Would a Christian Bachelorette Be Different?
A panel of Christian singles discusses the proliferation of reality dating shows and the turn from seeking one-night stands to seeking spouses.
Other than detective drama, there may be no hotter genre of television programs right now than the dating show. And this new breed is a far leap from The Dating Game.
On Blind Date, cameras follow a couple on their first date while the producers make sharp criticisms. On Elimidate, a dater goes out on the town with a pack of potentials and dumps them one by one. Meet My Folks lets parents choose a weekend fling for their kid, and Extreme Dating brings a persons ex-boyfriends or girlfriends along on a first date. There are several others airing now and networks are currently producing a handful more.
As the shows have become increasingly outrageous (and popular), a new sub-genre has developed: the marriage show. Tonight is the finale of the first season of The Bachelorette, in which one woman selects her perfect mate from 25 hopefuls.
Christianity Today put together a group of Christian singles to discuss this shift in dating shows and how Christians can evaluate them.
LaTonya Taylor, 23, Campus Life assistant editor, recently wrote "Love As Seen on TV" for the Christian teens magazine.
Camerin Courtney, 31, senior associate editor for Todays Christian Woman, wrote the book Table for One: The Savvy Girls Guide to Singleness (Fleming H. Revell). She also edits CTs online Singles Channel.
Max Hsu, 33, is the founder of the rock band Superchic[k], which often sings about purity, self-worth, and dating.
Todd Hertz, 26, online assistant editor for CT, moderated the panel.
What is the dating show scene right now?
LaTonya: The number of dating shows and their popularity right now indicates that weve applied our microwave and fast food culture to relationships. We want to date a large number of people and to be allowed to whittle them down quickly. It is very business-like.
You get in here, you tell me what you got, you put on your dog-and-pony show and you get in the hot tub, or youre cut from the team.
Todd: What underlies that process is obviously sex. Most of these dating shows today like Blind Date dont hide the fact that people are there to get hooked up. On the Blind Date website, one of the main page headlines is "Getting any?"
It is always a given assumption on programs from Meet My Folks to Extreme Dating that these people are looking for casual sex, not love. However, now we have a new model of shows that has raised the stakes to finding a spouse. But even there, it is clear that sex is key in finding who is "right."
Camerin: Right, the reality dating show milieu has taken a turn from being just about dating to being about marriage. Theres this whole new batch of shows including Joe Millionaire, Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire, The Bachelor, and The Bachelorette. [Fox will soon debut Married by America, in which viewers prearrange a marriage.] Suddenly, this genre is seemingly about people wanting to find a life partner.
Todd: Why is that?
Camerin: Statistics show that people are getting married later and later, so maybe theres a whole generation still looking for love and now are getting more serious about it. Theres a proliferation of books on finding a spouse.
We as a culture havent been taught how to find somebody whos really a good partner for us. So this whole generation is looking for love but isnt sure where and how to look.
LaTonya: We have been taught that love is a formula. We subconsciously adopt the myth that buying flowers, romantic trips, chocolates, and stuffed animals make the relationship. It becomes a game to winning someone, so these shows were only natural.
Dating is not about finding the person who has it all together. It shouldnt be about Mr. Right. Its about Mr. Right for me, and Im Ms. Right for him. Were so flawed, were so grouchy, and some of us chew with our mouths open. But God uses us somehow in spite of our brokenness and can do that in the context of marriage.
Camerin: Nobody on any of these shows is talking about compatibility. Nobody asks Joe Millionaire what hes done in life or about his history. It is more about finding somebody who meets all these expectations than it is about finding one who matches up with what we have to offer.
Our divorce rate really backs that up. Were not choosing well. These shows show why the divorce rate is higher. They only perpetuate the unwise choices and the unwise factors on which we base such a huge decision.
What culture do these marriage shows reflect or create themselves?
LaTonya: These shows indicate that we all want romance. Theres still this desire to be swept off of your feet. But I think people are assuming they can bypass the process of getting to know people individually over time. Perhaps they think theyre doing themselves some sort of service and that they can have it all and have it quickly.
But it ends up being false. Out of the two Bachelor shows, neither has resulted in a lasting engagement. After going through these 25 people, all the screening to find this one, these people still find out later that it doesnt work in real life.
Camerin: People on these shows become so emotionally invested in such a short period of time. They look so crushed and devastated when theyre taken off the show. It is as if they were in love. It just makes you wonder what theyve invested in. How much do they really know this person? Most of this occurs over a couple of weeks and in group settings. To make a personal one-on-one connection seems really difficult in that sort of a setting.
Todd: The reaction of people cut from The Bachelor or Bachelorette reminds me a lot of the reaction of performers cut from American Idol. This is like a big audition. Their grief isnt from love lost. Its rejection.
Camerin: The fact that we call these reality shows is such a misnomer because they are creating this unreality. These people arent faced with the day-to-day of having to pay bills and take out the trash. Theyre not seeing Trista [from The Bachelorette] when shes PMSing, crabby, or has had a bad hair day. A lot of these people are falling for this ideal thats being created. Its all set in this wonderful, dreamy setting. Who wouldnt fall in love?
Max: Any time you go on a date with a guy, it is a little bit unreal. The first couple of dates hes going to be putting his best foot forward. The question is whether it works in the reality of day-to-day.
Are there dangers in the portrayal of love in these shows?
LaTonya: This can really affect the way we view relationships by causing us to become cynical. If you watch these shows you might get the impression that folks arent out there finding real love. But they are.
Camerin: I wonder if these shows make Christian singles feel even more freakish that theyre not dating, that theyre not having sex, and that theyre not doing the things that are givens on these shows. You get desensitized to people having sex in the process of dating. This is on all TV shows, but this is supposed to be real. We should be appalled and turn this stuff off. I dont want to get to the place where, God have mercy, I go out on a date, and this infiltrates my thinking.
Max: I look at these shows a lot like the WWF: its entertaining but its not real. But the thing that concerns me is that this replaces real social groups. The danger here is when you start to get sucked into these things and its the illusion of a social group. This is time that you could spend living or meeting somebody new. There is a danger and a temptation of living vicariously through these things. It is a little destructive for me, because I sit there and go, "Thats totally what I thought about women. Im not going to invest in a relationship because look how they act!"
Todd: These shows can make a Christian single think, "Man, Im the only one who has these values." It can be depressing. It can also be sad when you see people who are living this way. It makes you feel bad that the myth of casual sex and shallow intimacy has been passed along.
A PAX TV Bachelor?
Max: If we are not happy with these shows, then what would an episode of The Christian Bachelor look like?
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