Love, television style

December 23, 2003

ANDREW AND JEN are finished. Bob and Estella look like they're on the rocks, too. Everyone knows Aaron and Helene are ancient history. How long can newlyweds Ryan and Trista possibly last?

Yes, the news on the reality television dating front is not good. Early indications are that attractive exhibitionists with delusions of stardom thrust into artificial courtship for the benefit of a television audience don't always form lasting relationships.

Shocking. Absolutely shocking.

We would lament this unfortunate quenching of romantic flame except, of course, it seems to work out for the best anyway. The breakups get as much attention - Andrew and Jen's fizzle made such a big blip on pop culture's weekly It radar, the covers of both People and Us magazines - that they're probably happier for it. We know their publicists are. They're still famous enough to be known by their first names. And that, after all, is all that really counts.

Surely, you are familiar with reality (a thoroughly misleading description, but "manipulative" is too multisyllabic for something so appallingly dumb) television. What started out a few years ago as a sore on the cultural landscape has turned into galloping case of the shingles. Just about every night we can see some average Joe do something either embarrassing, shocking or passionate to some other average Jolene somewhere. Dating shows such as The Bachelor are the genre's ne plus ultra.

And yet millions of Americans might be forgiven for staring. Romance, sex, intrigue and cutthroat competition, all performed in convenient hour-long prime-time doses by people with remarkably white teeth. You can't beat that with a 25-pound cudgel (at least not as much - or with as much force - as you'd like to). It's so addictive that if it came each week with a few complimentary pounds of chocolate, the human race would be lost, trapped in a mindless state of bliss.

We would be inclined to pontificate about how these failing relationships reflect something broader in American society except for the fact that they don't. It's just entertainment. Andrew and Jen are probably real people (we can't be certain - it's television, after all), but we don't really know them, we just watched them for a little while. Tomorrow, it will be somebody else. And then the dating shows will be over and we'll watch the next big pseudo-real thing.

But until then, we have only good feelings for Ryan and Trista, whose "exclusive personal" wedding album made People. They certainly look happy. Their wedding was televised and the ratings weren't too shabby. And isn't that the important thing?

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