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On 'tradition', definitions, and Andy Cohen's (inner & outer) programming

by Jeremy Hooper

Screen Shot 2011-09-07 At 8.19.43 AmIt was a familiar scene: A young, upwardly mobile man with good clothes and parted hair asking a somewhat regal father for his daughter's hand in marriage. A brief chat, some light fatherly pushback played mostly for laughs -- a conversation that once would've included talk of dowries and ownership now all about protection of daddy's little girl. "It's very old fashioned," the father said of his future son-in-law's request, the whole scene playing out as a traditional act.

But this wasn't an intimate moment to which I was privy by virtue of close relationship or a fly-on-wall side gig. No, no -- I saw this whole thing go down because there were cameras in the living room catching every moment. And microphones. And lights. And producers. And for all I know, reshoots. A whole to-do, all so this private moment could be carefully edited for me and millions of others to consume via the Bravo network's "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" season two premiere.

Entertaining and/or interesting TV? Maybe. But a televised hand-in-marriage request is old-fashioned or "traditional"? Not by most people's definition.

Though maybe someday this will be the tradition. With our world so reality-crazed that even Andy Warhol's ghost is like, "enough with the fifteen minutes, you famewhores!" perhaps all private family videos are destined for public consumption. Maybe fifty years from now, it will seem "radical" to want to keep anything private. Perhaps the onetime novelty of seven strangers picked to live in a house is destined to become our way of life.

Then again: Why does anyone get to define tradition? Would it be more "traditional" to nix both the cameras and the private father/fiancé moment? Would it be less "traditional" if the whole thing played out of film rather than television? More "traditional" if these "Housewives" ditched their careers and actually lived out their moniker's traditional connotation? Less "traditional" if the whole thing was male/male rather than male/female? Who says?

And perhaps the more prevailing question: Does "traditional" mean good? In terms of the ask: Should a moment built upon the idea that the man, be it father or intended beau, is the dominant force in a relationship even be shaped into something sweetly quaint? In terms of the cameras: Is it better to buck tradition and get cast on a reality show so that you and your family have an HD record of your life's milestones? In terms of male/female marriage: On a show that was already marked by divorce (see Camille and Kelsey, season one) and is now marked by great tragedy (Russell Armstrong, season two), can any "marriage protector" really say that the man/woman marriage systems is somehow more sanctifying than a theoretical lesbian cast member's imagined wedding?

By this one Bravo TV father's own view, the "can I have your daughter's hand?" moment was a traditional ask. That is his right. That is his model for his family.

By my definition, same-sex couples have always been part of our tradition, and the legal recognition of that is in keeping with the American tradition of remedying past wrongs. That is my right. That is my model for good society.

By the "protect marriage" crowd's claims, "tradition" is defined by limitation, discrimination, and heterosexism. They have the right to hold this view. They do not have the right to force that personal view onto all of society just because they claim their "traditional" definition as the one true gospel.

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