The peacock element

Change is largely considered a good thing. It means progress. Moving forward, changing for the better. As we become wiser and more knowledgeable we can use this to build a better future, a better world. From a personal to a global level as time draws on, if we gain nothing else we gain a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Rarely is it a short journey, and worthwhile change will often not be reached until many a tangential pathway has been taken. And at no point is the stilted progress of mankind more candidly displayed than by the slew of dating shows that can be picked up any time of day on any one of the 48,000 channels we now have access to.

There’s Dating in the Dark; a self-explanatory title whereby the daters meet and conduct all their subsequent dates in a pitch-black room. The show allows the contestants to demonstrate their lack of vanity and superficiality. Regrettably this goes straight out of the blacked-out window when they introduce themselves and give their professions. “Glamour model”, “professional body-builder”, “face double for Angelina Jolie / Bradley Cooper” (delete as appropriate; to be both would just be greedy) seem to feature heavily.

The final nail in the coffin is the ‘reveal’. After getting to know one another in the dark they get the chance to see each other in the light before deciding whether to take things further. It’s a strange and wordless affair and their reactions to each other are hidden, so they are at least spared the grimaces and dry retching when the light reveals their partner to be a person of average appearance rather than the shirt-rippingly ripped / lusty and busty (delete as appropriate) humdinger of a Hollywood heartbreaker they had conjured up in their minds. It’s a very moving scene.

Then there’s Dinner Date, which claims to unite people through their love of good food. The first cull takes place on the basis of the menus provided by the five men or women who are willing to invite a complete stranger (plus film crew) into their homes. The menus are very rarely about the food as the seduction process begins by the inclusion of things like “Racy raspberry cheesecake, served dripping with my silky cream”.

As with all these things, as the notoriety of the show grows, so the menus get more brazen. It can’t be long before “Spread ‘em steamed dim sum”, “I will sleep with you ice-cream” or “Bend me over banoffee pie” makes an appearance. Once whittled down to the three most appetising menus, the picker gets to have dinner with each person before deciding on their favourite and taking them out, to a restaurant no less. Needless to say it’s not often the person who shows the greatest culinary accomplishments who gets picked.

But the grand-daddy of them all sits very loud and leeringly proud in the prime-time Saturday night slot on one of the TV channels that existed back when there was only four of them to choose from. Take Me Out unapologetically trades on modern society’s obsession with all things appearance. It’s honest though. There’s no attempt to disguise it.

Round one: a human male is delivered down a Perspex tube to the music of his choice, before parading himself up and down in front of 30 clapping, baying women. The music stops for him to give his name and city of residence. This is followed by the cacophony of droning power-down sounds as the 30 women demonstrate their disinterest by turning the lights on their podium off.

Round two: the male cuts a lonely figure as he has two minutes in which to demonstrate some special skill (usually done topless) to the sound of hands slamming down on the lights-off switch.

Round three: a video short in which the male’s friends, colleagues, parents or siblings out him as a shallow egomaniac who will no doubt transform from a sleazy arsehole to a decent, modest gent if only he could find The Right Girl.

Should any lights still be on at the end of round three, our male protagonist is rewarded with free rein to strut around the studio turning off the lights of any women who made it past the casting director despite not looking like she’s just walked off the set of Hollyoaks. Down to the final two, he picks his favourite and the new couple are jetted off to a budget Ibiza-style location for their date.

There hasn’t been much change and progress on the dating show scene over the years. The sleaze factor has shot up; it’s less about coupling up and more about copulating nowadays. The amount of fake tan per episode would probably fill several Olympic-sized swimming pools – and that’s just for the menfolk – but the peacock element remains the same. It’s a reminder that no matter how many social media accounts we might be signed up to, and no matter how artistic we can be with a filter on our camera phone, we’re not so far removed from our animal brethren as we preen, pose, shriek and holler our way into a mating situation.

We just have the benefit of being able to televise it. And watch it. And laugh.

Now that’s progress.

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