The Cult of Marriage
// JJ Brewis

Getting hitched is the epitome of success in many people’s eyes. In the world of celebrites, a perfect pairing can help propel a newcomer to fame, or bring back a fledgling star into the spotlight. With the wedding market fetching $40 billion annually in the United States alone, it's safe to see why the concept of getting hitched is huge in celebrity culture. Marriage is sold as a desirable concept for any lifestyle. It’s easy to see why: for celebrities, the idea of matching a massive expenditure with the social “norm” of matrimonial bliss is clearly a desired facet of life.

But marriage in the celebrity world is a magnified set of examples, often paired with public speculation and scrutiny on top of the regular bundle of issues matrimony faces even for the rest of us. Regular people are often accused of marrying for money or for fame; celebrities who are already rich and famous are accused of marrying for publicity. The dark side of being famous, as most of us have realized by now, is the lack of privacy and the overzealous media constantly judging their every step.

In 2000, before reality television had given us such relationship-rocking gems as The Hills and The Bachelor, Fox TV shocked the world with a two-hour television special entitled Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire? During the telecast, one female from each US State attempted to have an unnamed shadowy figure, revealed at the end of the show to be non-celebrity millionaire Rick Rockwell, choose them as the winner. Rockwell selected Darva Conger among the candidates, and the two strangers were married on the spot on live television.

Within months, news unfolded that Conger immediately filed for an annulment, stating that the show went against her morals. Overnight, an ER nurse from Illinois was made into a public persona. Conger admitted on Larry King Live that she missed the last few months of her disabled brother's life, knowing if she showed up to the hospital he worked at, that he would have media knocking down his hospital door. Yet despite the sadness of this circumstance, Conger seemed to do what was most lucrative to her. Soon after Millionaire, Conger would go on to make countless public appearances, pose for Playboy magazine, and end up ridiculed on the talk show circuit. Her public persona was short-lived, but without her brief marriage to Rockwell, Conger likely would not have found the endeavors or the fortunes she earned in that period.

Last year, pro-golfer Tiger Woods made international headlines after several years spent flying under the media’s radar. Whereas a decade earlier Woods was made famous for his impressive golf skills, this time he was placed directly back in the public eye after a public scandal surfaced which revealed his infidelity to his wife, Elin Nordegren. Before this scandal, Woods' name was barely mentioned in the press, and his noncelebrity wife didn't give the media a reason to delve into either of their private lives. When two celebrities marry, the press gladly plasters their faces on magazine covers, and blends their names together (see TomKat, Brangelina, etc.). But Tiger Woods was living a comfortable life with his non-celebrity wife, wealthy on his prior winnings, yet not public enough to be stalked by paparazzi every time he left his home.

Once news of his cheating antics hit wind, Woods was immediately back in the media’s focus. More interestingly, however, Nordegren became an overnight household name that thousands of spouses who had been cheated on empathized with and rooted for. Photos of Nordegren attending divorce hearings were a weekly standard in People and US Weekly. Throughout the eight-month stretch between the initial news to the divorce, Elin Nordegren attempted to stay out of the spotlight, but the media demanded she remain where they could see her.

Even without negativity like a reality show stunt or infidelity, the celebrity status of marriage can seem awry. This year, a stranger to most of us became a recognizable face when Prince William wed former "commoner" Catherine “Kate'” Middleton. Much like the marriage of William's parents 30 years earlier, international publicity came full force with the wedding. Middleton faces a massive jury, as William has been an international identity since his birth. Young women across the globe have vied for his attention since they and he were pre-teens, and now that he's spoken for, Middleton is challenged with playing the role of instant icon, facing the press on a daily basis, as well as being comparable to the late Princess Diana.

Nothing that Kate Middleton has done has made her subject to “celebrity status” aside from the man she chose to walk down the aisle with. The same could be said for both Nordegren and Conger - had their lives followed different paths, they might never have become public personalities. Their celebrity status, no matter how shortlived or withstanding, has depended not upon their talents, their behaviour, or their merits. In their marriages to these men, these three women are but a fraction of the people whose identities have been decided for them by the media, and bought by the public. Conger is seen as a money- hungry airhead, Nordegren as a heartbroken, crushed soul, and Middleton as a proper yet modern woman who sticks to her husband's side. This is especially relevant in Middleton's case: she has had the rest of her life decided for her, in terms of the social and public duties she is required to perform in her role of Duchess.

Where marriage is concerned, it is an everchanging and multi-faceted component of the human lifestyle. For celebrities, with each decision being carefully watched, it is interesting for the public to watch the relationships unfold. However, it would be better for us to let these figures’ careers, personal endeavors, and personality traits speak for who they are: Conger's heartbreaking woes about her brother's death were whitewashed by the concept of, "Well, she chose to go on that show." Nordegren had the finger pointed at her, despite not being the one to commit adultery. Middleton is essentially given a free pass, but her face is far more recognizable than anything about her as a person.

When Andy Warhol famously said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” it seemed a far cry from the truth. But now, fame is only an “I do” away for many of today’s cases. One does not have to be a politician, an artist, or actor to gain the reputation of what a “celebrity” is today. Certainly, falling in love and tying the knot can come with many fringe benefits or dark sides, but the add-on of celebrity status can prove to be either a curse or a blessing – sometimes both.

// JJ Brewis, Columnist

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