Reality Bites The Dust

Posted: August 30, 2011 in Mark Simpson, Metrosexual Murderers, metrosexuality, Metrosexy

‘Gavin Henson and a female friend exchange vacant stares (Picture: Channel 5)’ – Metro

The reality TV dating show format is dead. The Bachelor is its funeral.

The Bachelor is very very difficult to watch. I only managed it in five minute bursts, with breaks in between to regain my sanity. I have found it harder to watch than any ‘reality’ sex/dating oriented show so far. Here are the reasons why I think it marks the end of ‘love’ on the box:

1) It is so orange.

Yes, Geordie Shore may have been the most orange show on TV in terms of the bodies on display, and it was sponsored by a fake-tan company. But somehow the gritty north-eastern context brought a bit of light and shade to proceedings. The Bachelor is set in a tropical ‘paradise’ which is all sunshine and sea and swimming pool blue, and the orangeness of the people, but especially Gavin, is illuminated and exaggerated to tacky extremes. You can’t focus on anything else but the tans! Aaagghh.

2) The contestants are so young

There is one token ’33 year old’ woman on the show, but she is surrounded by what seems to me to be  teenagers.  So watching these young women vie for the hand in marriage of the bachelor, is a bit like seeing St Trinians Go Forth the movie, with extra nail varnish and bleached hair. I feel kind of well,  voyeuristic obviously, but  like I am witnessing child-brides lining up to be bought by the lord of the manor.  I know they know what they are letting themselves in for- they have seen The Bachelor USA – but I still think the word ‘exploitation’ could be relevant here. And the word ‘ icky’ – a word I do not use except in very extreme circumstances.

3) It is too lesbian

I watched a similar show from America a while back, about a young woman singer looking for love, and I got quite into the ‘homosocial’ bonding and fighting (sometimes literal fights) between the men competing for her attentions. It was actually very homoerotic in places, with the men – very buff fit boys- stripping off at every opportunity and physically showing off their assets- to each other. Their friendships and love/hate relationships were far more exciting than the manufactured ‘romance’ with the young woman. But this show, though it is ostensibly about ‘the bachelor’ – really mainly features  a bunch of girls on holiday, wearing as many different swimming costumes as they can, and bitching about each other. They really could be on the island of Lesbos, with Gavin stumbling onto the beach, lost, smiling inanely, not realising where he is.

In the Lads’ Mag Top Gear mythology of heterosexual masculinity, the myth is that it is every red-blooded man’s dream to be surrounded by a bunch of half-naked sexy chicks. But we all know that really, in Top Gear, in GQ, in Loaded, ‘chicks’ are just accessories to enable men to be homos(ocial) together. So, when The Bachelor show presents a situation where one ‘lucky man’ is actually surrounded by adoring and adorable girls,  rather than fulfilling every hetero man’s dreams, it just looks like a bit of a nightmare.

I don’t know for sure, but I expect Gavin may in ‘real life’ indeed be a bit of a ladies’ man. But I also expect he is used to playing the field with his buddies. He looks like he really misses his ‘wingman’ and doesn’t really know how to pick up girls without him, even when they are there for him on a plate. Or  how to enjoy it. Because for many lads, chasing women is all about the fact you do it in a group, and tell each other about your conquests afterwards. It is almost as if he just can’t see the point of ‘birds’ if there are no guys to share them with.

‘Every man needs a wing man’ …

Metrosexy culture is all about the self-love of men. Henson was chosen for the show because he is particularly and perfectly self-loving. But he doesn’t quite pull off the narcissism, here, and maybe it is partly because he is used to adoring himself, and being adored, in the company of men.

4) There is no sex

Big Brother, Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore- they are all going to go down in TV history as mediated gang bangs, aren’t they? But, these shows have revealed the uncomfortable truth: the problem with making a whole reality TV series about sex, is that it is actually decidedly unsexy. Mediated, performative sex, without the production values and professionalism of porn, is just bodies in mundane motion.

So programmes like The Bachelor seem to be trying to rekindle the Reality TV sex format, by bringing back some old-fashioned ‘romance’.  This is traditional heterosexual ‘courtship’. The drama is all about the ‘will-he, won’t he’ ask for her hand.  Not ‘when will they shag?’ Dating in the Dark is another one of these shows, which is trying to revive the dying swan of heterosexual relationships in this age of recreational sex and internet porn and voyeuristic TV.  There, people fumble in total darkness on ‘dates’ then have to see each other in a fully illuminated ‘reveal’. And if they survive that, they might agree to meet and go on an actual date. Both shows are positively medieval in their values. Once we have seen real people fucking on TV for the hell of it, however dull this may be to watch  in reality,  the very concept of The Bachelor  becomes obsolete. None of the girls even get it on (so far). What’s the point of a heterosexual  ‘lesbian’ show if there is no girl on girl action?

