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All of this may sound terrifying to conservatives worried that Tinder and the Liberals are destroying the American marriage. In fact, collectively they could be the most conservative shows on television. As a group, up to F-Boy Island, they reconstitute and reaffirm a process of encounters that has less to do with 21st sweeping applications to the right of the century as courtship rituals of the 19th century. And for many years viewers took advantage of it. A study by data tracking company PeerLogix found that the number of viewers of dating shows increased during the pandemic, even pushing viewers away from other genres.

The popularity of these matchmaking shows, which are watched both ironically and ambitiously, suggests a different turn of the delayed marriage statistics. Census data, after all, does not address the question of whether celibacy is motivated by a “childless left” culture or a harsh economic reality, or whether young people intend to postpone marriage for a while. time or withdraw from it altogether. A few years ago, a series of liberal books and articles marveled at a growing cohort of single women – who tend to behave differently from married women at the ballot box – and speculated on the political power that they could hold if their numbers continued to grow. But in a 2020 survey commissioned by the wedding platform “The Knot”, 80% of Gen Z and Millennials said they spent some time imagining their wedding day, and most of them expected to get married within two to five years. . That mood matches a 2018 Pew report which found that although they don’t marry young, nearly two-thirds of millennials still hope to someday get married, and a quarter say they just haven’t. found a person with the qualities they are looking for. .

The fact that more people get married later in life has changed the institution, and by extension, the issues around courtship, says Stephanie Coontz, professor emeritus at Evergreen State College and author of Marriage, a story. Older singles are more likely to already be financially independent and prefer a relationship with an equal, which means they often have higher standards for a potential spouse. For singles roaming the landscape, “it becomes very anxiety-provoking,” says Coontz.

Reality shows these modern day anxieties in a place where the old-fashioned rules still apply. It’s a porthole to a universe where every woman dreams of a white dress to the floor, every man sincerely asks for the blessing of his girlfriend’s father, and – despite a handful of shows like “Fire Island” themed. Logo gay – heteronormative, cis – gender couples are the only ones that exist.

If reality TV reflects real desires, then these shows are a revealing statement about culture wars – a suggestion that the dream of traditional marriage, the genre that leads to starting homes, little league games, joint accounts of the IRA and the political priorities that flow from it, is still very much alive, no matter what your political orientation. In reality, in the land of television, celibacy is not a newly desirable state, but rather a purgatory from which people will emerge as soon as their finances allow, or when they meet the right partner, or an army of television producers will step in to step in. And these shows aren’t as much of an anachronism as a call for a roadmap – a shortcut to getting married once and for all.


A few dating shows celebrate the disposable aspects of Tinder culture; Netflix’s recent “Sexy Beast” took superficial, attractive people, smeared them in grotesque makeup, and proved they’d always be up for one-night stand. But many other shows promote the old-fashioned aspiration to leave casual sex and multiple partners behind and start a new life with Ms. or Mr. Right. The courtship practices they exhibit, Coontz notes, originated in England and America in the 1700s, when love had become a justification for marriage. (An upcoming Peacock show, “Pride and Prejudice: An Experiment in Romance,” will kidnap its competitors in a country mansion and send them on romantic horse-drawn carriage rides.)

The public is not unaware of the contradictions of these spectacles, nor the artifice which underlies them. Books have been written and scripted series produced about the ruthless behind-the-scenes edit of “The Bachelor” and the inventive ways producers find to make contestants cry on camera. In this franchise, the producers’ commitment to keeping politics out of the story can make the show feel out of touch with real life. A glaring shortage of contestants of color eventually gave way to a diverse cast, but race-related scandals recently disrupted the series, leading to the ousting of the longtime host. Even declarations of love on “The Bachelor” can seem absurd – somehow it takes a nanosecond for a candidate to determine that the Bachelor or Bachelorette in question is “the one.”

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