"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 21 January 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Marriage of Convenience



The twin goals of making a living

and making love anchor the moral

poles between which our economy

spins. At their most grotesquely

specific - on the web - the

desire to couple and the desire

to make a couple are the only

drives which seem strong enough

to overcome the fiscal inertia

which keeps most people's

wallets in their pockets

(coaxing other parts out of

their pants doesn't present as

much of an obstacle). Of course,

in the real world, these forces

tend to propel us in opposite

directions around a familiar

track, to work and home and back




After all, the perversity of

Americans' historical devotion

to work only makes sense in the

context of supporting a

lifestyle of connubial leisure.

The American Dream exists as a

part of a family of images or,

more accurately, an image of

family. In an era of radically

diminished expectations,

however, the desire for and

feasibility of a nest egg are

threatened by economic chickens

coming home to roost.


The postwar abundance that

fertilized the baby boom has

mutated into postindustrial

abeyance, as work replaces

family in more and more people's

lives. Since 1969, full-time

employees in the United States

have increased by a full workday

the hours they put in each week,

and in the past two decades, the

number of people working

over 50 hours a week has

increased by a third. By

contrast, the median age at

marriage has risen since the

1950s by over four years for

both men and women, and the

proportion of women in their

late 20s who have never married

has tripled, from 11 percent in

1960 to 33 percent in 1993.

American Demographics predicts

that the proportion of

never-married adults will

continue to increase for all age

groups under 55.



To some extent, these numbers

simply mean that our definition

of family has changed. Being

single doesn't have the same

stigma that it used to, and the

eventual entrance of gays and

lesbians into the marriage rolls

will surely shift the

demographic significantly.

Still, sociologists agree that

the future of marriage, as an

institution, is uncertain.

Except for a few pathologically

optimistic futurists - for whom

the prospect of sitting around

all day getting paid for

daydreaming must not seem like

much of a stretch - no one seems

very worried about the end of

work. Unless, of course, you're

talking about getting laid off.



Not surprisingly, one of the most

talked-about new magazine

launches of last year was

Divorce (the wag who deemed it

"too cynical to succeed"

obviously hasn't been following

publishing trends too closely...

or maybe he has); it's only a

matter of time before

matrimonial how-to guides like

Modern Bride expand their market

share by addressing what happens

when the honeymoon's over.

Meanwhile, rags that had once

schooled women in the finer

points (and finery) of seduction

now emphasize an entirely

different method of Dressing for

Success. Not that sometimes the

dress code isn't surprisingly

similar for both activities: The

harder we work, the more we want

out of it, and that includes

bonus plans which focus on

fleshy packages as well as

financial ones.


From a boss's point of view,

arranging employee mergers makes

a curious kind of sense: In

their efforts to extend the

working day to encompass the

night, many employers offer

amenities that would make a

madam blush, so why not make the

possibility of nookie one of the

on-site attractions?


In the cathode twilight of

television's prime-time fantasy

land, work and play already

commingle like a candy cane of

commerce and carnality, made all

the more sweet by the

confectionary lightness of

nighttime drama characters, or

the taffy-like elasticity of

sitcom plots. Whether it's News

Radio or Melrose Place, mixing

business and pleasure is a given

- though one suspects that the

rationale behind the doubling up

of desk-hopping and bone-jumping

stems from plot and set economy,

not the new economy. Still,

rarely has the notion of the

power couple, the couple who

lays together and makes bank

together, been so prevalent in

popular culture as now.


[Louis & Jane]

The superficially romantic plot

of Jerry Maguire actually has

its heart set on gold. While

the love interest defects from

one soulless corporation, she's

still just looking for "a job that

she can believe in." And when

Maguire comes home to woo his

newly estranged bride, his

opening line isn't cribbed from

Romeo and Juliet, but Wall

Street: "Our company had a big

night tonight." The People vs.

Larry Flynt offers an even more

perverse take on the American

success story, if only because

it's not about a guy who tries

to buck the system, but one who

uses it to his best advantage.

The patriotic moral of Milos

Forman's story would actually be

as suitable for the Eagle Forum

as for Penthouse's, and the

sexiest ménage à

trois, from a business

standpoint, is among Larry,

Althea and their magazine - a

situation which brings to mind

another real-life magazine

couple whose alternative

lifestyle has been played as

much for its savvy as for




Then again, what with Louis and

Jane having so visibly embraced

a conception of Jeffersonian

democracy that extends right

down to illegitimate birth, it's

obvious that their power-couple

status doesn't make them a

poster couple for marriage. It

turns out, however, that a

marketing campaign for

matrimony may already be in he

works. A recent poll by MSNBC

and Swing heralded the birth of

a new demographic slice, the

"Updated Traditionals," who

desire to make "premarital sex"

something more than euphemism.

Equally significant, these moral

throwbacks' absurdly quaint

vision of sexual harassment

(actually, it seems more like a

blind spot) will smooth the path

for office romances where once a

Hill stood in the way.


On the downside, Swing's

involvement in the survey, and

their history of breathless

celebration of nanotrends like

"alternative comedy" raise

questions as to whether these

numbers reflect a genuine shift

in young people's attitudes

towards matrimony or a kind of

superficial emotional

accessorizing, as the wedding

ring takes its place next to

cigar lighters and martini

glasses in the pantheon of

cheerfully retro lifestyle

goods. Whatever the future

has in store for matrimony,

one thing's for sure: Of all

the personal modification trends

of the '90s, marriage is surely

the least permanent.

courtesy of Ann O'Tate


Ann O'Tate