By Pickup Culture
As the housing boom reaches its peak in Australia, the so-called ‘property porn’ TV shows like The Block and Renovation Rescue are slowly being replaced by another type of commercialised porn – the dating and romance show. The prototypical ‘relationship porn’ program is The Bachelor, which gained enormous success after it debuted in the early 2000s. The format was bought into Australia a decade later, and has grown into one of the most popular shows on prime time TV. New rival formats have emerged, with programs like The Seven Year Switch and First Dates appearing to meet the demand for endless gossip and a surplus of unfulfilled female sexual desires.
Relationship porn is much like actual porn, as it serves to meet similar instinctual drives in women that actual porn serves to meet in many men. Though ‘relationship porn’ does not feature graphic sex, gangbangs or deep throat scenes, it doesn’t deny the possibility of such sexual encounters either. It just doesn’t show them. The power of suggestion, the power to imagine what is under the surface of cordial conversations and pleasant dates, is what makes these programs so powerful in the mind of many women.
Unlike actual porn, relationship porn is much more commercially viable as mainstream entertainment in our fem-centric society. As amateur uploads have killed much of the production industry in porn, the ascendency of the feminine imperative has given rise to a new genre of commercialised porn that spills over into other facets of mainstream media. Relationship porn is an important place where women’s expectations about relationships are shaped, building upon and intensifying the surplus of female sexual energy in the absence of dominant men in today’s society.
The Dating Show
The dating show genre has been around for some 50 years, with its origin in the 1960s game show format. Over the years it has evolved to accommodate a more commericalised view of relationships. First produced in the US in the 1960s The Dating Game was the first example of the genre, sporadically revived again during the 1980s and 1990s. The game show format was adapted to include three eligible bachelors sitting behind a screen on the stage, with a female contestant asking questions to the bachelors. Their answers provided a basis from which the she would choose her most eligible man for the date.
The early format included celebrity bachelors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Jackson and Steve Martin, and there was a focus on wit and quick thinking in the answers to seduce the women. Later incarnations reversed the female-selector/male-suitor format, and by the 1980s included a second segment where the single male contestant choose his date from three female suitors. The Australian version – called Perfect Match – introduced a robot called ‘Dexter’ which predicted the couples’ compatibility ratings; but the emphasis on relationships was undermined by stories of hotel sex or infidelity when they were interviewed in the following segment when they returned.
These programs were self-contained, with the only serialised interest in relationships being the interviews. There were occasional updates about the lives of past contestants, on special episodes devoted to answering the question every woman wanted to know: ‘where are they now?’ For the most part though it was quick-paced seduction, and with no expectation of anything besides a bit of fun – whether that worked out or not, the outcome was never an issue. The 30 minute format provided just enough excitement (the possibility of sex) under the guise of something more serious (the possibility of a relationship) outside of the show.
The prize – a date (usually a weekend holiday) enabled the couples to find out for themselves whether their Ying and their Yang matched. The audience was primed to expect drama, but only the kind of drama that unfolded in the hot tub or the hotel bedroom.
Reality + Dating = Relationship Porn
The classic dating show was mainstream titillation from the 1960s up until the 1990s, pitting the battle of male conquest against the seductive testing of the woman. Sometimes this dynamic was reversed, but there was never any pretence that a relationship was necessary – contestants knew they were going on a blind date, and the possibility of sex was a reward for the couple with the right chemistry.
The dating show began to evolve as the new reality genre emerged in the early 2000s. Big Brother and Survivor competed for ratings across the globe – both as original series, then later as localised variations. Though Big Brother focused on the interactions of so-called ‘ordinary’ people living in a large house, with challenges and evictions used to ‘spike the audience’, the producers realised that a house full of young, good-looking contestants produced its own source of (sexual) drama.
The first two series of Big Brother in Australia included a balance of sexually explicit and relationship-based content. In the first series a dominatrix called Andy had an affair with a well-hung, buff-looking punk called Gordon; and in the second series a young couple called Marty and Jess formed a romantic relationship (but refrained from having sex). Gordon and Andy were quickly evicted by the female teen audience in the first few weeks, whist the more subdued Marty and Jess stayed much longer. Outside of the show their relationship formed the basis of a spinoff program about the young couples’ lives: Marty and Jess: The Outback Wedding.
