Are Single People The New Gladiators?

Are you not entertained?!

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Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

As an internet creative, I’m motivated by humor, anger, a certain amount of money, very normal, bloggable things. Hell, I’ve even fallen victim to needing an Instagram like to feel valid at one point or another. But today I speak to you not from a place of inspiration, but from a place of horror. Right now I am keyboarding my way to your screen because I’m physically sick to my stomach.

The search for love and companionship has long been utilized for public entertainment. The Dating Game and Singled Out come to mind. I’m not going to lump the B*chelor in there because I’ll not give audience to that degrading atrocity. It’s an entire franchise inspired by a pile of taffeta-clad women fighting over a bouquet. I can’t.

More recently, I’ve seen even more “creative” examples of the search for love being used as entertainment for the masses that are painfully exploitative of the human condition’s desire for companionship. If you see something, say something, and I have something to say. While I’ve never been a fan of Reality TV, often finding it very forced, cringeworthy, and quite frankly moronic, Love Is Blind is some next level shit.

Love Is Blind is a new show on Netflix that tries to get single people to marry each other while the world watches from their couches in sweatpants and hoodies. The premise is simple: For ten days, communicate with strangers verbally only — contestants/cast members/experiment subjects never see each other during this period. The idea being that looks are so superficial (never mind that everyone cast on the show is attractive) that “real love” shouldn’t hinge on looks at all. If you single people really believe in love, you’ll love someone the way we tell you: without knowing what they look like. Otherwise you’re shallow, and you don’t deserve love. See how “good” we are? See how genuine we are? This Reality TV show is respectable, it’s putting aside petty things like looks and doing something real, and good, and way better than all those other shows that use single people’s hearts like hackey sacks. We’re different. Now put on a bandage dress and drink up, honey — we’re rolling.

“Here, you will choose someone to marry. Without ever seeing them.”

Nick & Vanessa Lachey, the show’s hosts, welcome the poor souls who said yes to this “experiment” with this greeting. Let’s put aside the fact that this sentence said aloud in real life would sound like absolute madness at best and a full-on internet scam to take all your money at worst. For the sake of argument, let’s just agree to accept what they say and not throw cabbage at them. What they don’t say is:

Oh, and also you’ll have to choose someone to marry in ten days or less from the pool of people we’ve decided you deserve to speak to and then you’ll move in together for four weeks and we’ll film the inevitable crumbling of your emotions and publicly humiliate you in something that’s going to be the first Google search result for your name for the rest of your life. If you make it that far tho, you get to get married. Yay!

This hurts me. It hurts me because as human beings, when someone gives us entertainment, we tend to be entertained. We tend not to ask ourselves if what we’re watching is really okay. Colosseums of people used to applaud the death of the defeated gladiator. His actual death. Because the life of a gladiator didn’t matter much, what mattered was the entertainment of the people. Mercifully, we’ve moved past watching actual death for fun and are now content with entertainment where the blood is made of corn syrup. But we’ve moved on to gladiators of another kind, and I am hurt when I see that it’s now the hearts, dignity, and desires of single people that don’t matter much. We are entertainment for everyone else. Think I’m wrong? Name for me, if you will, a competition or “experiment”-style show where we watch a group of people try to avoid divorce. There aren’t shows full of couples trying to have a baby, first one to conceive and make it to 12 weeks wins. The intimacies of couples are considered sacred. The intimacies of single people are commercial-free.

“We all have to remember the central question: Is love truly blind?”

No, shitbirds, it’s not. Love is made up of countless things, things that probably can’t grow in the octagonal petri dish you’ve stocked with alcohol and candy (cute!) and dropped a set of superhot twenty and thirtysomethings into under a premise that makes you feel good about the way you’re about to exploit the desire for companionship.

The show is hiding behind the inference of “good” in connecting with someone based on factors other than their appearance. They’re hiding their exploitative content behind an idea that sounds good on the surface but is actually a completely okay reason to be drawn to someone, provided it’s also paired with a full spectrum of attributes that connect people to each other as they form a bond. This show is taking the idea of one blind date and exploding it into a gargantuan level of commitment that reasonable human beings would never enter into. But let’s put young, single people on television and tell them their Instagram followings will explode and see how reasonable they’ll be after that.

