Twelve very available women in little black dresses. All eyes are on the prize: a hotly coveted red rose in the hand of one tuxedoed gentleman staring back at his buffet of potential wives. This is The Bachelor.
No matter whom he chooses, the Bachelor will end up with some semblance of a marriage when all is said and done because a proposal, of course, is inevitable on such a dating game. If the young love apprentice chooses poorly, and especially if he is charming enough ratings-wise, network television might even hire him for a second round.
Meanwhile, away from the HD cameras, millions of American homosexual men and women who are prepared to tie the knot are regularly forced to explain why their relationship is not in fact contrary to American values.
Despite recent advances in the marriage equality movement in New York, the dynamics of our country’s heteronormativity are not likely to go away easily, especially in the atmosphere of an impending election year. As the political right invokes “Family values,” open-minded youth and those on the left continue to campaign for equal marriage rights.
Some primetime television shows are okay with showing queer life, as long as it’s fictional and just abstract enough to avoid disturbing the sensibilities of old-fashioned Americans. Shows like Glee, Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy or Brothers & Sisters are those more recently portraying gay couples on basic cable. However, their romances are sporadic, relegated to a kiss here and there. (Only one show on this list, Brothers & Sisters, dared to feature a gay union, albeit just a “commitment ceremony.”) Gay couples on primetime are attractive, successful and not abrasively outspoken about gay rights. And more often than not it’s straight actors and actresses portraying these characters.
But shows with a token gay character are rare, and they’re no match for the arsenal of dating game/reality TV contenders who adulterate romance with flagrantly impertinent displays of heterosexual privilege.
Encouraging men and women to fight for the chance to marry a stranger, however attractive they might be, seems counterintuitive to the chief puritanical merit of marriage: stability. And I’m pretty sure an open marriage to Flavor Flav is not what the founding fathers had in mind. Despite the devaluation of marriage so common on television, one can be sure that an LGBTQ version of The Bachelor would be vehemently protested by family values-touting conservatives like Michelle Bachmann (who believes slavery was the best domestic situation for African-American children).
Similar issues have arisen from The Bachelor and Bachelorette series, namely that no person of color has received a starring slot as a rose-bearer as of yet. Could this be a display of more marital hegemony that suggests non-whites are not worthy of upholding the institution of marriage either? Or perhaps it’s just that most people still marry within their own race. Executive producer of The Bachelor Mike Fleiss responded, “It’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”
The Bachelor and similar shows make light of the sanctity of marriage – which is the right of two individuals in love who are willing to make a lifelong commitment to each other – by dramatizing the plight of a desperately single straight person who wants a shiny rock put on her finger during primetime, but hasn’t yet met “the one.” Reality television’s love games are simply glorified potato sack races that flaunt the coveted privilege of straight spouses who can marry and remarry infinitely. Marriage is just another the finish line, and if you stumble you can do it again. Unfortunately, American gays are still fighting for the chance to get married for the first time.