From Single’s Inferno to Love Island to The Bachelor series and even our very own MTV Splitsvilla, there are dating reality shows galore based all across the world. And it almost feels like they have never been more popular. Watching other people fall in love or at the least feel the attraction under various preconceived circumstances is admittedly quite voyeuristic, among other things. Why are we then so invested in it?
Vicarious living and escapist entertainment
Viewers are generally aware of how most relationships from such shows do not last for long, and yet, we go back to them repeatedly. We are fascinated by these displays of love that are often bold and grand. We can only imagine confessing during bungee jumping or a proposal on the beach. Dating reality shows give us an opportunity to live through these vicariously without getting involved in the risks and consequences that come with it.
Most dating reality shows are largely formulaic, with a number of conventionally attractive single people seeking to find partners in a secluded and often contained area. However, dating shows like Change Days are challenging the “norm” with different approaches (whether or not these differences make things worse is a whole different conversation, though).
This, therefore, presents a wide range of scenarios for viewers to observe. Dating reality shows gained a lot of popularity during the pandemic-induced lockdowns, perhaps owing to the fact that we were largely confined to our homes and without much scope for adventuring outside.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we all like a bit of drama. Dating reality shows also give us the perfect opportunity to watch them from a distance, even if we might never like to be involved in them in real life. And all of it in the name of love! Watching such shows can also provide a little bit of learning here and there about red flags that we should be aware of, gestures that are usually fake and such facades.
And at the end of it all, it seems what is wrong with a bit of escapist entertainment?
Toxic masculine standards
While we are enjoying these shows, what is crucial, perhaps, is to examine the inherent problems in them. Participants on such shows are often misogynistic and showcase toxic masculine standards. The men go head-to-head in a weird display of male arrogance, treating the women as trophies and objectifying them in the process. And even if they are allies, it is still in treating the women as prizes.
Dating shows often also have prizes for winning couples, whether at the final stage or at every round. So, love then essentially becomes a tool to facilitate victory, the desire for which is fueled by the want of material gain. If the show is self-aware of what it is promoting, it is still more bearable to watch than it trying to be a torchbearer of romance.
Sometimes, specific participants are particularly villainised and more often than not, it is carefully planned editing that leads to this. Not only is this problematic on the show itself, but these “villains” have to live with such a construct even after the show has ended, owing to harsh scrutiny on social media. Moreover, it is almost always the women who suffer the wrath of the public and are shamed, often without reason. Public sympathy is usually less reserved for them as compared to their male counterparts. The situation is worse for the LGBTQIA+ community.
South Korea’s erstwhile reality show We Got Married showed actors, idols, and celebrities pretending to be married couples while completing various “challenges” together. Korean netizens are arguably not very forgivable of their favourite celebrities’ dating habits. Upon dating rumours, most celebrities are ostracised, and idols are even campaigned against to leave their groups.
It is then quite hypocritical, if not cruel, to place those same celebrities in a controlled environment in order to provoke emotional attraction in them for largely public entertainment.
In Western reality shows, representation is mostly dismal and Western ideals of love are promoted that are often disrespectful to the realities of the larger world. The western idea of dating often looks down upon traditions and practices in other parts of the world and often prioritises a more sexual attraction than emotional connection.
Asian reality shows, on the other hand, perpetuate toxic (and sometimes downright weird) beauty standards. You might just hear comments like, “I like men with sharp noses” or “I like her milky, white skin” in them. Such comments only further the already existing problems of toxic beauty standards.
Well, there is technically nothing wrong with watching dating reality shows. Everyone loves a little fun and entertainment now and then. Social media is especially abuzz with these shows nowadays when they air. So, it is natural to be curious. Whatever the reason may be for watching it, it is always better to be an alert observer, to question what is wrong and to point out the problems if and when they take place.
Featured image source: NETTV4U