Why can’t we bring ourselves to break up with dating shows?
To set the scene: it’s 1 am. My audible gasps echo through the room as I watch the two people on my laptop screen intently. I wish I could tell you it was porn. The more so shameful truth of the matter is that I am 23 episodes deep into the current season of MAFS Australia. That wasn’t very ‘I-don’t-fuck-with-drama’ or ‘I-think-dating shows-are-sexist’ of me. Despite the righteous contempt in which I’d held shows like ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘Too Hot to Handle’, one casual TV dinner viewing of ‘Married at First Sight’ had blossomed into a full-blown weekly obsession.
But is MAFS just a shitty reality show about finding love in unconventional ways? Or is it a deep dive into the human psyche? The state of race relations, modern dating and mob mentality?? For the purposes of this article (and to rationalise my spending of $8.99 on a VPN to watch live episodes) I posit that we have much to learn from the pure social commentary that is ‘Married at First Sight’. #BlackMirrorCouldNever
Mob Mentality and Sigmund Freud
Mob Mentality is the inclination, when finding oneself in a large group, to ignore individual feelings and inhibitions and adopt the behaviours and actions of those around you. Whenever the participants get together for their dinner parties or as I like to call them ‘relationship show & tells’, they take being morally superior to new heights and eviscerate anyone who is deemed to have made a mistake. Sociologist Karl Durkheim suggests that the human desire to punish others provides us with a sense of group solidarity. It feels good because we are affirming we are good people who belong in the herd, in contrast to the ‘bad people’ we are punishing. If you’re looking for examples of sociological concepts for your ‘Governing Population and Society’ essay, look no further! (And maybe take it easy ragging on a mate the next time you’re in a large group of people).
Cam and Lyndall were one of my favourite couples till things started getting oedipal in episode 21. Picture this: your partner asks if you can hug them once a day. You tell your mum about it and she tells you, your partner is being “attention-seeking”. Do you:
- Defend your partner and give them the (bare minimum) affection they asked for
- Tell your partner that your mommy said they shouldn’t ask you for hugs anymore
If you answered (2) congratulations!! You are a Freudian wet dream!
In which I make it about race (again)
Oh it makes you uncomfortable?? You know what else is uncomfortable? Racism.
This year’s season came with the inclusion of Sandy Jawanda, a first gen Australian Punjabi woman who tells the audience about the difficulties of being “very much Indian and very much Australian”. Her struggle to figure out how to “mesh the two together” encapsulates a key aspect of that pesky immigrant experience. There is something about watching a fellow brown woman enter the typically westernised setting that is the ‘dating show’, that feels extremely personal. I came for a giggle at some good ol’ manufactured drama, then stayed, ears hot, heart beating in my throat to watch Sandy walk down the aisle in her traditional red lehenga. Would she be accepted? Would they be nice to her? When you wear the marker of your difference to the majority of other people in a country, when you wear it on your very skin, these are questions you ask yourself before you walk into each and every room. While I typically deal with the situation by dressing, talking and acting as ‘kiwi’ as I possibly can when meeting new people, Sandy had her wedding venue decked out in Indian decor and arrived in cultural wedding wear. It was a small, radical act and I think it spoke balls-to-the-wall big dick energy.
As the groom’s largely white family and friends filed into the room, the first comments to be made were that the decor was “a bit over the top” and that it had “to be Thai or Indian or something”. Other guests said “Dan doesn’t know what he’s in for and it’s not what he bloody signed on for”. As Sandy made her way to the altar, many said they were “shocked”. Girl why?? Y’all never seen a brown person before?? And national television is the place you want to make this known? After the bride began her speech, her Aussie accent, jokes and warm nature seemed to relax the guests and they started expressing approval. I thought this would make me feel better, but honestly it felt like a piss-poor, wanky consolation prize. For me, the scene captured one particular microaggression that POC are all too familiar with in day-to-day life: having to ‘overcompensate’ for not being white. Having to be warm and funny and bright before we are worthy of acceptance, because as Sandy notes, “Indian girls are expected to behave in one particular way”.
POC found badass representation in Sandy and the casual racism faced by POC, found representation in Dan’s yucky friends. It was heartening to see viewers having genuine conversations about this episode. It might be shitty reality TV, but if MAFS opens unlikely avenues for discussion about microaggressions and casual racism, I’m all for it!
Dating shows are heteronormative and sexist?? Who would have thunk it? Episode 19 demonstrated how deeply these structures can fail our men when Melissa repeatedly told Josh that she “wanted a big man” and he wasn’t “manly” because he wasn’t as interested in sex. The episode sparked important conversations online about archaic gender norms, respecting people’s boundaries and how our conditioning can often make sex seem like the most important thing about a relationship.
MAFS: Modern dating advice guide?
Groom Jessie’s long list of icks when it comes to women includes “girls who go on their phones, girls who start their sentences with ‘oh my god’, starsign chicks, gym chicks, girls who take selfies and girls who are always talking”. Here is a list of modern dating icks MAFS has taught us to look out for:
- Dudes that have lists of things that give them the ick, but everything on it is just women: existing. My brother in Christ, you are not battling demons, you are battling homosexuality. Just come out, I promise things will get better.
- Emotional abuse being passed off as ‘brutal honesty’
Honesty is one of those things we’re told over and over is quintessential to a relationship. This year’s contestants took that shit to heart! Is telling your partner that she’s “not as pretty as your ex” necessary, or just disrespect? In the words of a wise woman (Taylor Swift), you don’t always need to be “so casually cruel in the name of being honest”.
Nothing is truer than the love between money-hungry TV producers, and the exploitation of that nasty human need for companionship we just can’t seem to kick. But is the faithful viewership they consistently garner, attributed to more than just the drama? Do we have real life lessons to learn from our favourite reality TV shows? In this week’s see-through attempt to justify my own guilty pleasure, I vote ‘yes’.