I would claim that I binged on Love Is Blind because of the Coronavirus lockdown, but if I’m being completely honest, I’ve never needed a global pandemic as an excuse to consume episode after worthless episode of whatever candyfloss viewing Netflix has churned out. I resisted watching the show for all of three days, but once my timeline was flooded with the endless #LoveIsBlind tweets, the outcome was very much written in the runes and I fell down the binge watching hole really rather rapidly.
The premise, for anyone who’s been living in a cave, is that the contestants all date each other to start with, but they’re in pods and cannot see the person with whom they are chatting. The idea is that they’ll fall in love with the person’s personality before taking into account their looks (the producers really didn’t venture very far when matching a title to the show). Then, in a dramatic acceleration to the very notion of meeting a partner, the male contestants must propose to their female of choice. If the woman agrees, they then meet in person and, with any luck, won’t physically convulse at the sight of their new fiancé or fiancée. The couples then live together – hopefully in harmony – until their wedding day. Upon making it down the aisle, the couples must then choose, in front of a congregation, whether they can actually bring themselves to say ‘I do’ to the person facing them. Let the drama commence.
Whilst numerous question marks hang over the palatability of the show and its numerous problematic narratives – the almost wincingly painful representation of traditional male-female roles, the delineation of the stereotypical washed-up old-maid with a drink problem, the vilification and exploitation of an evidently sexually confused man who is not yet ready to accept his own bisexuality – I do not take issue with the show as a whole. Sure, it’s trashy and sure it does nothing for social progression, but it’s not political propaganda – it’s entertainment and should be viewed as just that.
There was however one recurring theme in the series which struck me personally as unsettling: the controversialization (yes that is a word, I’ve checked) of Lauren and Cameron’s interracial relationship.
As a mixed-race daughter of an interracial couple, it’s just never occurred to me that interracial relationships could be considered so left field that the race element may actually be a deal breaker. I was, somewhat naively, taken aback by the unrelenting suggestion that the sand in the oyster of Lauren and Cameron’s otherwise perfect relationship was that they were racially different. A pang of irritation spiked through me every time it was mentioned, the tone of the discussion suggesting that their interraciality could actually be the reason they don’t get wed, and not the fact that they met a mere three weeks ago and don’t actually really know each other that well.
Whilst I reminded myself of my own reasoning – that the debate surrounding light-hearted entertainment need not always be as politicized as Twitter deems necessary – it caused me to reflect on how much of mainstream American culture is marred by ethnic separation, and on a more positive note, how much more progress has been in British media in comparison.
If the drama and controversy surrounding the interraciality of Lauren and Cameron’s pairing was simply a tool to create some kind of narrative for an otherwise pretty sweet but boring relationship, then perhaps that would be a less bitter pill to swallow, however I can’t help but feel that the show’s focus on the significance of an interracial couple is redolent of the racism which has remained ever present in American culture.
As recently as 2005, the film Hitch starring Will Smith as its protagonist underwent a cast change when it was deemed too controversial for Smith, a black man, to kiss Cameron Diaz, a white woman whose role as the love interest was instead given to Eva Mendes. Later reflecting on the production company’s decision to swap a Caucasian female lead for a Latin female lead, Smith lamented Hollywood’s “pandering to racism” and acknowledged that seeing intimacy on screen between an interracial couple is “no big deal [outside America], but is still massive news in the US [and] still a racial issue”. Whilst we may have seen more American interracial couples on screen since Hitch’s controversy, the very portrayal of such relationships is deemed newsworthy to American audiences, thus proving that this racist ideology is still adopted wholesale throughout America.
Although Love Is Blind portrayed Lauren and Cameron’s relationship in such a way that the audience were willing them to succeed as a couple despite their interraciality, my fear is that if American mainstream media persists to dramatize interracial couples as though they are trailblazers, they will in effect stymie any cultural progress which could be made. Art and media, even in their trashiest of forms, have a transformative influence on the way their consumers think and, by extension, act. The normalisation of dating outside one’s race on screen would, in the long-term, go a long way in removing that question mark that still hangs over interracial dating in America. I’m not so naïve as to believe that the racism deeply ingrained in the fringes of American society would simply evaporate thanks to a few interracial couples having a snog on screen without the media crying about it, but it would certainly help a lot more than the type of melodramatizing seen in Love Is Blind, to progress the discourse about race relations.
Despite the discomfort I felt at watching Love Is Blind’s controversialization of Lauren and Cameron, it warmed my heart to consider the contrast here in the UK. Although there is still progress left to be made in terms of race relations here, one cannot deny that the disconnect between the British not giving a flying fig as to the ethnicity of their reality stars and the US banging on relentlessly about the rarity of mixed race couples is a mile wide. A very simple parallel to draw with Love Is Blind is the juggernaut of British reality TV, Love Island. Neither programme portrays eviscerating romance, but not once has the driving force behind a Love Island storyline been based on a couple’s interraciality. Of course, debate surrounding the show has touched on race, in particular the question of whether certain contestants were unlucky in love because of their ethnicity, but never has the show itself laboured any such point. When 2019 winners Amber and Greg took the crown, their interraciality paled into insignificance, as was the case with every other interracial couple which has competed.
As a mixed-race child of interracial parents, I’m proud that British reality TV demonstrates a far more progressive attitude towards race and dating than its American counterparts (I never thought I would ever claim to be proud of reality TV…maybe it’s the mundanity of the lockdown getting to me.) The British journalistic media still leaves much to be desired – the less-than-subtle racial undertones of their treatment of Meghan Markle and Stormzy in the last year alone are testament to that. But it fills me with optimism that, if the likes of Love Island can eschew weaponizing race, then this only exemplifies how socially advanced we as a community are in comparison to our neighbours across the pond.