David Manning Trivial Liars of the Month for September 2004

Britney Spears

The Ethics Scoreboard is sorely tempted to re-name the David Manning Trivial Liar of the Month category the Britney Spears Trivial Liar of the Month after the recent mysterious nonsense regarding her "faux wedding" with Kevin Federline.

To the extent that we can figure it out in the midst of incomprehensible quotes and publicist's blather, the facts seem to be these. Britney and her beau (who began his relationship with Spears while his previous girlfriend was pregnant with his child…but that's a different ethics tale) sold the exclusive photo rights to their glamorous wedding to People Magazine. But unknown to People, a glitch in the final version of Britney's pre-nuptial agreement (to ensure that if Britney's and Kevin's pledge of eternal love didn't last, Britney wouldn't have to turn over a huge chunk of her hard earned dollars to ex-husband Number 2. This is prudent, considering Britney's last marriage lasted less than 24 hours) prompted the couple to go through the ceremony without a valid marriage license, a bit like the sitcom plot that used to turn up frequently during the 1950s and 60s. Remember? "Ricky and Lucy discover their marriage license wasn't valid, and Ricky has to court Lucy all over again. Hilarity ensues."

Well, hilarity probably didn't ensue in the offices of People when hated rival Us revealed that the marriage was a fraud. A document subsequently published on the useful site www.thesmokinggun.com proved they were right: Kevin and Britney had promised each other to go through a "faux wedding." The curiously direct and legalistic document, signed by both lovebirds and duly notarized, states that during their wedding ceremony of September 18 (with People taking those exclusive photos) "they do not intend to and shall not validly marry one another on said date." Moreover, the marriage shall not be "solemnized" during the "faux" ceremony and the parties shall not declare in front of the minister performing the "ceremony" (the documents has ceremony is quotes) or any witnesses that they "take each other as husband and wife." Both parties agreed not to seek a wedding license before September 25, but do agree to go through with what the document terms an 'alleged 'wedding ceremony.'"

As frauds go, this one was quite elaborate. And really, really, stupid.

What, pray tell, was the purpose of all this deceit, sham, and fakery? Surely Britney doesn't need whatever money People forked over for exclusive photo rights to what was basically a wedding dress-up party. Is Britney trying to further establish her solidifying reputation as the heir apparent to Michael Jackson as The National Pop Music Whack Job? If so, relax, kid: you've lapped the competition. Who in their right mind would care whether Britney Spears got married September 18, September 25, or the Fifth of Never? Britney has long since abandoned her much publicized claim of virginity; it's not as if this were some ploy to preserve an image of decorum for a pop goddess whose recent concerts wallow in soft porn. Why fake a wedding?

For his part, taking a page from Britney's former squeeze, "wardrobe malfunction" facilitator Justin Timberlake, Federline denies the whole thing. "It's done," Federline told People. "The details aren't anyone's business. But it wasn't any big deal. However, after finishing, we were advised to wait a certain grace period before filing the license. I think that's the law. And because of those conditions, we have to wait. ... Basically, those reports that we didn't legally wed are bullsh--. But it doesn't bother me, those reports. More important, this was such a spiritual connection for us, the wedding was. No piece of paper can capture what I feel." Actually, Kevin, the legal document uncovered by Us and The Smoking Gun capture it quite well. What you feel is contempt for anyone with half a brain. And if you really think you can be married without a marriage license and after signing an agreement declaring your wedding ceremony to be "faux," you have a Ricky and Lucy moment in your future. E! will probably make a reality show out of it.

Hey! Maybe THAT's the purpose of all this!

Spears, spacey as ever, agrees wholeheartedly with Kevin's spiritual approach. "In a real sense, in a spiritual sense, we're married ... I believe you also marry in your heart and that means much more than a piece of paper. If I don't feel it there, then nothing else matters. You can write anything down on paper, but the real truth is love. We know we have that."

Hmmmm. Maybe Britney is a clever pawn of the anti-gay marriage lobby. You know…if "marriage in the heart" is all that matters, what's all the fuss about?

But then why did Britney have a ceremony at all, if she just cares about a "marriage of the heart"? Goldie Hahn and Kurt Russell obviously have a real "marriage of the heart" and have raised a stable family during their decades together as a couple, but they never felt the need to have a "faux wedding."

Honestly, we give up. This is a fraud that either accomplishes nothing, or that is in furtherance of such trivial or moronic objectives that they cannot be detected by humans whose reasoning processes are occupied by anything else, such as a life.

The Fox Network

It appears that reality show producers and the networks that employ them are destined to dominate the David Manning Trivial Liar of the Month category, at least until television viewers come to their senses.

NBC and ABC have accused the Fox Network of blatantly copying their reality shows, while Fox executives maintain that 1) its shows are originals and 2) any similarity between Fox shows and those of the competition are coincidental. Then the Fox executives retreat to the executive wash room where they laugh themselves sick.

Of course Fox is stealing the concepts of the other networks. The most recent example is one of the most blatant: Fox lost out to NBC in its attempt to buy the boxing reality show "The Contender," featuring an obviously desperate Sylvester Stallone, so it ordered up a virtual clone, "The Next Great Champ," with one of the last great champs Oscar De La Hoya in the Rocky role. NBC sued to block the show and lost, primarily because proving a legal violation when it comes to closely imitating a creative work is especially difficult with reality shows, which are more concept than script. But everyone in the industry knows this is standard operating procedure for Fox; for example, when ABC came up with a reality show called "Wife Swap," Fox countered with "Trading Spouses." It has also launched a clone of Donald Trump's ego-fest, "The Apprentice" called "The Billionaire."

Is this ethical? That's easy: no. Fox is riding on the creativity of others, taking ideas without compensation or acknowledgement and changing them just enough to avoid legal consequences.What qualifies the network for the David Manning Trivial Liar Award is that all of this is being done in pursuit of the moronic…and money, of course. Most reality shows, even some of the most successful ones, make "The Gong Show" and "Top Cat" looks like "Troilus and Cressida." If you're going to copy a creative work, copy something worth copying. Do art forgers paint meticulous replicas of big-eyed children or dogs playing poker?

I think not.

But television long ago became an ethics-free zone, and now that it has finally become a taste-and-wit-free zone to boot, this is all too predictable. Fox is following in a grand network tradition, which probably reached its peak in 1979 when all three networks just happened to come up with sitcoms that imitated the previous year's smash comedy, "Animal House." And did anyone really believe that it was a coincidence that both "The Addams Family" and "The Munsters" premiered in September of 1964?

Nevertheless, a recent quote from Mike Darnell, the Fox executive behind the recent spate of unauthorized knock-offs, is still chilling in its complete lack of anything resembling principle or ethical sensibility.

"Whatever anyone thinks of our strategy," Mr. Darnell said, "so far we've done pretty good." Boss Tweed, Al Capone, or Joe McCarthy couldn't have said it any better Mike: the objective you desire justifies unethical means. I suppose you deserve to stand in higher esteem than these practitioners of that deadly credo because your desired objective is so staggeringly trivial.

View the definition of Trivial Liars and a list of "winners" from previous months.



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