I try not to get too worked up about bad reality television shows. I understand that they cater to the lowest common denominator and that they're as much of an embarrassment to their viewing audience as they are to the participants or the network or the production company. It's in my best interest to ignore them and pretend that they don't exist, because ultimately they don't matter and don't deserve any extra attention, even if it's as the subject of scorn. But once in a while I hear about one of these shows that just gets under my skin and I can't stop thinking about. So I am compelled to rant.
I guess I was too premature in hoping that the FOX network had turned over a new leaf in my recent "Cosmos" post. I thought that they had left behind the most awful reality competition shows like "The Swan" (a plastic surgery show masquerading as a makeover show) and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" (a woman's entire innocent family is subjected to a fake nightmare fiance). And then I heard about their new summer reality matchmaking show, "I Wanna Marry 'Harry,'" which has one of the most horrendous premises I've ever heard of. The more I think about it, the more it makes my blood boil.
Twelve American women are shipped off to the UK to spend a few weeks vying for the affections of an eligible man who they think is Prince Harry, actually a lookalike recruited to fill the role. It's a hoax show of course, in the same vein as "Joe Millionaire." You have to be exceptionally badly informed or gullible to think that a member of the royal family would consider participating in a crass American "Bachelor" style reality show to find potential mates. It's akin to George Clooney joining Match.com. This points to the contestants being an exceptionally dim bunch, or willing to play along and humiliate themselves for a chance at fame and fortune. I'm not sure which possibility is worse.
The appeal to that certain demographic is obvious. The show is taking advantage of the hype over the royal wedding and parlaying the acceptance of Prince William marrying a commoner into the possibility that anyone now has a shot at his eligible bachelor brother. It's also playing that age-old game of shame the gold digger. The unspoken assumption is that it's fine to laugh at the contestants because they're stupid enough to fall for the ruse and if they're on this kind of dating show then they're probably terrible people anyway. It's another spin on the freak show, similar to "Honey Boo Boo," "Real Housewives," or "The Kardashians." The audience gets to watch their antics with disgust and feel safely superior in the knowledge that they would never stoop so low.
In the case of "Marry Harry," however, that's clearly not true. There are many women out there who would jump at the chance to fulfill the princess fantasy we've all been spoon-fed since childhood and marry into royalty. Think of all the princess-themed junk aimed at little girls and the Prince Charming narratives that still work their way into so many romance stories. Well ladies, this is where all that leads. You end up a poor, deluded dupe on a reality show being exploited and mocked in prime time for taking to heart all those movies and shows where any ordinary girl can land herself a royal with enough pluck and determination. Generally I enjoy seeing princess fantasies subverted and their adherents set straight, but this is just cruel for the sake of being cruel.
I can't help wondering how the show's producers are going to try putting a positive spin on "Marry Harry." Most of the hoax shows try to soften the blow, often handing out large sums of cash to help assuage their victims' embarrassment. And Joe Millionaire did become a proper millionaire on the show's last episode. Will the producers try to suggest that true love blossoms between the winning wannabe royal and the fake Prince Harry? Will they declare her a real princess in all the ways that matter and hand over a shiny tiara for her trouble? I'm fantasizing about the last girl calling out the faux royal and the scumbag producers, but that's not going to happen.
It's depressing that shows like this are still being made. I can only be glad that this is the kind of scenario that can only be pulled off once. No other royal out there has the same draw as Prince Harry, and other shows have already put forth fake millionaires and fake tycoons, so the basic idea is already pretty played out. Also, I take heart that this is one of the last shows to be ordered by FOX's departing Director of Specials, Mike Darnell, who is leaving the network in May, hopefully to go wreak programming havoc somewhere less visible. Let's hope shows like "Marry Harry" are likewise on their way out the door.