5) Nobody even pretends to mean it

At the beginning of The Bachelor, Henson tells us unconvincingly that he is looking for someone to fall in love with and spend the rest of his life with. Because that’s what reality TV is for isn’t it? Then, when one of the young women –  a vixen who looks devilish in a leopardskin swimsuit brandishing a whip on one photoshoot they do –  starts to play him up quite stylishly. He and his ego don’t seem to like it, and he confronts her, saying

‘It looks to me like you are playing a game’.  Well yes, Gavin, of course she is! The difference between this ‘psycho’ as you kindly call her, and you, though, is she is honest about the ‘game’. But thanks to her honesty, the game is up, and your attempts to make it seem ‘real’ are looking more and more lame by the minute.

That’s as far as I got.  I don’t fancy Gavin Henson. I find him incredibly wet.  And this show just brings out his wetness. And the obsolescence of the reality TV dating show genre. And the fact that ‘heterosexuality’ is defunct. And my age. And my lack of swimwear wardrobe.  I won’t be tuning in next week. But I already know the ending anyway: he gets the girl. But it doesn’t last. What does?


  1. This is really great.

    I actually don’t watch reality TV shows – because they suck and are stupid – but it’s interesting to see this kind of review about the show. Food for my brain.

    Thanks for writing it.

  2. paul says:

    Oh my god that sounds sad sad sad… And I think you got to the heart of it.

    Yes, Male Impersonators is true brilliance and should be a classic. The insights, for sure, but also the presentation / writing. I wonder if there could be a way of reissuing and promoting it.

    • well Paul feel free to go ahead and try, but my attempts at promoting and encouraging Mark Simpson’s work have only gotten me into all sorts of trouble…

      He could put MI up as an ebook if he wanted I should think. But I doubt he will. He said to me he couldn’t face re-reading it in order to do that. I have tried to reassure him there’s nothing cringeworthy about it (apart maybe from a few too many references to Luce Iragaray?)

    • bits of it made me really laugh out loud. I am going to read it again!

  3. paul says:

    Yeah definitely–the humor I mean. I’ve been separated from my copy for awhile–it’s in England and I just haven’t been able to get back there yet–so I don’t remember all the topics in there. But one I keep returning to in my mind is called, I think, “Don’t Die On Me Buddy,” which is stunning. I remember reading that for the first time–as with other essays in that book too–and thinking, “literally no one else is saying this.”

    In fact, if you happen to have a few moments at some point … it would be so excellent t if you could type out the last paragraph or so of that essay. I don’t quite remember how it goes.

  4. paul says:

    And yeah, I think Mark should reread it. If he finds a few he likes less than others, he can replace them with maybe some recent pieces, or pieces to come. It needs to be available because it truly opens up vistas.

    • yes , but it should have opened up those vistas in 1994 and everyone ignored it! I can see why he doesn’t want to go through the annoyance of that again.

      I was planning to transcribe some of the book anyway, I will have to check with Mr S but I will definitely send you that Buddy piece. Yes it was really excellent and totally original and well. He’s lucky he at least has us as proper ‘readers’….

  5. Oh and you know My Own Private Idaho – our movie 😀 – my dissertation on it used a lot of the same reference points as Mark did in MI. Foucault, Freud, Butler, Baudrillard, I’d have liked to have seen him write about that film.

  6. paul says:

    Well he still can of course… But I’ve noticed, sadly, that it’s not a film as many people know about at this point. You on the other hand must *really* know that film!

    Had anyone written on it in any depth when you came to start your dissertation?

    • someone called Jose Arroyo had written about it in a book called… oh… I forget I think it was ‘active theory’ or something it had a photo by Della Grace Volcano on the cover. His essay was ok but a bit ‘gay’ I seem to remember it didn’t deal with gender enough.

      Here it is:
      ‘Death, Desire and Identity: The Political Unconscious of “New Queer Cinema”, in Joseph Bristow and Angelia R. Wilson (eds.) Activating Theory: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Politics xi 266pp, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1993. ISBN 85375 7901, pp. 72-98

  7. […] the same in groups of women. As I mentioned when reporting on another metrotastic reality TV show, The Bachelor, alone with a group of gorgeous girls who he had the pick of, Gavin Henson just didn’t seem […]

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