It's back! Now that you're done binge watching all of the seasons of the shows I highlighted in Grapes of Trash: Dating & The Apocalypse, I have a new batch for you. These reality shows needed their book soulmates desperately, and I'm here to deliver. And, for the record, I love all of the shows I cover, so don't be too mean to me in the comments. Or do if you want to. I'm not here to make friends, I'm here to win.
Everyone in A Scanner Darkly, Phillip K. Dick’s classic science fiction novel, is hooked on a deadly, addictive drug called Substance D. What else is addicting? The siren call of online relationships. Both the people getting involved in them genuinely and those who deceive people online are addicted to the experience, just in different ways. When you’re only interacting with people online, only the good things are highlighted. People are able to curate their online selves in any way they want, and that often includes falsifying information or using somebody else’s photos. MTV's Catfish comes into these situations where people are doubtful of their online significant others to bring people together and, more often than not, expose them for who they really are.
Characters in A Scanner Darkly have virtual disguises as well. They just get to use them in real life too. They’re called scramble suits. They shift through thousands of different images of different people, creating a blurred “every person.” It's often easy to forget who you are when you're using this disguise. Narcs use scramble suits to keep their identity hidden, because they’re often someone in real life very closely involved with Substance D and its users as well. Just like Nev, the host of Catfish.
Nev got his own MTV show, because he let out a documentary called “Catfish” where he documented the reality of his own online relationship, which ended up being with a 40-year-old woman who was married with children. In A Scanner Darkly, the narcs and government officials are either one of the addicted, or used to be but are sober now. And now they’re kind of perpetuating the addiction problem, just like Nev, by showing how easy it is to do.
Both hard sci-fi drugs and online relationships are inherently addictive. You can be the dealer or the user in either, and shit gets complicated very quickly. But maybe, hidden deep within both situations, you can find true love. Or at least someone to comment on all of your profile pictures, because that's what I really want in a relationship anyway.
Married at First Sight is a brilliant and troubling show. Experts interview a bunch of heterosexual people who sign up, find their SCIENTIFIC SOULMATE and make them get married to each other. Without meeting first. So luckily the couples get to skip the awkward modern dating nonsense. No "being cool" and not ever defining the relationship in your awkward texts. These strangers are actually legally married to each other and have to try to make it work. After two months, they decide if they want to stay together or if they want to get a divorce. Because two months is plenty of time to decide if a person is right for you. But this cast clearly isn't into "mainstream" amounts of time to make life-changing decisions, so no big deal.
Where it gets really interesting is not even seeing how the newly married couple interacts. It's with seeing them come to terms with how right or wrong they were about what they wanted. They answered lengthy questionnaires and went through extensive interviews describing what they THOUGHT they wanted. And then, through finding those qualities, the ~love experts~ crafted perfect spouses for them. Dr. Frankenstein also thought he knew what he wanted in the person he created.
In Mary Shelley's classic, it's not long before Dr. Frankenstein, and some of the Married at First Sight cast, realizes that he has made a horrible mistake and that this is a monster, not a person he wants to hang out with. Often, women write down that they want masculine dudes who are "traditional," without realizing that they are actually very independent women who don't like being married to some asshole the experts found for them. They try to deal, but it's hard not to recoil and run away across a few countries, brooding and worrying a lot. And poor, neglected Frankenstein's monster is sitting there like "I just want to be loved." It doesn't always end well for some of these couples.
My Strange Addiction covers a lot of different things. Every episode it focuses on one to two people who have, as you might guess, "strange addictions." Some people eat glass, some are really into sex dolls, some are married to their cars. We all have our vices, right? Despite the vast range of topics covered in this show, you may be surprised to find out that it's very formulaic.
After following the people for a while, hearing them talk about how either they know it's a problem but they can't stop or they don't think it's a problem, they are eventually taken to a doctor or psychologist. And, like in Peter Shaffer's play, Equus, the details of the addiction are exposed to the professional. Though, on My Strange Addiction, it's cut down to about two minutes.
In Equus, the whole first act of the two act play is spent with a psychologist named Martin Dysart who is trying to get to know Alan, a teenager who committed violent acts against horses. And who might be very intensely in love with horses. In My Strange Addiction, the doctors/psychologists often find the root of the problem, just like Dysart. But generally, in the end, the consensus is "No, you're not going to die, but you probably will eventually because this is very bad for you." And to the addicted, that sounds like a "Continue what you're doing! There are no problems yet, so you're healthy!" I won't spoil the end of Equus, but it explores whether the psychologist can really help and what it means to the patient's humanity to be helped in such a way. But, like, it's probably good to stop someone from eating dryer sheets, whether or not their humanity is at stake.