According to the bus stop advertisements and billboards around town, another disposable situation comedy is about to make its debut on network television. The conceit of this one, called “‘Til Death Do Us Part,” is that his adorable wife henpecks a regular guy (the aggressively unfunny Brad Garrett) to the point of emasculation. The tag lines retread Henny Youngman era mother-in-law jokes and all the stock notions of marriage being a death sentence for the id. “No sex in the city,” one of them says.
The humor in all this, apparently, is in recognizing the inherent truthfulness of the lighthearted clowning. Married couples are supposed to think, “That’s us!” and chuckle along with the laugh track.
But what’s funny about marriage characterized as the end of lust? Shouldn’t marriage be a precursor to greater intimacy, deeper connections, and hotter sex? If it were not, then why would anyone submit to such a state of enervation — other than the usual reasons like desire for children and financial cooperation? Comedic portrayals of connubial bliss transformed into simmering passive-aggressive discontentment make marriage look like an ongoing business negotiation between two people who would much rather be fucking someone other than their partner, instead of soulmates locked at the groin.
Some would argue that the stereotype of a sexless marriage isn’t far from the truth. If this is so, than those couples who are part of “the lifestyle,” or who “swing,” are probably happier with their marriage than those who suffer through 40 years of deprivation. Yet, to most people, married couples who have sex with people other than their husband or wife are maladjusted degenerates who can’t behave themselves properly. Swingers are slimy and unprincipled and out-of-control, conventional wisdom says.
But if the alternative, as broadcast by our largest TV networks, is a constant state of frustration and sublimated libido, perhaps it’s the swingers who have got the marriage enigma all figured out.