They are given ten days. TEN DAYS to verbally communicate with all participants of the opposite sex, connect with someone without ever seeing them (which, I will grant you, is totally possible), and then here’s the goddamned kicker: The only way to lay eyes on the person you’ve had a connection with is to propose to them. That’s right. Regardless of the level of connection you’ve found with someone you’ve never seen, regardless of whether or not you like them enough to just like…go to dinner, this show is demanding that connection be strong enough to say yes to a lifetime together, otherwise we’re sending you both home in separate Ubers and never giving you the other one’s contact info so you could go out on a normal goddamned date and build a potentially really meaningful relationship over time. Netflix, you should be fucking ashamed of yourselves.

Reader, I’m not done. After a pair gets engaged, they move in together. For four weeks. They’ve never seen each other, they’ve essentially been having long conversations on the phone for ten days, and now they’re going to poop in each other’s vicinity. They’re going to dwell inside a little box with cameras everywhere waiting to see who breaks the euphoria barrier first. This is when the real battle starts. This is when we really find out how little the entertainment world cares about single people.

Four whole weeks! And after that, wedding! Yay! OMG I wonder which dress I’ll pick. If you have the stomach to watch the awkwardness of unbalanced emotions and connections that haven’t had the time to properly grow move in together and navigate cohabitation for a month without throwing whatever dinner you made yourself in the trash, I commend you, but I can’t stomach it. You cannot tell me these proximity restrictions and time constraints have love in mind, because they don’t. The creators of this show don’t give a shit if this fails, because they know people will watch it either way. Better still, they won’t even have had to invest much to make it. If they cared, they’d follow a new couple over the course of a year. But they don’t. They don’t let a relationship rise at a reasonable pace, they microwave it for maximum speed and minimal flavor. They rush it. It’s like planting a garden and going out there three days later to make a salad out of roots and dirt.

Reality TV is not a televised example of human behavior. Is is a televised example of what happens when human beings are televised.

I don’t ask myself why participants in this “experiment” said yes. I know their reasons. They want to get famous, they want to be actors, they want to be able to charge more on Cameo, and maybe some of them actually believe that this can lead to love. And while the odds are shit, Reality TV technically can “work” in this capacity. The B*chelor and B*chelorette have been on the air for a combined total of 38 seasons, with eight couples still together overall. That’s a 21% success rate. But while we’re on the subject of reality, that’s 30 couples, 60 people, who told the world they found “the one” when they most certainly had not. To say nothing of all the “contestants” that didn’t “make it” that far. I’m always surprised by how many human beings flock to their screens to watch other human beings flay themselves. Maybe I have too much empathy, but I can’t watch the humiliation of others and call it entertainment. I think people who make this kind of TV are bullies. I have been bullied, and I can’t say nothing while I watch it happen to other people, whether they’ve agreed to be filmed or not.

“I’m 34 and I may not find someone based on the criteria I’ve put in place for myself.”

Read that again. This is a Love Is Blind participant, a grown woman telling the world that she’s so scared of never getting married and having a family that she’s willing to accept less than what she actually wants. She’s telling us she is giving up on what she wants in a partner in favor of what she wants in a family, which is its very existence. This is her settling. This is a perfect example of why single people shouldn’t be the subjects of Reality TV competitions and experiments. The world makes dating difficult to impossible for single people, while simultaneously telling single people to constantly lower their standards, or risk ending up alone, an outcome we’re also constantly told to fear. She didn’t come to this conclusion herself. She had help.

I have discussed the difficulties of wanting a relationship in a world that’s making genuine connection increasingly harder to find. I am not shy in my honesty around single life, and its various moments of unfairness. I am also not shy about the joy in it, in my attempt to improve the opinion and experience of single life, so that maybe someday people see a casting call for Love Is Blind and never, not for even a second, consider it worth their time. I get that it’s a process, and I’m not going to change people’s opinions or viewing habits overnight. That doesn’t mean however, that I can’t try.

Single people, and our desire for love and companionship, do not exist for your entertainment. SINGLE PEOPLE, AND OUR DESIRE FOR LOVE AND COMPANIONSHIP, DO NOT EXIST FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT.

