In the Name of “Love”

October 10th, 2007

How to find love with Courvoisier and clocks

By Ryan Miga

Ah, l’amour—that deep, timeless, truly unique bond forged between two people—a bond built on mutual attraction and genuine understanding, skimpy clothes, drunken hot tub lap-dances, and ruthlessly clawing one’s way through a horde of comparably intoxicated and under-dressed suitors to gain the favor of that special someone—all in front of a TV audience of millions.

Or so the recent outbreak of VH1’s “reality dating game shows”—championed by the trifecta of trash formed by “Flavor of Love,” “Rock of Love” and “I Love New York”—might lead its viewers to believe.

If there’s anybody left in the civilized world who isn’t familiar with the three “Love” shows, they follow the basic tried-and-true formula pioneered by “The Bachelor”: take a house, cram it with dozens of desperate, starry-eyed contestants, and give them an eligible celebrity to fight over—add cameras—wash, rinse, repeat as necessary.

The new crop of dating shows takes this premise and turns the insanity factor up a few notches. Instead of featuring relatively normal people vying for the attention of someone you could conceivably bring home to mom and pop, the “Love” shows focus on washed-up, burnt-out publicity accidents: “Flavor of Love” stars Flava Flav, ex-crack addict and former hype-minister for Public Enemy; “Rock of Love” follows Bret Michaels, lead singer for Poison and co-star of a Pamela Anderson sex tape; “I Love New York” features Tiffany “New York” Pollard, the self-proclaimed “Head Bitch In Charge” from the first two seasons of “Flavor of Love.” Each show also includes its own harem of twenty psychologically questionable candidates for the respective protagonists to dally with.

On one hand, yes, it’s all just good clean hormone-saturated fun—nobody should take this stuff too seriously—but in a lot of ways, this kind of TV is more than just cheap, easy-to-digest entertainment. It’s a commentary on American pop culture that showcases a whole pile of insights into how we think about gender roles, stereotypes, our perception of love and sex—all that heavy psychological stuff that nobody really wants to think about while they’re being entertained.

For starters, the shows claim to be all about searching for “true love.” The shows’ producers would like us to believe that Bret, Flava, and New York are really just lonely hearts wandering Hollywood’s rainy streets, desperately searching for someone to connect with, someone to take long walks on the beach with, someone to hold their hair—or clock, in Flav’s case—while they vomit into the toilet after a hard night of partying: the soul that completes their own. Naturally, the best way to do this is to find 20 potential mates, get them drunk, and test them out in the same way that most people shop for T-shirts; try them on one at a time, find out which ones fit, and discard those who don’t.

“Flavor of Love” and “I Love New York” take this objectification even further. Rather than using real names, contestants are referred to by nicknames chosen by the hosts. This has less to do with security and more to do with the fact that, apparently, the hosts can’t be bothered to learn the names of the people they’re supposedly going to fall in love with.

“Flavor of Love” is the most authoritarian here; Flav picks the girls’ nicknames himself, regardless of what the girls want to be called. True gentleman that Flav is, a lot of the names used on the show were based on what could be politely called the girls’ “assets.” For example: “Bubblez,” “Hottie,” and “Cherry” got their names because of the size of their…well, suffice to say that Flav thought they all had two very important reasons for their nicknames. Other nicknames ranged from “Georgia” (from Georgia) and “Smokey” (an Asian contestant) to Hoopz (basketball lover) and “Red Oyster” (God only knows how that happened.)

The first season of “I Love New York” was a little more democratic in the naming department; contestants still didn’t use their real names, but New York allowed the contestants to choose their own nicknames—“Bonez,” “Heat,” and “12-pack,” to name a few—as long as she approved.

“Rock of Love” is the only one out of the three shows that uses contestants’ real names, but also the most recent: it’s unclear if this makes Bret Michaels a more romantic host than the other two, or if the producers just didn’t want to overuse the nickname gimmick.

As mentioned above, the shows’ plot—if you can call it that—is fueled primarily by sloppy-booze parties. A typical episode features several screaming matches between inebriated contestants, at least one person vomiting, hair-yanking, broken glass, nudity, messy make-out sessions—the stuff that wholesome relationships are built on. The shows also incorporate “challenges” for the contestants to compete in, but these are secondary to the drunken debauchery that keeps the shows’ drama running at full throttle. As a Discovery Channel-style case study of the human species at its most animalistic, the challenges are amazing. But they make the idea that these shows are any more concerned with romance than the average frat kegger seem ridiculous.

So there it is. “Love” as defined by VH1: all you need to do is find a reasonably attractive person, get them drunk, forget their name, sleep with 19 other people, and true romance is yours. Granted, the days when people spent the first three months of a relationship holding hands at drive-in movie theaters have been gone for decades, but these shows are nonetheless a serious departure from what a lot of people still consider “romantic.” While it might just be entertainment for entertainment’s sake, the “reality dating game show” experience has an impact on what we consider “acceptable,” both in terms of entertainment and American society in general. And there’s no end in sight: “I Love New York” is already slated for a second season, and, with another series of “Flavor of Love” headed for broadcast soon, Flav seems to be hoping that the third time will be the charm in his search for a soul mate.

Shakespeare famously said that “Love comforteth like sunshine after rain.”

At this point, he’s probably better off dead.

Ryan Miga is a sophomore journalism major who makes sure to polish his massive clock every night. Email him at rmiga1[at]ithaca.edu

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