So, NBC's bottom-feeder Age Of Love is premiering right now, and even within the first 10 minutes they've already wracked up so many of the genre's contrived cliches that if you were playing a reality TV drinking game, you'd be sloshed by minute 15.
Before the first commercial, bachelorettes have talked about their ticking biological clocks, their dreams of fairy tale romance and their jealousy of other women; the narrator has promised that NBC had identified "the perfect guy"; producers are clearly, clearly prompting the bachelor to say that he's only interested in younger women and freaked out by older women (the better to stoke the show's degrading premise); and, of course, the narrative has been framed in the most offensive way possible:
-- in this "experiment," one man has all the agency while dozens of women in their 40s and their 20s are expected to fight amongst themselves like children for his attention
-- single women over 40 are portrayed as pathetic, lovelorn losers (despite their accomplishments in life)
-- women in their 20s are portrayed as sexy, nubile sirens (desirable as girlfriend material despite being depicted as ditzy and dumb; they even pose them against poles, get it?)
-- the narrator promises that "the claws will come out" as "each week, you'll see young verses old in a battle for love"
-- the opening montage cheerfully predicts that "hearts will be broken" while the bump to commercial teases with the ubiquitous, "Who will be sent home brokenhearted?"
-- and the bachelor is supposed to be disgusted when he learns that he has to date women between 10 and 15 years older than he is ("It was like throwing some piranhas in, like, the deep end with me!"), yet no one considers it inappropriate when the 30-year-old man mentioned that his last relationship was with a woman 10 years younger than himself (even though if that relationship was longer than two years, he could have been brought up on statutory rape charges in many states for having sex with a minor -- update: just read on TV Guidethat he was not long ago engaged to an 18-year-old... you do the math).
Remember, this is all just within approximately the first 10 minutes. And they haven't even introduced the younger women yet... but we did see, in very small font (thanks, remote control pause button!) on screen during the very first moment of the show, that "Portions of this program not affecting the outcome of the competition have been edited/recreated."
Allow me to translate: "Everything you're seeing, everything you're hearing, is a damn lie. We just figure we'll get less sh*t for it from critics for our manipulative fabrications if we admit it right off the bat."
Oh, and lest I forget, have you seen the promo ads NBC has been running about the show, promising a new level of "catfight" between older "cougars" and younger "kittens"? (I suppose I should be glad that they didn't pump in cat-scratching sounds into the background, as ABC and Fox have both done in promos about how "the claws come out" on various seasons of The Bachelor and Joe Millionaire.
I'm going to leave the rest of this show on my DVR, go get a stiff drink (in my apartment, that usually means "a mug of Earl Grey," but the intent's the same), and go back to plugging away at my book proposal on reality TV as cultural backlash against women -- I have 45 pages done so far! But never fear, I'll be watching Age Of Love -- so that you don't have to. Just as I do with hundreds of hours of reality TV dating, mating and makeover shows. It's a wonder my head hasn't exploded yet.
Which reminds me: if you're interested in hosting one of our multimedia presentations about reality TV and gender issues, contact WIMN via this form or email us at info[at]wimnonline[dot]org.
If you have tips about terrible reality TV show moments from this or any other problematic show, send 'em my way, or join the discussion at WIMN's Voices. If you can transcribe direct quotes from misogynistic or racist reality shows, or if you can YouTube clips from them, all the better! (And, if anyone has DVDs of the complete series of any season of Flavor of Love, Cathouse, The Swan, Extreme Makeover, America's Next Top Model or other such shows and would be willing to send them, or copies of them, to Women In Media & News for our research, please let us know -- this would be a big help.)
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Update: OK, I lied... I couldn't turn stop the schadenfreude. Let the analysis continue...
A few more quotes from the later part of the episode, where the women in their 20s are introduced, with the phrase "Here comes trouble" on the screen over their faces (all the names and ages are also posted on screen, like stats in a horse race):
Adelaide, 26: "Men naturally want to date younger women. And if the younger women are successful then that just makes them all the more desirable."
Amanda, 25: "Hopefully by 40 I'm not still dating. Desperate for a man, I mean, it's just pathetic, I think."
Tessa, 23: "I'm young, I'm definitely hot. Deal with it!"
Other random obnoxiousness:
-- Producers actually have the women in their 20s wearing bikinis and hula hooping -- hula hooping like freaking Josie & The Pussycats! -- inside their in-show apartment, with choice comments like, "Oh, it's sooo cold on my belly!" floating in via voiceovers (which, of course, usually means the lines were scripted later and edited in during post-production).
-- The women in their 40s are shown doing needlepoint and reading (because that's what worn out old crones do, yes?), and using Downy Simple Pleasures Fabric Softener to do their laundry (product placement f*ck-up of the evening: the zoom shot of the Downy bottle was taken with the bottle placed on a countertop next to a stove, while the very next second a woman is shown opening a washing machine door in an entirely different room -- oopsy... shilling is a little more important than "reality," ain't it?)
-- Cautionary tale quotes from the older women include, "The hardest thing about this elimination is that whoever goes home is going to go home single the way that she showed up. You just feel like, kind of deep down inside, you may just end up alone forever." (That last sentence -- with its "lower your standards and settle right away lest this happen to YOU!" message to female viewers of all ages -- was teased both before and after a commercial break.)
-- And, from the show's opening montage, charming comments from the younger women such as, "What's a synonym for old?" "Decrepit!" while toasting to the older women's "crow's feet and saggy boobs."
This post originally appeared at WIMN's Voices: A Group Blog on Women and the Media, a project of Women In Media & News, the national women's media analysis, education and advocacy group. To bring Jennifer L. Pozner to speak to your campus or community group, or to send her blog tips, email info [at] wimnonline [dot] org. To subscribe to WIMN's free media alert list, see the Action Center at http://www.wimnonline.org/action/