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Falling in Love with Dating Shows

Many of us have caught ourselves binge-watching dating shows. From The Bachelor to Heart Signal, dating shows have glued audiences’ eyes to the screen since the beginning. However, problems surrounding these shows have been growing as fast as their popularity. In response to this, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will explore the global adoration for dating shows, the ongoing controversies, and how they can improve in the future.

Their Romance, Our Entertainment

What Are Dating Shows?

A dating show refers to a program that broadcasts the process of people trying to find love. These programs began when the London Weekend Television (LWT) broadcasted the TV show Blind Date in 1985. This program was awarded the Lew Grade Award for a “Significant and Popular Programme” at the British Academy Television Awards in 1995. Soon after, American television programs started using the same format to create dating programs. The first Korean show that followed this format was the 2011 TV show Jjak, which means “match” in Korean. The show ran for 140 episodes and had a high viewership rating of 7.6%. In 2021, several Korean dating programs, including I Am Solo and Single’s Inferno, made their way to Netflix, and almost immediately hit the world’s top ten ranking with their newfound popularity among global viewers.

Single’s Inferno Official Poster (kpophit.com)
The Bachelor Official Poster (netflix.com)

Why Are Dating Shows So Popular?

There are several reasons why dating shows were able to rise above other popular television show formats. Most dating shows require one main character searching for a partner among the various cast members. This creates tension for the audience to see who wins the love of the main character. Another aspect of dating shows is their relatability. Viewers are often able to find a cast member they relate to, as with Ashley and her turbulent relationship with Jared on Bachelor in Paradise. The couple spent seasons on-and-off their relationship before finally winding up married. Ashley’s love story gave hope to viewers experiencing a similar love rollercoaster. Dating shows are a diversion from reality, or “a feel-good love story through a series of dramatic events,” according to relationship researcher Marisa Cohen Ph.D., in an interview with Good Housekeeping.

Dating Shows on the Verge of Being Problematic

Our Identity Is Not a Game

Most dating shows put under the spotlight are only composed of cisgender heterosexual (cishet) cast members. An anonymous student from Sungkyunkwan University who identifies as bisexual explained the diminishing impacts on her identity when seeing only heterosexual relationships shown on mass media. “This lack of representation is basically telling us that society does not feel comfortable with our community, and it just makes it harder and harder to express ourselves,” she said. Moreover, previous queer dating shows made the main characters’ sexuality the premise of the entire show, which created an off-putting gameshowlike program. For instance, the 2003 American series Boy Meets Boy was about a queer man trying to identify with other queer men within a mostly heterosexual cast. Also, a heterosexual individual playing a queer person as a “character” has been the norm in the past. A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, which aired in 2007 on MTV, was mired in controversy when it was revealed that Tila, the supposed bisexual main character, was not actually bisexual in real life.

The First LGBT Dating Show that Did It Right Are You the One? (mtv.com)

Real-Life Villains, on and off Screen

Viewers have also criticized dating shows for villainizing real personalities and their problematic consequences. In December of 2021, a male cast of I Am Solo was the center of media controversies for his coercive attitude towards a female cast member. He repeatedly crossed the line when asking her questions. When the show ended, the female cast member revealed that she had been receiving treatment due to emotional trauma. However, the production team of the show did not act upon this in any way. The main producer, Nam Gyu-hong, even stated that it “would be boring if we only cast people who are innocent and nice.” There were no additional comments made for the male contestant, who had reached the status of a “national villain” by then. Also, even though cast members are noncelebrities, there has been no evident protection provided. On January 24th, Kim Hyeon-joong, a cast member of Single’s Inferno , wrote in an Instagram post that “derogatory statements and sexual harassment in the comments has become too serious.”

Less about Love, More about Money

Recent dating shows have been criticized for losing their original intention of finding love. Eva Illouz, Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, commented on the disappointing capitalization of love and criticized today’s dating shows for the conflicts between economic behavior with intimate, authentic relationships. For instance, the cast of Single’s Inferno was comprised primarily of models, influencers, and CEOs of startup companies. The cast members have all seen significant growth after the show. Ji-yeon, who participated as a neuroscience student, is now the face of the beauty brand Be-wants. Ji-a, who was introduced as a beauty YouTuber, experienced her channel grow from 4,000 to 915,000 subscribers within a span of two months after the show aired. Dating shows are now no longer relatable, with their main focus being self-promotion.

The Cast of Single’s Inferno at the Beach (netflix.com)

Better Show, Better Entertainment

Let’s Get with the Times

As Korean dating shows have become globalized, their casting should follow a global scale. For instance, the 2014 American TV show Are You the One? (AYTO) was famous for depicting queer relationships the way they are. This show marked the start of queer dating shows, which work in the same format as other cishet dating shows. With the all-queer cast, the possibilities of potential couples are endless. This creates higher tension for the viewers and an overall more exciting show. As such, producers depicting queer relationships will be able to create a more interesting show. Also, if more shows such as AYTO are introduced to a wider audience, it will be an opportunity to break negative LGBTQIA stereotypes and show that queer individuals love the same way as anyone else. As Remy, one of the contestants of AYTO, stated in an interview with The Atlantic, “We are real people, and we exist and deserve to be seen, and we deserve to express how we feel.”

Reality Shows Need Protection from Reality

The casting of “villain” characters easily gives way for impressionable audiences to draw negative conclusions from an incomplete image of an individual. Although depicting various personalities on screen is crucial, villainizing a cast member for entertainment is morally incorrect. With dating shows praising themselves for their “realness”, an on-set therapist is now a must-have. The production team also has the responsibility to protect the cast even after the show has aired. An example of this is the TVING series, Transit Love. The producer took legal action in 2021 after a member of the cast publicized their struggles from hate comments. Producers must actively take responsibility to protect the cast against potentially dangerous consequences from the show.

Can We Get Back to Dating?

With self-promotion becoming a part of the entertainment, the purpose of dating shows is becoming diluted. The shows, while still filled with enough drama and excitement, can still leave their focus on love. A prime example of this is Netflix’s Love Is Blind which has been dominating headlines since its first airing for its unique take on dating shows. In the show, family members are also interviewed and incorporated throughout the season. This ensures sincerity and genuine connections within the show. Love is Blind has been praised for its down-to-earth and almost documentary-like feel, instead of the intense meddling from the producers. As well as this, without fanciful job descriptions, the viewers can establish a better connection with the cast. Putting the focus back on relatability and sincerity will guarantee the show’s success, without the need for harmful drama and the capitalization of love.

There is nothing better than a fairytale-like love story. Dating shows have been obsessed over since their introduction – and for good reason. It rapidly reached one of the most popular forms of global entertainment, though its casting and format were not able to catch up to its growing popularity. There is nowhere to go but up: let us indulge in love!

임현정  alicelim@g.skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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