Recently, FOX debuted two new dating shows, one of which is called Take Me Out. Hosted by George Lopez (why is he hosting this show?) the concept is fairly straightforward: 30 women all vying to win a date with the same guy. The women each stand behind a podium while one man extols his virtues for their approval. If a woman does not like something she sees or hears she “turns off her light,” at which point her podium turns red signaling her disinterest. If the man makes it through three rounds of peacocking with at least one light left on, he wins a date. If there is more than one light left on the man then chooses whom he’d like to date.
This is good right? Finally a show where the women hold the power, where they are not forced to parade around in swimsuits for the chance to get a rose. Hooray for feminism! Not exactly.
It’s true, I didn’t expect progressive empowerment from a FOX reality show, but I was also unprepared for the sheer level of humiliation that is Take Me Out. While watching the first episode my partner turned to me and said, “I feel like I’m watching the end of the world.” And I’m not entirely convinced that he isn’t right.
Despite the fact that the women are purportedly “in control,” they are still infantilized and frequently commodified. George Lopez (no, seriously, what is he doing here?) often refers to the women as “my ladies,” “our gorgeous girls,” or “my flirty thirty.” So clever. At the beginning of each episode the women parade onto the stage in a blur of spandex, spiked heels, and more fake hair than you’ll find in wig shop. Even though the women are the ones making the dating decisions, they still must dress for “their” man. You’ll be hard pressed to find a skirt longer than mid thigh, let alone a pair of pants, among this bunch. FOX is making it clear that the women are not free from judgment, they are still expected to look “hot.” Because, in the end, the man is still the one making the choice.
The show has only aired three episodes, but so far all the women are heterosexual, thin, able bodied, and conventionally attractive. No, “hot.” Every woman on this show is “hot,” not pretty, not even quietly beautiful, they are all desperately, loudly, obnoxiously hot. Everything they do, wear, and say seems designed to remind the viewer of their hotness. When the women are allowed to speak, which is not often, the words coming out of their mouths are usually some kind of innuendo. And bad innuendo at that. The viewer is never given the chance to forget that these women are hot and, generally, horny. Conversely, viewers are rarely allowed to construct the women as real people. We do not know what most of them do for a living, where they’re from, if they have children, or if they went to college. By omitting this information, FOX cleverly discourages the perception of these women as anything more than sexually available objects. They are not to be taken seriously. The “dumb blonde” stereotype is played to the hilt, really the “dumb any woman” stereotype is heavily employed.
In addition to providing stellar commentary, George Lopez also serves as the resident bro for the male contestants. Lopez and the guy stand on a platform removed from the women, from which they are able to gaze upon the “flirty thirty.” From this platform the man must “sell himself” to the women by telling them who is he, what he does, etcetc and hoping that they keep their lights on for him. As previously mentioned, if more than one woman keeps her light on for the guy, he is then granted the power to eliminate the women he does not want. Without learning anything about them. While the women, and the viewers, get to know a lot about this guy, the guy makes his choice based solely on physical appearance. Further supporting the notion that men are “real people” worthy of acknowledgment in the public sphere, indeed we should want to know about this guy, but he does not need to know anything about the women.
Adding to this fiasco is the choreographed movements the women are required to perform when a man leaves the stage. If no lights are left on and the man is dismissed, the women all sway back and forth and wave goodbye as he exits to music. If a man does get a date, the women perform bizare choreography while the man and his date exit the stage underscored by “Two Tickets to Paradise.” Subtle.
In addition to being generally disgusted, Take Me Out is a spectacle of carnivalesque proportions. Viewers are encouraged to laugh at these women, to make a mockery out of them and how far they will go for a date. We are not to believe, for one second, that these are serious women looking for, or deserving of, love and/or companionship. They are a joke, a disposable joke. Indeed, when one woman is chosen and leaves the show, she is immediately replaced by another woman who bears an eery resemblance to the departed lady. Above all, the entire show feels forced, uncomfortably so, a dynamic which only adds to the mockery.
It is not difficult to imagine that FOX’s next dating show will feature entirely nude, blindfolded women, strapped to conveyor belts anxiously awaiting the approval of male on-lookers, and we’ll call it MeetMarket