One does not approach reality shows with the same intentions that one might approach a Charlie Kaufman film when a hankering for existential dread strikes, and one does not dissect every word from a reality star’s mouth in search of something prophetically meaningful in the same way one might agonise over Homer’s Odyssey.
What’s more, reality TV geared around dating is hardly Shakespearean in its exploration of romance or as sexy as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
If what you’ve read thus far comes across as annoyingly pretentious, that’s not by chance. Most baseline critiques of reality shows as a concept reek of being out of touch or feel like an ill-informed excuse to meanderingly complain. The utility of this type of viewing is often to serve as the antithesis to the extreme heights of overwrought classics, not the comparative to them.
In a world marred by oppression, pandemics and wars, reality TV has its place as much-needed escapism. It can be a wonderland of frivolous, mind-numbing fun that only becomes more delightful when romance, sex and booze-filled partying are thrown into the mix.
Emotions are a lot. Deep, nuanced, gut-wrenching emotion can be a bit much. Reality TV is at its best when it provides emotional reprieve. But one critique of these shows, particularly the dating variety, sticks for me: they are not nearly queer enough!
If I wanted to be bombarded with the questionable discourse of cisgendered straight guys in vests and flip-flops talking about how hot girls are and how untameable their carnal desires are, I’d go back to living in a university residence. Granted, it can also be fun to watch said straight guys act the fool and remind us that straight people are, in fact, the problem.
Shows like “Love Island” and “Too Hot to Handle” are almost entirely structured around heterosexual romance and sexuality, and focus on the messy escapades of drunken straights. If these show-runners knew anything about the queer community, they’d know we could provide excessive partying, convoluted romance, sensual sexuality and meme-able chaos like no other — I’m gay; I’m allowed to promulgate broad-stroke stereotypes about queer people.
The ethics of gamifying love aside, queer reality shows have generally been experiencing a renaissance with the success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” across demographics and the all-queer eighth season of the wildly popular dating show “Are You the One?”.
The latter flipped the show’s typically heteronormative match-making format on its head insofar as the contestants were all queer, encompassing just about every gender and sexuality the spectrum has to offer, while maintaining the show’s general premise.
This genre-defying season of television not only evidenced the fact that queers have more fun, but also upped the romantic and sexual stakes while striking a brilliant balance of queer education and touching moments, such as when two contestants bonded over the transmasculine half’s ritual gender-affirming shot of testosterone.
In the vein of a heavyweight gay icon, cishet people for reality shows are hardly ground-breaking. Reality is far gayer than these shows suggest, and what’s worse, they deprive audiences of the blend of fun, chaos, insightfulness and sentimentality that only queers can offer.
Even the most heterosexual and cisgendered among you have to admit that there’s only so many times a person can watch straight people talk about sports or attempt to twerk while getting caught up in predictably bland love triangles. Imagine how much more delicious those love triangles would be if every party was a different gender and/or sexuality.
It goes without saying that representation matters, and queer people deserve love as much as anyone else. The only thing “logistically difficult” about integrating our community into reality dating shows is keeping up with the exciting storylines and endless entertainment value.
I know I give straight people a lot of flack, and while you’re not all bad I think we’ve earned the right to bully your kind. I think it’s high time that they step aside and make some room for queer people to make reality TV more real and to access the escapism for which cishet people have a bottomless menu of options.
In the prolific words of one of our greatest minds, the drag queen Trixie Mattel: “I’m so sick of the straight people.” DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.