John and Elizabeth Edwards had the high honor of gracing the front cover of the National Enquirer with reality show stars Jon and Kate Gosselin recently, but the couples have more in common than having a couple of Jo(h)ns accused of cheating by the tabloids. Both the Edwardses and the Gosselins seem to be trapped inside media magnified marriages that few of us can possibly understand.
Welcome to the purgatory of the Professional Marriage, where the relationship becomes a business entity and where dissolution takes on the complexity of an auto industry bankruptcy. This is what happens couplehood itself becomes too big to fail.
For most of us, marriage is a matter of love and the dreaded complications of divorce are kids and splitting up the finances and in some cases, religious issues. Anyone who's been through a divorce knows that those are complications enough. We can't imagine what it's like to get to a place where a political career or hit TV show is a factor in keeping a relationship together or not.
I've written at length on HuffPost about the John and Elizabeth Edwards saga and I find myself asking time and again, "Why can't either of them just be honest about what happened and what is happening now?" But there's a whole host of calculations going on behind every statement that carry more weight than honesty. It's spin. Once you play that game with positions and policies, playing it with relationships probably doesn't seem that hard.
The Jon And Kate Plus 8 special that TLC has been promoting for weeks was exercise in surrealism. On one level, it revealed a lot about the relationship between the Gosselins but mainly that was through what wasn't said. They didn't right out tell us that they've been separated for about six months but that's the only conclusion to be drawn from patching together what was said in the show and what's been printed by the tabloids.
But past the paparazzi staking out the bouncy at the kid's birthday party, the real Fellini twist of the show is that we in the viewing audience are the ones who destroyed this marriage.
The whole facade exists for our benefit. It would be easy to blame the Gosselins or TLC or the show's producers or the tabloids or the sponsors but let's be honest and accept responsibility. If nobody was watching, they'd all go do something else. But here we are now; entertain us...
That's why Elizabeth Edwards does a book tour. That's why Kate says she's been 'working' so much in the past six months to take care of her audience that her kids called her by her babysitter's name. These woman aren't dumb. They know what we like and what our society rewards. People like Octomom know, too; she was just too obvious and blatant about what she was up to to make us comfortable.
(I'm not absolving the men here, by the way, but in the specific examples of Kate and Elizabeth they are ones who seem to be appearing on TV lately.)
What none of them seem to see, however, is that they serve dual roles. They are inspirational mirrors for some of us. There are woman who have struggled with kids or cheating husbands who see themselves in Mrs. Edwards and Mrs. Gosselin. There are men who identify with Jon Gosselin's constant public emasculation. That's the emotional illusion of art, where we project our own lives onto total strangers.
But a lot of us -- most, I think -- just watch and remind ourselves, "If someone asks you to be on a reality show...say no."
The lesson of hubris plays out in front of us daily. Flip around HuffPost and see it in politics with Dick Cheney, in sports with Manny Ramirez and in the weird oxymoron of entertainment news with the Gosselins and Edwardses. We're reminded not to be too proud or too in love with fleeting things like power or success. We see the results.
These are things we all need to hear. That's why human beings tell stories. We need fables and morals to help us experience other people's live and mistakes so we can better guide ourselves.
At least that's what I'll tell myself when I tune in next week.