Sunday, 17 January 2010

Take Me Out: the dating show as biological metaphor

ITV1's new dating show Take Me Out has become required viewing at Manflet Mansions - partly because of cocksure cupid Paddy McGuinness (one half of Phoenix Night's Max and Paddy) but primarily because of its jaw-droppingly regressive portrayal of male/female "relationships".

The bastard child of Blind Date, TMO has inherited its prime time Saturday night slot, but bears little more than a passing resemblance to the Cilla Black love-match. Here, the concept of a cheeky northern monkey host "helping" people to find "love" through humiliation is flipped into a kind of speed-dating talent show, where one single man works to prove himself (read: shows off) to a panel of 30 available women. If they don't like what they see, a woman can hit a buzzer to turn off the light on their podium, and whoever is left "turned on" (geddit?) at the end goes on a date with the lucky(?) feller.

Stunningly, this update of Blinda Daaate makes the original seem downright progressive. While Cilla's show was founded on principles of equality (men and women taking turns to pick potential partners) and romance (being "blind" necessitating a search below the surface for a connection), Take Me Out is purely biological. When the show's website refers to the "survival of the fittest", the double entendre barely conceals Paddy's true intentions: to help females find the most suitable mate.

While the women on Take Me Out come in all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds, and cover a range of appearances from Hanging to Just Plain Rough, the successful male contestants are always good looking (from the neck down), or rich, or both. According to show, what women want rarely runs deeper than a man's skin, or more accurately, his muscles: his "body builder's build", his "guns", or - weirdly specific this one - "shoulders". The question "beauty or brains" is bandied around a lot, and never conclusively answered, but all the signs point squarely towards the former. The two girls who were asked the question outright gave the cop-out response "both", but then they were talking to a trainee doctor and owner of the aforementioned shoulders. A man with a degree in medicine and a dating chart on his fridge (2 points for a random) - an educated fool.

The men play up to this shallow attitude during the round in which they show off their "talents". From wrestler to gymnast to "butler in the buff", most perform at least half-naked (even the fire breather, which was a health and safety nightmare). Those that don't stack up physically subtly draw attention to the size of their wallet. I drink wine = I'm posh = I have money. I drum = I was in a band in the 70s = I have money. When this middle-aged prune of a former pop star (now strip club owner) walked away with a twentysomething under the pretext that she likes "rockers", I almost sicked on myself. But I got the message loud and clear: men are either protectors or providers; there are no soul-mates, only suitable sexual mates.

But while Take Me Out may be concerning, it is also compelling. It's classic car-crash telly, a pile-up between Darwin's horse and carriage and a white van carrying amateur porn. Be appalled by it on ITV Player NOW.

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