The New New Newlywed Game

MTV attacks family values—one marriage at a time

Fact: Jessica's post-divorce single did not debut as well as Nick's post-divorce single. One suspects that the outcome of this SoundScan cockfight might be related to the tasteless, self-congratulatory tone of Jessica's party jam, compared with Nick's heartfelt ballad. In "A Public Affair," Jessica sings about boogying at Hyde with Christina Applegate and the Evas (Longoria and Mendes). Whereas Nick, ever the doormat, opts to Eeyore his way through "What's Left of Me," a song that amounts to a three-minute self-castration ritual.

This was a shrewd move on Nick's part—everyone pities him now, despite the fact that he's been squiring an attractive VJ all over Hollywood. Nobody cares about Vanessa Mint Milano, or whatever her name is, because, let's face it, Nick got played. If Jessica wants our sympathy, she's going to need a neck brace, or some other ostentatious badge of suffering. Maybe her platonic chum Johnny Knoxville can hook her up with some crutches!

Normally, I wouldn't comment so freely on the romantic collapse of two confused showbiz kids. Their pain is evident in Nick's furrowed brow and Jessica's sullen, Restylane-enhanced pout. But let's face it: Ever since those two inked that deal with MTV four years ago, the Simpson-Lachey marriage has been public domain. Besides, they're not the first celebrity couple to divorce on the world stage. Remember when Sonny and Cher split up and continued to host their variety show despite palpable awkwardness? Okay, so I don't remember that, but my husband does and he says it was pretty bad. Point being, if you've chosen to pimp your marriage to the masses, you just might have your separation memorialized on a bad Kitson T-shirt ("Team Locklear!").

Lately, there's been an alarming rash of network-specific breakups. (Note to engaged couples: If MTV calls, just let it ring.) First there were Nick and Jessica, who probably wouldn't be petitioning for our sympathy today if they hadn't pitched their marriage as a reality rom-com. Then Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro, former stars of the 'Till Death Do Us Part miniseries, announced that they were divorcing and planned to remain "the best of friends." (I'm on Team Carmen because I have her strip aerobics DVD and you can just tell that she's super nice and would make the sweetest, coolest girlfriend EVER!) And in a final blow to everything sacred, Travis Barker of Blink-182 recently initiated a pug-ugly divorce from his wife Shanna.

The five of us who watched both seasons of Meet the Barkers are united in our shock. Remember how Travis and Shanna used to say "Oofa-woofa!" instead of "I love you"? Remember when they had a baby and named it Alabama Barker and it turned out they weren't joking? Now, suddenly, Oof and Woof are trading barbs through their publicists. He's accusing her of unfit parenting; she claims he's lying. Fittingly, most of this mudslinging is going down on MySpace. (Sample comment: "tr#v*s, yr cool!!!! shanna dosnt dsvre you!)

What is it about doing an MTV reality show that ultimately leads to the demise of wealthy, pretty young marrieds? You'd think having one's marital quirks made public would cause a couple to be even more committed, if only to prove the doomsayers wrong. Besides, it must be hard to re-enter the dating pool when a document of your former marriage is available for purchase on DVD. Any guy who dates Jessica Simpson, for instance, is aware in advance that she doesn't keep up with her laundry. Any woman who dates Dave Navarro might find herself confronted with that creepy picture of Navarro lying on a mortuary slab next to his aerobicized bride. I mean, I don't mind that my husband has been married before, but I'm glad his past union didn't coin any national catchphrases, you know?

Maybe the presence of the cameras creates too much pressure, as Nick Lachey once complained. Maybe these fishbowl-couples feel compelled to take on familiar roles as a defense mechanism, choosing to play characters rather than allow millions of voyeurs to witness their true dynamics. Would these shows be even more fascinating if they were actually real, if the wacky music were stripped away and the rapid cuts reassembled? Or would they be excruciatingly dull, too much like us? I tend to suspect the latter; the newest reality shows are even more obviously scripted than before, hinting that even a strategically edited life is just life after all.

There is one encouraging statistic to be found amid all this MTV marital rubble: Couples who meet while filming The Real World seem to actually stick together! Judd and Pam from the long-ago San Francisco season are still married, as are Rachel (San Francisco) and Sean (Boston). There are even three documented Real World babies, which means that only four more need to be conceived for Ultimate Real World: Next Gen to be greenlit for the fall 2020 season. Maybe this race of camera-ready superhumans will be able to share their parents' secret to longevity with the newlyweds of tomorrow. Hint #1: Don't stay famous.

 
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