Remembering Flavor of Love
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about reality television romantic narratives. I decided to tune into the sixteenth season of the Bachelor for the first time in my life this last season. Watching this made me think about the many reincarnations of the Bachelor-like reality programming on different television networks attempting to cash in on ABC’s success. Lest we forget the ill-fated show Monica Lewinsky once hosted called Mr. Personality. You remember, the one where potential male suitors, all vying for one woman’s love, donned masquerade masks throughout the season to allow the woman pick a contestant solely based on his personality.
All of these shows generally stuck to the script of the Bachelor. Most of these women genuinely seemed to be on these shows to find the man of their dreams or recreate some sort of self-invented fairy tale, and then came Flavor of Love in 2006. Although it too had the same formulaic appeal and faux romantic narrative of the Bachelor, I think it also began to alter the way viewers watched reality shows.
It’s safe to say that viewers were never asked to believe that the clownish, unattractive Flav would ever find true love with any of the three seasons worth of prospective “love interests.”
It’s also safe to say that the show portrayed an appalling display of racism and misogyny. It mimicked minstrel shows and classified women of color into terrible stereotypes. To put it mildly, Flavor of Love was an awfully difficult show to sit through.
All of these horrible things about this show aside, I also think there is something else that happened to reality shows with the advent of shows like Flavor of Love and other VH1 programming in the early 2000s. In a way, I believe that it allowed the genre of romance in reality television to collapse in on itself.
With Flavor of Love, the show no longer functioned under the guise of a “fairy tale” or “finding true love.” This is evidenced by the fact that it lasted for three seasons, and each season used the same “bachelor,” or “black-chelorrrr” (as Flav referred to himself on the show). None of these women actually thought that they would marry Flavor Flav and more importantly, none of the audience ever believed it either.
With the Bachelor it seems like even though most people watching realize that true love won’t be found and these women are there to seek fame and notoriety, but the narrative still forces viewers to want to believe that is the story.
But Flavor of Love forced viewers to swallow what these shows, at their most basic level, are. Stripped down, these shows are a competition where the man is not the prize. The man represents the judge. The prize is not “love.” The prize in and of itself is just to win.
I think when you view it this way it makes it easier to see how shows like the Bachelor are intrinsically wrong and uncomfortable. The women are there to win the prize of “best/prettiest/etc.” girl, never to win love, and the only person available there to give her this self worth is just one guy.
This fallacy of the love narrative in the Bachelor is never outwardly addressed and when it is, such as with a character like this past season’s winner Courtney who repeatedly chanted “winning” and reassured the other girls that the Bachelor wasn’t the only guy in the world, the narrative has to quickly vilify this character in order to make it seem like she isn’t playing according to the rules. Although that is exactly what she is doing.
Similar to Courtney, Flavor of Love showed these women as contestants seeking to win a game show, not attempting to find the man of their dreams. This show broke down the premise of the reality dating show genre even further by selecting an older, not rich (although famous), unattractive man as the “prize.”
It was as if the show was telling the audience, “look you idiots, the prize can be anything because these women are not really competing for the stated prize.” Instead they are all playing a role just to appear on a show.
As troublesome, racist, and misogynistic, as a show like Flavor of Love was, I find it interesting that it was a reality show that never actually played under the notion of reality. The reason for these women and Flavor Flav to be on that television show was just that, to be on a television show.
So yes, in a way Flavor of Love could be seen as a hyperbolized, funhouse mirror version of the Bachelor. Or, it might also be argued that it actually just removed the fourth wall and spoke back to the audience. By doing so, maybe it went further than being just some strange repackaging of the Bachelor. It may have helped show society that there really is no reality to the love tropes placed on the Bachelor and all the other shows that followed.
Image from http://www.sojones.com/news/152471-joining-the-flock-flava-flav-to-release-signature-vodka/