|Old West End Gym Dance Classroom, West End, NC (source)
I have an unhealthy obsession with dating shows _ I mean the trashy reality kind. This obsession inevitably led me to apply to appear on dating television. I was contestant #3 on ‘U8TV the Lofters’ first gay themed dating episode. Luckily for me, it only ever appeared online. In the show I was pitted against a stout boy from Scarborough and my ex-boyfriend (a strange coincidence) in a battle for the heart of a cowboy from Calgary. When the Calgarian made his appearance and was nearly twice my age, I threw the game. My ex did the same, so that the Scarberian was deemed victor, with an awkward date as his prize.
I sometimes wonder what happened on this date. Not just the how, but also the where. My fascination with dating shows has as much to do with the infrastructure of dates as the drama that takes place within this infrastructure. The dating show presents us with an almost unending menu of date activities that take place across the urban landscape, from center to fringes, in community gyms, bowling alleys, equestrian facilities, restaurants, and a plethora of other places that exist mainly to satisfy the date. Did the noise of the bowling alley or chill of the equestrian facility distract enough to make the older Calgarian attractive in the eyes of the younger Scarberian? Did the Calgarian imagine his date to have a slighter more elegant frame in the dim lighting at the French Bistro? Were they at any point inebriated enough to make these first two points moot?
The format of my favorite dating show, ‘Blind Date’, changes cities each episode, showcasing the dating delights of each new place while it follows the drama. Had they been placed on the show, the date between the Calgarian and Scarberian might have played out as follows:
Intro to ‘Blind Date’, this week taking place in North Carolina. Scarberian picks up Calgarian at hotel downtown. Skip to scene of the couple driving by a strip mall in the suburbs. Calgarian has surprised Scarberian with square dancing lessons at a community dance studio. Calgarian and Scarberian hold each others waists and giggle at square dance instructions demonstrated by a large, good humored, 60 year old woman wearing a cowboy hat and overalls. Skip to scene of couple driving to a historic building near the city center. Scarberian has surprised Calgarian with acting lessons at a local drama workshop. Calgarian and Scarberian exercise their voices by sputtering saliva, followed by acting out a portion of script from the film adaptation of ‘The Color Purple’. Calgarian refuses to act on stage due to fright. Tensions mount. Skip to scene of the couple driving to a mauve colored restaurant with outdoor seating. Scarberian lectures Calgarian on not taking enough risks. Calgarian has one too many drinks. Date ends outside restaurant with awkward hug. Skip to interview of contestants.
E. Sean Bailey
|End Credits from Cloverfield, 2008 (source)
There are dates based on across from and there are those based on next to. Intimacy takes different spatial forms in public. When eating dinner, one leans over the table, but at the movies, one lover sits beside the other. The theater is a place intended for the crowd, but it has, as subtext, a more exclusive set. While it is a public space, one intended for masses, its velvet rows do not indicate a democratic condition but rather may provide the forum for a necessarily exclusive romantic situation. There are spaces left between couples. Those seats left empty make a pattern of gaps, places where no face glows with screen light.
The moviegoer, as in Walker Percy, goes alone, goes to the cinema in an act of solitary obsession, addicted to that particular spectacle. While he sits in the theater’s front and submits himself to solitude, expecting the screen to provide some lonely consolation, moviegoers go in pairs, step over other pairs, line the dark back rows as they grope and kiss.
What is, indeed, the public structure for intimacy? What is a romantic seating arrangement? Why are some crowds made up of ones, while others consist of twos? Is it the ancient velour or is it the predictability of the entertainment? Stadiums and concert halls do not engender romance. A forgiving darkness and gigantic figures, attractive and moving slowly across the screen, distract from the grubby reality of adolescent romance.