefinitely) can't mask countless other attributes needed to keep a happy marriage together.
No matter. On February 15, Fox TV (the home of such tasteful "reality" TV shows such as World's Deadliest Swarms and When Good Pets Go Bad) presented to the American public Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? The concept for the game show was simple: 50 attractive women competed for the privilege of marrying a rich man, after putting on bathing suits and wedding gowns and answering inane questions. On the heels of ABC's successful Who Wants Be a Millionaire?, Fox had already presented the unsurprisingly tacky knockoff Greed, but this was a major step lower in terms of shamelessness. That it seemed to emphasize all the most shallow values that are involved with modern love didn't stop Fox from presenting such a tacky spectacle. After all, even with his supposed championing of conservative politics, Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch has never let traditional values get in the way of a quick buck.
Nor did it stop people from watching the show. 26 million people viewed the tasteless monument, including one third of all women between 18 to 34. It was quickly declared a huge hit. More episodes were promised to follow.
There was only one problem with this fairy tale ending: Darva Conger, the foxy blonde 34-year-old bride, didn't actually love the man she was married to. (Gee, imagine that.) She cried all the way to her Barbados honeymoon, where they stayed in separate cabins.
Oh yeah, and the groom, 42-year-old Rick Rockwell, he was alleged (in a document uncovered by The Smoking Gun) by a previous fiancee to suffer from "severe emotional highs and lows", and she claims he assaulted her, vandalized her car, and threatened to maim and kill her. Even worse, he probably wasn't really a multi-millionaire, having up to $600,000 in debts after a dubious real estate career following a stint as a comedian, which climaxed with appearances in bit parts for three direct-to-video Attack of the Killer Tomatoes sequels. (Hard to believe that a supposedly rich man needing a game show to find a mate may either be psychologically disturbed or lying about his wealth.)
Sounds more like Who Wants to Be a Legalized Whore for a Psychotic Pathological Liar?
All of this seems to echo that famous urban legend: two strangers, a man and a woman, meet in a cafe. The man asks, "My dear, would you have sex with me for a million dollars?" She smiles, and says to him, "I certainly would." He then asks, "Well, would you have sex with me if I buy you a cup of coffee?" She steps back, offended, and says, "What kind of woman do you think I am?" "My dear," he says, "We've already established what kind of woman you are. Now we're merely haggling over price."
Only this time, the urban legend was real.
Soon, what was declared a "smash hit" had exploded into the biggest television-industry scandal since the fifties "Quiz Show" affair.
Darva, unsurprisingly, wanted out of the marriage, though her embarrassing attempts to fake she had any dignity failed miserably. "I'm not the caricature that people saw on the show that night," she announced, then proceeded to behave precisely how a caricature would. "I'm a Christian woman," Conger lamely offered, "I'm religious, and I know this will inflame many people, but if I'm not married in a church with a preacher, I'm not married before God, and I'm not married in my heart." She then insisted she didn't approve of Rockwell kissing her after she agreed to marry him. "I would like to think that someone who really has an interest for me or respect for me would have kissed me on the cheek. And said, 'I'm delighted to meet you.'" (Say, shouldn't that introduction have happened BEFORE she agreed to marry him?) She then added, "I never, ever, considered having a sexual relationship with him, just as I would not consider having a sexual relationship with anyone I had just met." (Apparently, she has higher standards for sex than marriage.) She then claimed, "I don't need anyone else's money, I don't want anyone else's money. I just want my life back." Of course, she was keeping her $100,000 in prizes, as well as an Isuzu Trooper and, significantly, her $50,000 diamond ring.
Not to be outdone by Darva, runner-up Teresa Bowman later admitted in an interview to participating in the spectacle because "I thought I'd get my two seconds of fame and no one would ever notice." Nonetheless, she added a couple ticks to her clock by adding a negative assessment of Rockwell: "He's not how I envisioned my Prince Charming in any way, shape or form." She then stated that she believed Rockwell participated in the marriage as a publicity stunt for his failed comedy career, then added, without any sense of irony: "I think it was cold to do something like that, going into it for self-fulfilling reasons." (Incredibly, Rockwell comes off the most sympathetic in the whole affair, in a scary, pathetic sort of way.)
The scandal continues drawing headlines, as the "couple" continues on the road to getting the marriage annulled. Meanwhile, Fox officials have feigned the high road themselves, declaring that they are out of the "exploitative reality show" business. (That is, until the scandal dies down, then it's back to the gravy train.)
