By Erin Moyer || Senior Editor
Outlandish, black-out drunk behavior. Weirdly sexual physical challenges to compete for dates. Couples having unsanctioned sex in a group bedroom. It’s all just a normal Tuesday for the 20 zany singles on Are You the One?.
And what might Are You the One? be? Well, thank you for asking, reader. In one word, unbelievable. In several more, it is a reality show on MTV that puts 10 men and 10 women into a house at some loosely tropical locale. All the men and women have been extensively surveyed, and all have a “perfect match” in the home based on psychological and personality traits. If the couples can correctly find 10 perfect matches in 10 weeks of the season, they will all get to split $1 million. With the stakes high, the people horny, and the booze plentiful, things get weird right away. This show is madcap, addicting, absolute crazy-town. You will watch one episode, and you will not understand why you cannot get enough of it. You will be hooked, and it will deeply upset you.
What strikes me most about Are You the One?, I think, is how constructed it is to appeal to us youths. In looking at Are You the One?, I think we can look at what our generation is, as far as the marketing geniuses employed at MTV are concerned, “into.”
What do those millennials like, or at least, want to watch? What can we commodify to keep these wily, apathetic jerks interested? Well, it seems to me that Are You the One? has made a business of straight-up, barely-disguised trash. This show trades almost exclusively, and with very little pretense of delivering more, in what is truly lowest common denominator stuff: In the episode I just watched, for instance, a woman is “pranked” by a random fellow spontaneously shoving an egg down the back of her yoga pants. I can only presume the gentleman responsible was attempting to make a layered reference back to Stalin’s famous dictum about coercion and power; if this group of people want to make an omelette, perhaps they do, indeed, need to break a few eggs. And all down some poor, drunk woman’s buttcrack.
So why does Are You the One? succeed? Do we love it because it makes us believe in love? Because it’s a tantalizing glimpse into living out our own romantic fantasies? I hear that justification a lot with reality TV shows, especially The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. ABC’s tent-pole reality show was, for a long time, an exercise in aspirational romance. It lured America’s unfulfilled, middle class, middle age ladies in with promises of fantasy romance and an excuse to drink wine on Mondays.
In letting us in on its absolutely confounding, yet somehow dramatically endorsed “journey to find love”– dating 20 sexy coeds at once! ‘Dream dates’ that involve rappelling down skyscrapers and helicoptering over canyons! (dates, by the way, you will definitely go on if you’re afraid of heights.) Telling someone you’re “falling in love” after you met them two weeks ago!–, The Bachelor/Bachelorette fulfills some implicit, generally heteronormative vision of ideal romance and eroticism. The franchise succeeds because it lives out the classic, middle-class values our repressed, foolishly-romantic hearts dare not utter.
It lets your mom’s friends fantasize about being whisked away to exotic locales with their rich, strapping beau. It lets undersexed women dream of walking across a white-sand beach to a shady bungalow with their tall, dark, and handsome gentleman friend. In short, The Bachelor/Bachelorette sold a specifically middle-class, aspirational type of sex and sexuality, a specific brand of femininity and masculinity. It was soft-core voyeurism. Give me your tired, your middle-class, your huddled housewives yearning to get laid.
With Are You the One?, though, we can’t dwell on its appeal being aspirational for too long. That tack is pretty hard to argue. No one out there is watching this show because they’re an old-fashioned, hopeless romantic at heart. None of us aspire to, say, find a love like Kiki. (And if you watch the show, you get that I just made a hilarious joke. I seriously hate Devin!!) If Are You the One? is selling to anyone’s socialized value system, it’s the ethical code of a sociopath. Instead, I think the success of TV shows like Are You the One? illustrate something important: a shift away from us all watching stuff we love and would love to somehow emulate, and focusing instead on stuff we love to hate and would love to laugh at.
Remember, we are the children of Bachelor nation, and our sensibilities are currently the ones driving that franchise’s slow, sad spiral into its more recent, smuttier dealings in drunken cocktail hour spats and pre-Fantasy Suite sex. We understand that dreamy presentations of love can be really fun and nice to watch, of course, but we, above all else, hold one truth to be self-evident. And that universal truth is, there is truly nothing like a trainwreck. Our pursuit of happiness can seem to only be enhanced by watching someone else’s go wildly off-road.
In using myself as an example, there is nothing I love soaking up more than a), a glass of crisp, chilled Riesling, and b), some drunken screaming. I love both of those things with all my heart. It’s like giving my mind and conscious a nice little rest. It’s the most distant schadenfreude, watching something bad happen to someone else from the comfort of my living room, and knowing I will (probably) never fall that far from grace. I might be feeling kind of blue, but I don’t have to go to bed tonight knowing I, say, went bobbing for apples in a bucket of chum today (a real-life thing the women of Are You the One? were made to do). And having that dignity feels good. Those antics are so remote and distant from my own that I get to laugh at them.
This could all still be termed voyeurism, I suppose, but it’s voyeurism of a different breed. It’s an exhibition of clownish, terrible behavior that I don’t have to care about. Are You the One? doesn’t fulfill our deep-seated, subconscious visions of what love should be, so much as it appeals to our generation’s affection for the anti-hero, for watching gleefully when things fall apart.
Reality TV shows, “journeys to find love,” have always been exhibitionist, slightly voyeuristic trash. I guess the difference that Are You the One? demonstrates is we, as a generation, seem geared toward a less-idyllic, more-imperfect showing of uproarious, vaguely romantic trash. And ours has the stench of soon-to-be-rotten eggs forced down yoga pants.
Senior Erin Moyer is the Senior Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.