Farcical love oozes from our screens

2009-11-13 13:11

The slide into the pit of despair has been a painfully long process that started with soapies and reached rock-bottom when competitive reality dating shows were born. Soapies provide a snapshot of life and all its dramas, and they continue to appeal to millions throughout the world, for reasons I don’t get.

Days of Our Lives (which started in 1965) and The Bold And The Beautiful (1987) continue to invade households globally while Generations still draws South Africans of all shapes and sizes. With shows such as Isidingo, Backstage, Scandal and Rhythm City, not only are our lives (kind of) reflected, but the characters look like us and speak like us.

It is this that probably gave birth to the reality television phenomenon. Not content with a bird’s-eye view of the lives of fictional characters, we started demanding real characters. ­Survivor shows ordinary people thrust into abnormal situations. I liked it. I also like The Amazing Race, Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance and Top Chef.

These are shows that require some level of skill from the contestants. There is no tata ma chance in shows like that and so I keep watching them. Even SA’s Got Talent and Idols boil down to talent, even if the bloopers entertain us most.

It’s reality dating-shows I don’t get. Romance requires mastery, luck and finding space for two sets of luggage. We navigate the minefield of love from the moment we discover our attraction to the opposite sex (or same sex). We travel paths only to find dead-ends, broken bottles and barbed wire and, as we do so, we accumulate prejudices, misconceptions and baggage.

Magazines are filled with reams of generic theory on how to find and keep love. Talkshow hosts devote hours of airtime to finding out what makes relationships tick. Therapists provide a sympathetic ear for a fee and books such as Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus are written to guide us all.

What I wonder is how people expect to find lasting love on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette? And isn’t it promoting promiscuity with one woman choosing a husband from 25 men or a man choosing a wife from 25 women? Every time I catch a glimpse of an episode (the missus watches, not me), someone is kissing someone following which he or she will be kissing someone else. Some of us don’t cover that much territory in a lifetime.

Unsurprisingly, in 13 seasons not a single Bachelor has married the woman he ‘selected’ as the winner of his affections. With the Bachelorette, which has had five seasons, only the first one married her chosen one and they have two children together.
And there are others such as the painful Flavor of Love with Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav, which had three seasons, and A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila.

In South Africa, Kaya FM is running the Two Strangers & A Wedding competition again. As a radio station, and business, tasked with increasing listenership, I’m sure the “social experiment” was a phenomenal success.

As an initiative to help two people find love? The first couple did not make it that far past the honeymoon, marrying in May and announcing their divorce in September.

So has it come to this? The point where all else fails and the quick, media fix is the solution to finding a life-long partner. I think not. Whether we like it or not, the successful route to finding love will always be the navigation of the uncertain landscape of dating, until we find the right fit. Television and radio shows are a created reality and no substitute for life.

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