When ratings out weigh your duty of care

When I watched the first season of Married at First Sight I was genuinely intrigued in this idea of meeting your husband or wife at the altar. It is a practice some cultures still engage with today and for many in the western world it seems unfathomable.

So why not turn that in to a television series and see just how far we can take it?

Well in its first season we were fascinated, we barracked for the couples we loved and wished the ones who were struggling all the best as they go their separate ways.

Now I admit to skipping the second season however what has transpired in the third season is gob smacking – and not in winning way.

The bullying we have witnessed against one woman and the belittling of another by their so-called husbands is deeply troubling.

Now I could go on and write endlessly about the lack of care the producers have given these participants but it is now common knowledge that producers of reality tv are a breed unto themselves. And if you’re not sure what exactly is meant by that dip your toe in to UnReal.

It’s where bad people make good tv. Sound familiar?

So what sets Married at First Sight apart from the other shows?

Well nothing really, there’s conflated drama, vulnerable participants and ploys to make their dreams come true.

However with Married instead of the psychologists working with the producers behind the scenes to find buttons to push and vulnerabilities to exploit this show has them in front of the camera.

To justify their role they are called ‘experts’ and refer to the format as ‘an experiment’. It’s an experiment where you trial a series of hypothesis’ to see if their expert minds can match the perfect couple.

But what we have seen unfold this season are experts who are active in setting up the experiment but will sit quietly while some very damaging behaviour goes on.

Behaviour that would be classed as emotional abuse, bullying, over control (akin to domestic violence) and exploitation.

Kerri Sackville on news.com.au wrote about the psychologists;

“Mr Aiken, Ms Schilling and Dr Stratford are not paid actors. They are qualified, practising psychologists who have made the choice to take part in this show, more than once. And psychologists are supposed to protect people from emotional distress, not be complicit in their bullying and humiliation.”

And in the Daily Telegraph Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg called the show the “psychological sewer of Australian TV”

He went on to say;

“One day one of these people is going to do some serious damage to themselves during or after the show.

“We are playing with people’s lives. I don’t think this is good entertainment, I know it rates its socks off, but so did the Colosseum in Rome because people liked watching lions rip Christians apart.”

Now if you have not watched the show already you could think this was a bit far fetched but here are just five examples in one episode.

  1. When you know it’s time to pull the plug, but give it one last push

In a scene where the men are put together on a boys night one participant Andrew, who has not had a very fortunate time on the show gets drunk and proceeds to ‘bag out’ his ‘wife’. It’s disturbing to watch as Cheryl is singled out and demeaned. But instead of stepping in and saying enough is enough the ‘experts’ decide to send them on a relationship bootcamp. Or an impromptu date where they are forced to make out they actually like each other. (As Cheryl is oblivious to the bagging out the night before this makes for gut wrenching tv as Andrew pretends all is well.)

  1. Leave them hanging

When Cheryl finds out that at the boy’s night she was the centre of a full bagging out the experts leave her questioning and prying. They could very well just show her the footage and let her make up her own mind with an informed decision. Instead they leave her to question Andrew – who lies to her face, who also finds support in other men who witnessed the bagging.

  1. What we used to call ‘traditional’ we know call a ‘controlling relationship’

Nadia and Anthony are a couple who have been matched because they believe in good old, wholesome, old fashioned love. Yep, they’re still out there. However Anthony’s idea of traditional looks like a relationship where he is ‘steering the ship’ and calling her frigid on national television. Now one ‘expert’ is passionate about empowering women however here she sits by and lets Anthony control his wife and the situations. She does not question his behaviour nor take time to point out to Nadia that his comments and actions aren’t all that healthy.

  1. When a man steps up, we’ll let him be beat down

The one thing we need to end rape culture and domestic violence is more men stepping up and calling it out. And that’s exactly what one participant Sean did when he saw Cheryl being demeaned at the boys night out. However instead of other men acknowledging this we witness them attempting to convince Sean that it’s all in his head and he misinterpreted what he saw. Yet we all saw it too.

  1. And if this isn’t modern rape culture what is?

When I watched the bagging out of Cheryl at the boys night it felt like a metaphoric gang bang. I felt like I was watching a group of men single a woman out, demean her, bag her, sexualise her then throw her away. The main protagonist – Andrew or the ‘husband’ – felt it was his right after a few drinks to speak out about all his grievances with her. It was as though he was faultless, like he was hard done by – the innocent victim. It was disturbing to watch and knowing this was on at a time when young people would be watching made it more alarming for me. Because not one expert called it out for what it was. If we as a society cannot do that, then how can we expect young people to know that it’s wrong?