Tuesday, March 18, 2008
In my lifetime, a variety of dating shows have presented themselves. “The Dating Game” emphasized the comically random aspects of picking a date and encouraged bizarre, seductive, and creative answers from the 3 bachelors or bachelorettes behind the curtain. “The Newlywed Game”, hosted by Bob Eubanks, made getting to know your spouse a fun, or not so fun opportunity to win a new refrigerator. “Love Connection” got more personal, aiming to match a single gal or guy with three possible people based on their preferences towards physical characteristics, hobbies, and personality. Following a short interview, the audience was shown video excerpts of the three potential dates (of which the contestant had screened in their entirety). The audience was then asked to vote on which date they believe was the right match for the bachelor(ette). If the bachelor’s choice ended up matching the audience’s choice after the quality of the date was revealed, the show would pay for an additional date between the two. If you actually liked the person you dated even though the audience disapproved, you were still left with your new found love, perhaps a not-so-terrible consolation prize.
Since reality television has bombarded the dating landscape with its “Blind Date”, “Elimidate”, “Flavor of Love”, and many others (with often slutty consequences), the emphasis placed on authenticity and the quality of the match has overshadowed the competitive frontier that Americans crave. Finding a true, authentic love based on a match of individuals has replaced the ancient tradition of just going out with whatever Schmoe came your way just to kill time. As viewers of the reality television shit fest, we’ve been manipulated into thinking that finding true love is not just a project, it’s an entire era of our adult lives which may have to be revisited over and over because it’s “so hard to find a match.” Bullshit! What happened to going out for the sake of getting out of the house? Whatever happened to the strategizing of weighing Matt over Pete and hedging one’s bet over who would put out? What happened to the obvious manipulation of the contestants? Enter "Hell Date".
“Hell Date” is a show on BET. It starts with one unsuspecting dater telling the viewers who his/her ideal mate is. This individual thinks that he/she is on a standard reality dating show, such as "Blind Date", where both daters have gone on a TV show to look for love. However, in this case the second dater is actually an actor or actress portraying an annoying character they’ve made up. Sometimes friends of the unsuspecting dater are included in the show, relaying information about what would really get the dater’s goat.
Each 30 minute episode features two “Hell Date”’s in three stages of ever increasing annoying behavior from the confederate. Picture a Stanley Milgram experiment but in date land and you’ve just about got it. The actors have different levels of expertise but generally they just keep cranking up whatever annoying behavior they’ve chosen as the date progresses. If the dater hasn’t realized they’ve been had by the end, they are notified, get this, by a little person dressed in a devil suit holding a plastic pitch fork. Frankly, this is the best part of the show for me and I collapse in a fit of giggles every time I see it.
“Hell Date” is a prankster’s fantasy. But is it a dating show? Absolutely. Just because the show will never produce an authentic date (or an intended one anyway – the Hell Date crew seem pretty attractive to me) doesn’t mean that it has nothing to do with dating. The audience – this time the dater’s friends and family – get to recommend what would work best and the producers stage a date. The interaction between the dater and the confederate is a spontaneous production, just with different intentions from each party. It’s even possible that the dater gains something from the experience after they’ve wiped the egg from their face. And isn’t dating a series of trial and error experiences anyway? Why shouldn’t “Hell Date” help the single people of America in their own small way to learn about their limits? Meanwhile, I’ll still giggle with delight at their misfortune.
Don’t get me wrong, dating sucks. It sucks big time. “Hell Date” is another way that we are endorsing a type of torture on these poor souls. But, on the other hand, Hell Date is an awesome show because it doesn’t take the quest for authenticity seriously. It reminds us that life is one big joke. And this time the cherry on top is a red devil.