Much like their relationship, Marty and Jess: The Outback Wedding quickly fizzled. The short-term focus on their relationship had replaced the equally short term focus on sex in the Big Brother house. Nevertheless, the precedent was set. Big Brother became a source of endless chit chat on day time television shows, radio segments and magazine articles all speculating about who would get together with whom; and who would find ‘true love’ in the artificial media world that was Big Brother.
The Virtual Harem: The Bachelor
It was upon this foundation that the highly successful The Bachelor emerged, dominating the ratings by focusing exclusively on relationships as the primary driver of the show. The program evolved from the self-contained dating show format, and instead increased the serial focus on relationships through elements of reality TV. At the centre of the show was the alpha bachelor, and his harem of suitable women who would compete – fighting tooth and nail – to win his ‘love’ by the end of the series.
In terms of unfettered hyper-gamy, The Bachelor contains the right components for success: an emphasis on fame through marriage (rather than achievement), and being able to outwit other women for the same alpha in the marriage market. At the same time, the program generates ongoing interest as audiences gossip about the bachelor’s actual charisma and motivations, as well as the women’s own sexual strategies in attracting his attention.
Many women proclaim to have a ‘love to hate’ relationship with the show, but still enjoy watching it. It’s part of the deniable plausibility that characterises so much of female desire, ensuring that women are always able to eschew responsibility due to the fear of being rejected or, even worse, being called a slut by the other women in the harem. It’s a balancing trick each woman performs –maintaining good relations with the tribe (other women), but also covertly competing against her sisters without lower the market value of sex (i.e. being a slut).
The Bachelor is a virtual harem, a concentration of female fantasies that already exist across the broadcast media. Whether it is the aging rock star stepping out of a limo for an interview in the entertainment segment, or a story of the young prince visiting a tribal village for a photo opportunity in Africa, the mainstream is full of female hyper-gamous fantasies of such alpha males.
The Perils of Watching Media
Whilst I enjoy watching these programs myself, I find them interesting as a reflection of our culture’s attitudes towards male-female sexual dynamics – and the important part mainstream media plays in shaping what women think love actually is. By that I don’t mean to deny those ‘butterflies in the stomach’ women like to talk about (aka ‘gina tingles), but rather to emphasise the way that those ‘feelings’ can be manipulated by commercial media.
For many women relationship porn is seductive, but it doesn’t replace the value of a man in real life who has good game. Just like real porn might be arousing for many men (and no-doubt women too), too much exposure to cocaine-addicted college co-eds or amateur gangbangs is not very helpful in finding a real sexual partner. There is a huge difference between virtual romance and real-world romance, a distinction which relationship porn exploits to the hilt. A quote from a contestant in First Dates illustrates this nicely when she talks about what it is she wants in a man:
I’m looking for a gentleman, do you know what I mean? Someone that can do it the traditional way where you go on the dates and you’re spontaneous with each other, and then one thing will lead to another sort of a thing.
Spontaneity in real life is one thing, but spontaneity on a television program is quite another. The whole premise of the show relies on the traditional idea of what romance is meant to be for a woman: a candle-lit dinner, roses and a bit of small talk for an hour or two. Keeping with this convention makes sense for television producers, limiting the show to a one set location, but it obviously limits the endless possibilities of what a date can be. She later questions her own understanding of those conventions, after rejecting the young man she seemingly had so much in common with:
I feel today love is so forgotten about. It’s definitely underappreciated, like when you see books and see movies and there’s that love but then is that real. Is that even real?
Today’s relationship porn is a good barometer of how well the media is gaming women, and making a neat profit as they do so. If men are interested in competing in the market for female attention, it’s helpful to realise that it’s a profit made at many-a-beta’s expense. On the other hand, understanding the genre is a good way for us to leverage our value, by not following ‘the rules of romance’ and expressing sexual masculine desire in much more spontaneous ways. These programs can also provide a good point of conversation too, given that the man knows how to harness the surplus sexual energy created by the show.
Unplugging, and gaming the world
Finally, we should forget that porn is a reflection of our base desires as biological organisms. Whether its relationship porn on television or hard-core porn on the internet, the media can only ever supplement, and not replace, real human interactions. Having a critical eye on the mainstream is useful for any man trying to understand how the Matrix works, yet being critical also means being able to step outside of that world of unreality. Being your own world is even better.
Addictions are also a sign of our personal demons. Overcoming addiction means accepting that the world cannot satisfy our endless human desires. Like many things in life, genuine satisfaction is fleeting. The most lasting forms of satisfaction are the by-product of hard work and achievement, which pale in comparison to the diminishing returns we get from TV dating programs or videos on XHamster.