Thirty years ago, love was never having to say you're sorry. If
you think Hollywood was rather simplistic about this subject back then,
consider the industry clueless today.
Love is mysterious, often felt most intensely at the quietest
moments, in small acts of kindness and sacrifice. Love deepens over years of
shared experiences and trials, which is why love is built, not arranged.
Those who build lasting, loving marriages serve as role models for their
children. But children have an alternative source of information, too. They
could be learning about romance from "reality" TV.
From the boffo-ratings disaster of Fox's "Who Wants to Marry A
Multi-Millionaire?" to ABC's slightly less tacky "The Bachelor" (get an Ivy
League man, and suddenly the whole find-your-bride-on-TV silliness acquires
class?), even TV critics, a very self-consciously tolerant bunch, are
wincing at romance being mangled by the "reality" genre.
This summer, Fox has given us the spectacle of a show called
"Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska." Yet love was neither the
subject nor the object. Each bachelorette in question was aiming to earn
$2,000 for her "dowry" every time one of the male suitors "pleaded" his love
for her at the end of each show. Theoretically, the six women would hope to
land a husband by show's end. This "tournament of romance and rejection" is
not about love, but self-love: Look at me! I'm on television!
The newest entry is NBC's "Meet My Folks," in which two
allegedly responsible parents of a supposedly mature daughter judge three
young men, each with an "entertaining" flaw, to find a suitable companion
for her. The winning suitor gets a free trip to an exotic locale (like
Hawaii) with the daughter. But if these parents really were responsible and
protective, why would they agree to this embarrassing setup, enabling their
daughter on network television to arrange a week of sex on the beach with a
In the debut, Randy and Rhoda are selecting a travel partner for
their daughter Senta. Their choices aren't good -- surprise, surprise. Jason
has a fetish to be spanked. Cory cheated on his SAT's. Chris slept with the
mother of one of his ex-girlfriends. In a blatant ripoff of the movie "Meet
the Parents," Dad submits the boys to lie-detector tests, asking them a
spate of stupid questions, wondering, for example, whether they'll make a
move on his daughter. (Recommended answer: You're sending her away for a
week with one of us to an exotic locale. What do you think? Why do you
care?) Any rational parent would walk off this set with his daughter in tow.
But Randy and Rhoda aren't bothered at all: They pick the guy who slept with
his ex-girlfriend's mom.
If Senta weren't 24 and old enough to make her own mistakes,
you'd hope the show would end like "Cops," with agents from the local
child-protection services bureaucracy putting the poor child in foster care,
Our popular culture's infatuation with the toilet is strong, the
first ratings for this show were pretty impressive, and so the insults to
romance will just keep on coming. ABC will air its sequel "The
Bachelorette," with last season's runner-up, Trista Rehn, as the
all-powerful date-eliminator. On Aug. 13, ABC also promises "The Dating
Experiment," a reworking of a Japanese hit that dumps singles in exotic
locations and makes them act out situations designed to spark romance. On
Aug. 26, NBC will construct the show "Love Shack," hosted by Will Kirby,
last seen as the winner of "Big Brother 2." This show will take a single
male and female and place them in a southern California mansion "on a quest
to find true love," an oxymoron if ever there was one. NBC is also planning
"Around the World in 80 Dates." Who knows where or when this trend will hit
The reality series "Survivor" provided the guilty pleasure of
watching people lie, manipulate and cheat their way to the top in primitive
settings. "Fear Factor" kept audiences glued to their seats wondering what
the contestants would attempt to eat next. But these concepts almost have --
dare I say it? -- an integrity in their nasty rituals of competition. There
is no morality play here: These shows are trash, and nothing more.
Now the networks would have us believe their new reality shows
aspire to loftier ideals like romance and marriage. Perhaps no one watches
these shows and takes them seriously. Maybe on a certain level it's easy to
laugh because we know, don't we, that true relationships cannot be that
plastic. We know, don't we, that true love is patient and kind and not
boastful. All we have to do is tell this to several million youngsters who
are now learning the opposite from "reality" TV.