In the fictional and framed universe of television, love is idealised and held up on a pedestal that makes all eyes dewy. If it’s not the whirlwind romance that teaches hapless what’s-his-name how to enjoy life, it’s the overwhelming narrative of that single sad bastard whose life sucks because no sane human wants to settle down with them. The dominant storyline for the majority of female characters centres around their failed or dysfunctional relationships and few are allowed other ambitions, whilst for male protagonists they are lumped with whining two-dimensional wives-and-girlfriends – equally as preoccupied with their husbands as they are with looking flawless and infantile.
Television’s presentation of love is desperate, warped and disturbing. Intensity and passion are more watchable than healthy respect for space and individuality. Perhaps these restrictive narratives are catering to a collective belief in the superior power of love, yet in doing so creating a false idea of it that alienates most human beings.
Love in the classic Disney Princess paradigm has the power to bring people back to life and wake them up from magical comas. In television programs like ‘Friends’, a group of twenty-thirty-somethings end up falling for each other at some point or the other (save for Phoebe) and doing the dirty, manifesting in a creepy insular clique. This cliquehood exacerbates the worst qualities in each character until everyone is unlikable, looks exhausted and are all bored with their only friends. With a contemporary sit-com like Mindy Kaling’s ‘The Mindy Project’ we see her circle of friends wither to her colleagues, one of which she ends up in a serious romantic relationship a couple of times, and the series of quirky and creepy guys she dates (of these the significant mates tend to work in her building). ‘Louie’, on the surface the opposite of former, began with a refreshingly cynical edge to romantic-comedy series but sentimentalised at season 4’s finale with an excruciating-to-watch pairing between Louis C.K. and Pamela Aldon. Excruciating because it all seemed so desperate and ugly. Mindy’s layers of make-up and snappy dialogue hides the hideousness of that same desperation that motivates both protagonists from each show.
Love is seen as necessary, the love that doesn’t mind and will last the long, long distance of our ever-growing life spans. But we are reminded of all the sexist bullshit of the family sit-coms where nagging Mrs Blah Blah must put up with ugly and ungrateful Mr Blah Blah and denies him sex as a means of discipline. Mr Blah Blah hasn’t had sex is so long and vaguely remembers some sort of love he felt for his attractive wife – a fact that seems overlooked although most producers wouldn’t hire an actress as unattractive as whichever comedian is playing Mr Blah Blah. Set in suburbia, lives were mundane and exaggerated and each episode blended with the other, laughing track ominously guiding our enjoyment. The message was – BE WITH SOMEONE, EVEN IF YOU HATE THE FUCKER.
Aimed at the pessimistic and depressed middle age folks, radicalism and free will sucked away by decades of mindless and pointless work in a meaningless society that tells you love is best expressed through consumption of material goods. Goods that have flown greater distances than the average human, and produced part by part on the back of exploitation and hypocrisy.
But the power of love is limited to that elite few. The beautiful young couples in heat, fuelled by lust and enthusiasm and youth and stupidity. Stalking each other; dropping all obligations and ties for the object of their affection.
Anyway, maybe with the power of love something genuine and innovative can appear, something that handles the subject of love in a manner similar to the films ‘Frances Ha’ or ‘Cutie and The Boxer’(just some personal suggestions). ‘Frances Ha’ looked at the platonic love between two college friends whilst the documentary ‘Cutie and The Boxer’ reflected on the relationship between two artists married for several decades. Both show an honest and articulate story of love without making it into some magical and unreal force.
And television does occasionally present a silver lining to the grey clouds of twisted matchmaker gameshows, dating advice reality-freak-shows, passionate and tragic dramas, and mundane-yet-unrealistic sitcoms. ‘Man Seeking Woman’ is a surreal imagining of Simon Rich, following a newly single hero stumble through dates with trolls. Television has the ability to create fantastical stories which can have deeper layers.
‘Man Seeking Woman’ is in the minority, for the turn-off-brain-and-switch-on-tv-folk, stimulation of a pleasant kind is more appreciated. The fact is that love is boring in real life, only interesting to those involved, so it’s no wonder everyone in TV shows end up sleeping with their brother’s best friend, and the guy upstairs and the guy downstairs and falls in love with the-guy-from-the-flower-shop’s-brother – Ken. Ken and what’s-her-name are much more interesting together than apart.
After all, to love someone the way TV wants you to love is to objectify them and to make them into something you can buy, trick, and abuse. Television struggles to represent anything remotely accurate or interesting. Documentaries, reality television or scripted fictional series, anything you view has been crafted in an unrealistic and unreliable way.
Through this sensationalising of love we separate it from its humanity. Love becomes a selfish and immature preoccupation, and whomever we love, an object to consume.