We are not your court jesters. We are not your vaudeville act. We are not your gladiators. Single people are human beings with desires and emotions and dignity who shouldn’t be having such a hard time connecting in the world that they’ll resort to a public flaying for even a chance of walking away with a hand to hold. Love Is Blind is not bingeworthy. Love Is Blind is sick.

Don’t worry, there are IRL examples of exploitation and humiliation of singles, too. In New York, UpDating exists. UpDating is, and you might want to sit down for this, a live blind date between two people who are blindfolded on a stage, in front of an actual audience.

The subject line of the PR email I received letting me know about the existence of this public display of the worthlessness of singles said: A New Way to Meet your Soulmate in 2020: UpDating! A new way to meet your soulmate. You’re going to have to humiliate yourself by wearing a blindfold on a stage, but hey, you might get married! Isn’t getting married worth putting yourself through anything? Also, the email offered zero information on how many UpDating “contestants” actually did meet their partner.

The email went on to tell me that, “The audience is along for the ride, whether the date is a match made in heaven or a one-date-wonder. Creators and co-hosts help things run smoothly and keep the audience laughing, on top of casting and matching up New York’s most eligible singles.”

Don’t worry, they keep the audience laughing. Because it’s the audience that should be having a good time. Fuck the two single people who are degrading themselves, all in the name of maybe not being alone anymore, this is a business with tickets to sell, let’s keep the crowd happy. Do you want to meet your partner blindfolded while a room full of people laugh at you? No one fucking does. But UpDating is sold as an actual avenue to partnership, when in reality it’s a puppet show. By the way if the UpDating creators ever read this, they’re more than welcome to prove me wrong by providing the data on how many couples have resulted from their show. I’m more than happy to edit this piece to include them, and open my mind to viewing UpDating in a more positive light. Just to let you know though, you’re going to have to do better than 21%.

If you’d like to view for yourself how little we give a shit about single people’s dignity, watch this Today Show video featuring UpDating and ask yourself how you’d feel with this many people, in the same room as you, watching you on a date. Then imagine you’re blindfolded the entire time. Try and remember the last time you went on an online or blind date when you didn’t even want the bartender to hear you introduce yourself to a stranger and then watch this guy publicly feed her a fucking oyster. Thank you, Craig Melvin, for being the only one to call out the red flags. I wish you hadn’t been cut off at the end.

Single people used as entertainment for others happens at an even smaller scale. A week ago a member of my Facebook Group asked what she should do in response to her friends humiliating her by very vocally and forcefully saying “oooh, he’s cute, go talk to him!” in full auditory range of the man they were shoving her toward. What single person among us hasn’t been asked to regale a table of marrieds with dating “horror stories” for the amusement of couples who, by the end of each tale, are clasping each other’s hands under the table, endlessly grateful that they’re not the ones in the muck.

It’s a carelessness. It’s a lack of empathy. And those things are so hard for me to understand because, weren’t all coupled people singles once, too? Is it that easy to forget what it feels like to want love without any success in finding it? It’s also true that many of the audience members consuming singles-focused entertainment are single people themselves! We’ve even convinced each other that this shit is amusing, that our singleness is a game, and that it’s totally okay to go to any lengths, however exposing, to find a partner.

Human beings are meant to live in communities. We’re meant to have connection. And in the society we live in, no connection is prized more than a romantic one. That desire, that importance placed on romantic love, is being exploited and bullied. Love Is Blind and UpDating and all our asshole friends aren’t the first examples of how little the world thinks of single people. But until we start broadening our perspective, and asking ourselves what we’re really watching, what we’re really creating, I worry that they’re just the most recent in a long and endless line.

However people come together in a consensual relationship is fine with me. Everyone is free to make their own choices about who and how they’ll date. But until we start treating singleness and dating with more respect, I worry that single people will keep subjecting themselves to spectacle. I worry that they’ll keep thinking it’s okay, because we’re single, we’re less-than, and it’s fine to put single people through anything. I worry that everyone else will keep watching, and keep using other people’s desire for love as entertainment. I can’t just scroll by, ignoring my pain and selecting something else to watch. I can’t say nothing. I love us too much.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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