Could watching others go through a painful divorce actually make a marriage stronger? Bruce Feiler thinks so. In a recent New York Times article, the writer explores the increasing phenomenon of "divorce porn", which he describes as fictional and actual depictions of couples going through painful divorces or, more appealingly, starting their lives anew on the other side.

Feiler cites film (Eat, Pray, Love), television (Mad Men), theatre (Promises, Promises), and celebrity (Sandra Bullock, Tiger Woods, John and Elizabeth Edwards, Al and Tipper Gore) examples in describing the increasing obsession with divorce and its aftermath. Romance novelist Nora Roberts attributes this to divorce simply being a better story. "There's much more drama in the conflict. When a relationship is falling apart, the reader or viewer is going to sympathize more with the character that's going through it," she said.

The most notable thing about this fixation is that it is largely married people who are the most captivated. As Feiler's article colorfully illustrates, "Married people are obsessed with divorced people."

Yet while our culture has been increasingly fixated on divorce, the national divorce rate has been quietly falling. The U.S. divorce rate is currently sitting at 3.5 per 1,000, a 30-year low. Since its peak in 1979, the rate has fallen 34 percent, and has dropped 8 percent in the last five years alone.

Of course, there could be a number of reasons for this - less people choosing to get married, wide acceptance of marriage counseling, the recession. Feiler hypothesizes, however, that our insatiable appetite for "divorce porn" may be behind the drop. Larry Hackett, People Magazine's Managing Editor, agrees: "It's entirely possible that people can look at all those stories and in some emotional way let off steam," he said. "One of the premises of Mad Men is that the behavior on the show is something of a safety valve. We live through these folks so we don't have to live that way ourselves."


Source: New York Times, "The Joys of Vicarious Divorce", Bruce Feiler, 27 August 2010