For the average sequestered college student such as myself, a seemingly endless supply of spare time coupled with few ways to spend it makes for the ideal opportunity for binge-watching. While I had planned to do exactly that upon returning home, I did not anticipate the choice of mind-numbing entertainment I would willingly endure for the next few nights.
While I understood the appeal of reality dating shows, I had never personally felt drawn to watch one myself until listening to the insistent badgering of both friends and family members to watch Love is Blind, one of Netflix’s newest releases. The show follows single men and women as they attempt to find love. If this sounds familiar, you may be recalling other similar reality shows based on the same concept: Love Island, Paradise Hotel and, notoriously, The Bachelor, to name just a few. It’s nearly impossible to not have at least heard about these shows, infamous for their guilty-pleasure satisfaction, overt campiness and so-bad-it’s-good reputations.
Love is Blind’s premise was what captivated me in particular — a social experiment to understand if people could fall in love based on pure emotional connection without biases from their significant other’s physical traits, race or socio-economic status. The experiment was conducted as such: Casted participants, all pursuing someone to marry, would only be allowed to communicate with potential partners through entering small private rooms (known as “pods”) and speaking with each other through a wall. After developing emotional relationships, individuals would propose to each other in the pods without ever having seen the other in person, until the newly-engaged couples exit together into the real world to test their relationships.
Having known about the show’s incorporation of societal commentary beforehand, I assumed it would feature a cast of diverse ethnic groups, socio-economic backgrounds, sexualities and physical characteristics. This would be the most accurate method to test the show’s hypothesis, by including the most impactful factors that dictate how people are judged and perceived in their everyday lives. It would offer the series a differentiating asset from its counterparts: a cast that is representative of the American population, one that helps us to understand the essence of a human being and what it means to love one. This would redefine the reality dating show scene as not exclusive to the superficiality and Hollywood-standard conventions that largely populate the genre. It was this expectation (and possibly a subconscious yearning to escape into another semblance of reality) that encouraged me to take the plunge.
Unfortunately, it became apparent in just the first episode that Love is Blind not only failed to achieve such goals, but never even attempted to do so. As the audience is introduced to the participants, we are shown yet another reiteration that could seamlessly blend into any other typical reality show: Thin bodies, conventionally attractive faces, a predominantly caucasian, heterosexual cast. The few participants that did not fit the mold received just a few seconds of screen time and only appeared in the first episode. As the show dwindles down its participant numbers to focus on its main ten-member cast, its bias for faces and bodies that fit traditional Hollywood beauty standards is even more prevalent. Love is Blind chooses to only showcase the conventionally attractive, whose physical appearances rarely negatively impact their dating abilities in the first place. The show’s execution contradicts its entire mission.
As an Asian-American, I was also disappointed, but not too surprised, to discover that there was not a single Asian participant casted. Not seeing myself represented in mainstream television isn’t a new experience, but I expected the show’s producers to at least try to seem inclusive, given popular movements for Asian representation in media that have risen in recent years. Even The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, both of which have been criticized for their predominantly white contestants, have included Asian cast members in recent seasons. This raises the question: What are the implications when a show catering to the conventionally attractive fails to cast even a single Asian person?
The historical stereotyping of Asian people in the media has contributed to a struggle being perceived as physically, sexually and emotionally attractive in America. Studies have shown that Asian men are perceived to be the least romantically and physically desirable demographic in America, induced by mainstream media’s emasculation of Asian men. Love is Blind’s exclusion of Asian men further proves its bias for only casting members considered attractive by Hollywood’s standards. As for the lack of Asian women, although studies have shown that Asian women in America are perceived to be physically attractive, they are often diminished and hypersexualized. Perhaps in a show that attempts to emphasize the importance of personality over appearance (although evidently failing to do so), an Asian woman that would not be hypersexualized, due to the nature of the show, is considered difficult to find a place for.
Although I felt such frustrations, I was already becoming addicted to the outrageous drama and rage-inducing personalities I couldn’t help but watch — and it’s these two ingredients that make for the perfect trashy reality TV concoction American audiences know and love. Perhaps I had expected too much. Sure, the show wasted great potential in paving the way for representation, and the opportunity to engage in thoughtful analysis of the bewildering experiences we call love. At the same time, though, was the goal of the show really to do any of that? Or is it just another run-of-the-mill reality show with a memorable twist, providing Americans mindless entertainment and another form of escapism? Honestly, maybe that’s just what we need right now.
Regardless of whatever the show is or could have been, I still found myself leaning on the edge of my living room couch, wide eyes fixated to my TV screen, breath held as I couldn’t bear to miss a single word that would determine the fate of the reality star couples I had grown to love (and the ones I’d learned to hate). And unexpectedly, I enjoyed every minute of it, relishing in a version of reality with conflicts and consequences far less burdening than our own.
Connie Huang is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]