We have reached the point in quarantine in the Kleffner household where we just want to watch what many might call trashy tv. I am not adverse to reality tv shows, but previously have normally limited myself to watching ones that focused on cooking and for a while I was very dedicated to America’s Next Top Model reruns. Krista though was very involved with watching The Bachelor Nation collection of television series and slowly led me down the path of dating shows. I did watch a hunk of the most recent season of Bachelor in Paradise, but while I said I would watch the new Bachelor we both decided we weren’t that into Pilot Pete’s season. Now in true random tv bingeing fashion we took to Netflix and fell very far down a rabbit hole of watch next suggestions.
The first show we watched Krista found right before one of my lunch breaks. I’m working remotely now she we try to spend my lunch break together. I walked into a room where a number of singles were all on an island and actually I thought she had found a season of Bachelor in Paradise to watch, but I was very wrong. Too Hot to Handle is a new Netflix show where a group of very sexually motivated people are all told they are going to be on a dating show, but the twist is they are actually not supposed to have any sexual contact. The idea is for the participants to try and build meaningful connections without using sex as their default tool for relationship building. Early on one pair decides to kiss and this devolves into very intense drama and blame game style tactics when they lose $3,000 from the collective pot of prize money. Oh yeah, they are all competing for $100,000, but breaking the sex ban will lead to deductions. In response to being blamed for the kiss, Francesca decides that she and another female contestant should kiss to get back at everyone. This immediately annoyed me. The contestant who conspires with her was ultimately kicked off the show for refusing to really invest in the process, but they chose to kiss each other to sew drama. They believed that no one would guess that they kissed each other, though one character nicknamed Jesus did figure it out early on, but the use of same sex kissing to cause drama is something that frustrates me. Now if one of the women was attracted to the other that still does not make the fact that they basically weaponized a female/female kiss any better. The first season was surprisingly interesting and I found myself rooting for some of the people who were trying to get through the process.
The next show we dived into was Love Is Blind, which partially does actually prove the premise of the series. The basis is that contestants go on multiple dates without being able to see the other person. In a very patriarchal set up the men get to choose when they want to propose to the woman they have fallen for. Now of the couples who proposed not everyone does actually go through with the marriage, but I won’t say who. The plot that cause me the most consternation was the Carlton and Diamond romance. Carlton at a certain point reveals that he has dated men in the past, but is unsure when he should tell Diamond. I immediately yelled before you propose, but that would be my decision. During the honeymoonesque dating period the contestants get to go on Carlton began acting much differently than he had in the pods, though this could have been the magic of editing, and when he does tell Diamond he has dated men, he later uses the term fluid, she needs time to process. When they meet up the next day the situation devolves into a huge fight, where Carlton ultimately throws the ring into the pool and Diamond says something derogatory involving Carlton’s next experience with a penis. This whole storyline feels very rooted in biphobia, or at least some level of sexual fluidity phobia, with Carlton fearing he will be rejected for telling Diamond about his past. To her credit prior to the conversation, or at least prior based on editing and confessionals, Diamond seems open to this knowledge and just wants to know why Carlton did not bring it up sooner. During the reunion episode the two discuss the events that took place during filming and are both amicable. I though did feel like a great deal of the issues presented here were tied to both internalized sexual phobias, but also Carlton is male and black. Men are very rarely depicted as fluid and in society bi men, or fluid men, are not accepted. Beyond that there are larger issues I cannot speak to personally for men who are black who do not identify as heterosexual. Carlton was battling himself as well as his idea of Diamond’s reaction, which it felt like pushed the conversation to a point of anger that could not be walked back from in the moment.
Within both of these shows I noticed something else as well that I couldn’t personally relate to. In Too Hot to Handle contestants frequently wanted to start relationships based solely on the physical appearance of someone else and in Love is Blind more than one couple suffered from actually meeting in person. In these situations the physical identity of the person became either the sole reason for a relationship or the sole reason a relationship faltered and ultimately did not end in marriage. I found myself baffled by this, mostly because while I can objectively say someone is attractive I have zero ability to be drawn to someone based on how they look. Now I will say I find my wife very attractive, but out connection was not built on a physical note. I spent hours talking with her, spending time with her, and a majority of our dating involved phone calls where I could only hear her voice. I grew to love her and want to marry her based solely on what I felt and not what I saw. Even growing up I struggled with the idea that I would find someone “hot.” Now yes again I have thought people are attractive and noted that they are, but I don’t develop crushes on people easily and have to talk to them and know about them before I can feel anything. In both of these shows I was baffled by physical appearance being so vital to what was happening in people’s minds. What I would love to see would be a Love Is Blind type show where contestants are all fluid or something along those lines where everyone goes on blind dates with everyone and we get to see how the relationships evolve in that sense. I would just be curious to see how many pairings would appear that weren’t traditional dating show pairings. Also could we please get some more diverse gender castings. I want to see so much more like trans, non-binary, fluid, really any and all identities represented. It would just be nice to see more people in more relationships that reflect the diversity in real life.