Volume 96, Issue 69
Friday, January 31, 2003

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The Bachelor-ization of love
TV furthers erosion of romance

By Megan O'Toole
Gazette Staff

How do we define love these days?

Conventionally, the word has always been associated with feelings of strong affection, sometimes mixed with desire. Love is an emotion that can be automatic – as in a parent-child relationship – or one that can gradually develop, as in a romantic endeavour.

In many ways, love has always been held as the one, true ideal: a unique form of pleasure that justifies our daily drudgery. Indeed, love is one of those concepts that might once have been sacred.

But then television came along.

Riding the current wave of reality television is an ever-expanding series of "real-life" shows that are attempting to redefine the concept of love.

The trend seemed to have begun innocuously enough, with Blind Date spawning a series of copycat shows, all of which maintain their audiences by exploiting the nervous excitement that is an inevitable part of the blind dating game.

Each of these shows features a few segments in which two "compatible" people are set up for a date. The cameras follow, as the couple is sent to a variety of "ice-breaking" first-date activities, from baking cookies together to wrestling in a pit of mud. Not exactly your typical first-date fare, but hey – we're talking ratings here.

Throughout the show, the program's editing staff attempts to insert witty remarks in the form of "thought bubbles," which are designed to show what each girl (or guy) is really thinking as the date progresses.

The wrap-up segments in shows such as Blind Date generally feature a few final words of feedback from each of the daters, in which they either admit to despising the other party, or – in the cases which lead to a "sleepover" – express their joy at having found a "match."

In either case, is this really a way to find love? By going on a TV show that ridicules your dating experience? By being thrown together with a stranger and forced to do awkward activities? By drinking too much and ending up in bed with a person who, for all intents and purposes, remains a stranger?

Of course, one might argue that Blind Date is innocent enough, and that, when it comes down to it, it's all in good fun. Hey, it's just entertainment, right?

But the line between entertainment and debacle was undeniably crossed last year with the evolution of a new breed of television, whose commodification of love caused a stir of outrage in many-a-traditional-heart.

It all began with The Bachelor, in which one pseudo-desirable guy became the target of affection for 25 females. Like so many trained dogs, the girls paraded their looks and... err... other "talents," each hoping to be the "chosen one" who would get to marry the oh-so-eligible bachelor.

As the field became increasingly narrower, with the bachelor (Aaron) rejecting one girl after another, the competition became increasingly fierce. After all, the guy had money!

Finally, it came down to the moment of truth: Aaron's final decision. And who wouldn't want to have been in Helene's shoes on that day – "winning" a guy who had labelled her as the prize pig out of a group of drooling gold diggers?

Even for those who had ended up in the reject pile, all was not lost: the 15 minutes of fame was enough to spawn new career opportunities, such as Trista's venture with The Bachelorette, in which she flips the game around and has drones of men vying for her heart.

Of course, before the audience had a chance to get bored with the standardized Bachelor game, networks started throwing in new twists: in Joe Millionaire, the suave bachelor is really broke! In Meet My Folks, the parents get to pick a date for their offspring!

And then – just when it seemed as though there was nothing more that television could do to further erode the concept of love – came the coup-de-grace: Cheaters, a show delighting in the opportunity to expose adultery and destroy marriages. As the cameras follow "cheating" spouses on their secret rendezvous, the host works his magic to ensure that the manufactured confrontation will be as explosive as possible.

Do these shows reflect an existing decline in society's values, or are they pushing the limits and creating a newfound irreverence for the ideal of true love?

In the end, it all depends on how you put the ingredients together. Take a guy and a girl, throw them into a calculated plot, add a couple of twists and mishaps and mix in a few cameras: what do you end up with? A recipe for true love, or a poisonous, televised brew?

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2002 THE GAZETTE