Essay: Short Order Love
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ANNOUNCER: Who wants to marry a multi- millionaire?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: At first, one was smug. This was simply a freak show, ridiculous and tasteless and wholly removed from normal experience.
WOMAN: Hi, originally from Santa Monica, California. I’m an emergency room nurse.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: By the time the unholy mess was over, one was not so sure. The mess in question, of course, was television’s most recent show of shows, “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” 20 million of us watched as the now-famous Darva Conger was wed to the now-famous Rick Rockwell, the rich real-estate developer and standup comic, not an illogical combination of professions.
Along with telling jokes and selling real estate, Rockwell, it turns out, had a record of abusing at least one woman. But Rick didn’t appeal to Darva anyway. It was the blind date from hell. She said so on “Good Morning, America.” Rick appeared on “Good Morning, America,” too, and on “Today,” and on “Dateline.” He said he regretted the whole thing. She felt stupid. He felt awful. And everyone else rushed to call “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” the low point in American popular culture, along with making predictable laments about women as chattel and a money-addicted society.
And yet something interesting happened as this dumb little tale began to play itself out: Darva and Rick, instead of becoming less sympathetic– as if that isn’t possible– began to show themselves as characters one could recognize. They were less freakish and more human. Why? Because the more one thought about it, they were only doing in a ludicrous context what everybody does in everything else: They were circumventing process.
They weren’t merely accelerating process, they doing away with it. Here before our very superior eyes was love’s version of the 30-second dinner: Instant courtship, instant mage, instant life. The reprehensible TV show cut to the chase by cutting out the chase. Goodbye, Cyrano de Bergerac, with your oh-so-careful, tender, modest pleas to your beloved. Hello, Rick Rockwell, here’s Darva!
QUESTIONER: Get to the moment where he is walking out and you’re going to see him for the first time.
DARVA CONGER: (Sighs)
QUESTIONER: What are you thinking?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: The more recognizable these two appeared in their interviews, the closer their story came to reality. It was hardly a new story, after all. A rich man is sought as a husband, dignity be damned. We run Barbara Stanwyck tripping up Henry Fonda. We run “Some Like It Hot.” And to put it as bluntly as the Fox Network, “How to Marry a Millionaire.”
ACTOR: You like that suit?
ACTOR: Comme ci, comme ca.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Rick and Darva and the networks simply speeded up the reels. In two heady hours, life was truncated– stupidly, sordidly, but not all that differently from, say, Christmas shopping on the Internet, book shopping on Amazon.com. Why go to the trouble of browsing for a book? Why go to the trouble of looking around for a toy? Make it quick and make it complete. Give me those killer abs in eight days, please. Give me that diet pill. Give me that candidate– don’t tell me how his mind works, don’t tell me process.
Tell me where he stands. Stand and deliver. Here, then, was love in the microwave. Lurking behind the show’s blatant desire to make a buck was a truth about the times. One wants everything fast and ready to use.
JUDGE: I pronounce you husband and wife.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: The pathetic thing is not that Darva and Rick sought love in the microwave, it was that millions of viewers believed it was possible. Oh, we can say that the show was so horrific it was like watching a car wreck or a fire, but the catastrophe was closer to home than we care to admit. Buried in millions of minds no less stupid than Darva’s and Rick’s was hope in the 21st century. We want happiness brought to the door. We want to cook up a short-order life. I’ll have love and marriage and money please, to go.
I’m Roger Rosenblatt.