Still, say what you will about the "Multimillionaire Marriage" scandal, but nobody got hurt from it who wasn't a foolish, willing participant. The same can't be said for the crusade led by William J. "Pete" Knight for the passage in California of Proposition 22, known as the "Knight Initiative" or the "Defense of Marriage Act" depending on who you ask.
More precisely, Proposition 22 was an initiative to reject the recognition in California of gay marriages performed in any other state. Of course, there are no states which currently allow gay marriages, but that may change very soon in Vermont. No doubt when Vermont (or any other state, for that matter) creates a gay marriage contract, it will become a common thing for homosexual couples to travel there in order to perform one. If Prop 22 passed, any such contract would not be legally binding in the state of California.
Lost in the debate over Prop 22 was a simpler question: what right does the state of California (or any other, for that matter) have to not recognize a marriage between a same-sex couple? After all, looking at marriage as a business contract, there seems no reason why two people can agree to merge their assets as one in a show of commitment for their love. If, on the other hand, one wants to insist that marriage is a religious contract instead, there is this little thing called the First Amendment. Freedom of Religion means the right for churches to create its own rituals without the intrusion of the state. In other words, this should be a case closed debate, and would be if it wasn't obscured by emotional rhetoric.
Yet, just as emotion clouds the debate over Elian Gonzalez - obscuring the simple fact that, as Elian's sole surviving parent, his father has custody according to common law unless he is proven unfit - the subject of gay marriages is one that strikes a nasty cord with those who insist homosexuality is "unnatural." Prop 22 was heavily promoted by the Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council, two reactionary "Christian" religious organizations. Nor were they alone in their support: it received wide support from both the Roman Catholic Church (which has been quick to stamp out evidence that the Church performed gay marriage rituals in the Middle Ages) and the Mormons (amusing considering their own history of alternative marriage contracts.) It even got some high profile support from the Jewish community, thanks to the deranged babblings of "Dr." Laura Schlessinger.
In truth, Prop 22 was embraced by nearly all religious groups, as the well-funded campaign was quick to point out. Which shouldn't be too surprising: nothing unites people more than the opportunity to tell a minority group what they can or can't do.
Ultimately, however, it was Pete Knight, a modern day Anita Bryant, who was the key supporter of the bill, the one who got it on the ballot in the first place. Knight, a 70-year-old conservative Republican State Senator from Palmdale, had previously tried three times to get the law passed in the state legislature. A former hero military airman, it appears that his obsession with the issue of gay marriages was sparked in 1996, when his own son informed him that he was a homosexual (his son is currently in a domestic partnership.) Knight hasn't spoken to him since.
With this fact in mind, the rhetoric behind Proposition 22 becomes as entertaining of a spectacle as the entire "Multimillionaire Marriage" debacle. Knight, doing his best impression of Sterling Hayden's General Jack D. Ripper, declares the initiative's goal is to "defend" and "protect" the institution of marriage. Presumably this defense is from the nefarious menace of queers getting married themselves, which would give them special powers to sap precious bodily fluids from married heterosexuals. Or something like that.
Yes, it would be all quite funny, except that Prop 22 passed. Not only that, it passed handily, with 61% of the vote.
Homosexuals are hardly an economically oppressed group, and have had widespread positive portrayal in mass entertainment (which may have something to do with their vast influence in Hollywood.) In the grand scheme of things, restrictions on gay marriage contracts and religious rituals appears to be a minor one to some people. Then again, perhaps it wouldn't be so minor to these people if they weren't allowed to marry someone they loved. Hey, isn't there some little rule about this?
Perhaps a better way to "defend" marriages would be to encourage people to think and ask questions about what they are doing with their lives before they jump into a marriage. Or, if that is too complicated, maybe just discouraging excessive consumption of alcohol, which remains as always the top threat to a healthy marriage. Of course, such campaigns don't have the added pleasure of scapegoating a small group for society's problems.
Only a society warped by fraudulent, hypocritical values could have responded to Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? and Prop 22 the way it did. A society that celebrates the trashing of the institution of marriage, mindlessly viewing crap which reduces it to pseudo-respectable prostitution, can't be surprised that half of all marriages fail miserably. Rather than examine such a twisted value system, it is much easier to point the finger at others, and stop them from trying to express their love for one another. If people really cared about the institution of marriage, the best way to "protect" it is to set a good example themselves. It appears that may be asking way too much.
In any case, we salute everyone involved with "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" and William J. "Pete" Knight as Beasts of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, dudes!!!
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