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Netflix’s viral dating series didn’t need a flimsy moral imperative to attract audiences. But it tried to have one anyway.Hannah Giorgis
This story contains spoilers for the first season of Love Is Blind.
It’s a safe bet that Geoffrey Chaucer didn’t have a reality-dating TV series in mind when he wrote The Canterbury Tales, the 14th-century story collection that first popularized the phrase “love is blind.” In Chaucer’s original chronicle, “The Merchant’s Tale,” an elderly man named January forsakes all reason when he falls for May, a beautiful but philandering young woman. Netflix’s viral hit Love Is Blind, meanwhile, stretches Chaucer’s warning into a “three-week event.” The show, which ended yesterday, billed itself as a corrective to the shallow, app-driven “market” of modern dating, in which singles appraise one another based on superficial qualities.
Love Is Blind, for those who haven’t yet been dragged into its vortex, conducts a fiendish experiment: 15 men and 15 women get to know one another by conversing from inside soundproofed pods separated by a wall. The daters can’t see one another, and the only view into the rooms is from above (the camera regularly pans over them to eerie effect). Within days, participants form bonds deep enough to prompt marriage proposals, and the newly engaged couples finally meet in the flesh. The gantlet that begins once the affianced pairs leave their pods is intended to test the lovers’ commitment to each other, and to the show’s central premise. “Everyone wants to be loved for who they are,” the co-host Vanessa Lachey explains in the show’s first episode, channeling all the profundity of a fortune cookie. “Not for their looks, their race, their background, or their income.” Over its 10 episodes, Love Is Blind doled out enthralling train wrecks (and a handful of tender moments). But the show ultimately contradicts its own disingenuous premise—especially in the finale.
No matchup captures the Love Is Blind ethos more neatly than the fan favorites, a 28-year-old scientist named Cameron Hamilton, who is white, and a 32-year-old content creator named Lauren Speed, who is black. In the first episode, the two trade easy banter from their pods, their conversations gradually growing more serious. Throughout the season, Lauren, who admits she has never dated a nonblack man, is surprised by how readily she fell for—and agreed to marry—Cameron. When the two exchange vows in the finale, the show positions their union as evidence of love’s ability to triumph over difference. After they proclaim their devotion, the (black) officiant declares, “Lauren and Cameron, today, you guys have definitely proved that love is blind,” prompting an enthusiastic “Amen” from Cameron’s mother. The very last frame of the season shows the two smiling giddily at each other, their happiness all the more potent for having been so unexpected (and, of course, for having been juxtaposed with other couples’ dysfunction earlier in the episode). The newlyweds’ joy consecrates their unorthodox path to each other, and the beliefs that underlie it.
Lauren and Cameron indeed make an easy couple to root for. From the beginning, they regard each other with respect and humor, and both appear to be even-keeled individuals who don’t court drama with their bombastic castmates. But it’s this same perceived realness that challenges the show’s valorization of their improbable courtship: Though Love Is Blind alternates between attempting to extract drama from the fact of their racial differences and dismissing its significance altogether, Lauren and Cameron most often approach the matter with pragmatism. Cameron, who has dated a black woman before, tells Lauren that he knows their children will be perceived as black and face racism as a result of it. He doesn’t attempt to paper over her concerns about their differences with platitudes about the power of love; he takes Lauren—including the experiences she has because of how the world sees her—seriously.
Of course, Love Is Blind is a reality-dating show of negligible gravitas, an amalgamation of lowbrow hits including the Bachelor franchise; the Blind Date game show of yore; The Real World’s many iterations; and Netflix’s own social-media satire, The Circle. But the series does attempt to make philosophical critiques of contemporary dating habits, casting social media and cellphone usage as villains in the fight for human connection. And the idea at the core of its harebrained experiment—that finding love would be easier if we all stopped caring so much about the meaningless labels that keep us apart—is one that remains popular despite the tangible effects that markers such as race and income have on every part of people’s lives. That Love Is Blind, a show on which a woman nonchalantly lets her dog drink out of her wine glass, would adopt a preachy tone about the fracturing of human emotion is a dazzling irony.
Love Is Blind’s tonal incongruity becomes most obvious in its treatment of participants who don’t make shiny poster children for its judgment-free utopia. While Lauren does seem to get her happy ending, for example, the other black participants who make it to the experiment’s second stage do not. One of Love Is Blind’s most explosive early sequences ensued when a man named Carlton told his fiancée, Diamond, that he had also dated men in the past. The revelation came after the two had left their pod-dating phase, when they were meant to be enjoying an engagement-moon in Mexico. But even after scenes in which he’d spoken candidly about how hard it is for black men to feel safe expressing a range of emotions, Love Is Blind’s one openly bisexual participant leaves the show after an acrimonious altercation. Diamond doesn’t have a particularly easy go of things either—during the pod stage, one of the white participants tells her that her name makes her sound like a stripper.
Love Is Blind never meaningfully acknowledges one obvious structural flaw in its experiment: Racial markers, and other signifiers of social status, can be picked up during telephone conversations too. Nor does the series grapple with any number of serious issues that present themselves throughout its run—among them biphobia, classism, and substance abuse. That the show makes it all the way to its finale with almost no commentary on one contestant’s clear alcohol problem—and in fact plays her constant drunkenness for shock value—is especially cringeworthy.
It’s unlikely that anyone who watches Love Is Blind, which will also air a reunion special on Netflix’s YouTube account next Thursday, is seeking keen insights on human behavior. The show confusingly attempts to both capitalize on the specious psychology that animates its premise and separate itself from the types of series that share its DNA. Making grand pronouncements about the ills of social media—and even showing how an Instagram fixation can lead to fighting within a relationship—doesn’t change the fact that Love Is Blind is a show that teased its finale with footage of that same Instagram-obsessed woman running out of her own wedding and falling in the mud. The series didn’t need a flimsy moral imperative to attract audiences. The prospect of watching strangers humiliate themselves in the pursuit of love, fame, or some combination thereof has always been enough to reel viewers in.
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is a staff writer at
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