Monday, January 24, 2011

Genuine Ken: Genuinely Creepy



I usually avoid reality-type television like it is the plague (which it might be), but recently I watched the first episode of Genuine Ken: The Search for the Great American Boyfriend. If that sounds weird to you, you are correct. If it sounds like you want to start dating from this pool, you are insane.

I found out about Genuine Ken because I am a huge Michael Buckley fan, and he appeared as a guest judge in the first episode. And I was curious. So I watched.

In the first episode, host Whitney Port (of The Hills... etc.) introduces the contestants (an assortment of muscle-y 25 year olds with little to none self-awareness) and the idea of the show (which seems to funded by Mattel, maker of Barbie.). The transition shots are of stop-motion pictures of cars moving and people walking to make it look like dolls. By the way, this is not cute or clever, it is creepy. The guys move into a Barbie Dream House-styled apartment which is weird and uncomfortable for all involved. As the contestants begin to talk to each other and prepare for their first task (a talent show! OMG!), the cursory interviews begin to peg the guys as different reality TV stereotypes ("meathead," "shallow freak," etc), all of which I find revolting.

It seems like the idea of the show, is to find a guy who is a "Genuine Ken," the perfect American boyfriend (as Ken is to Barbie). [PROBLEM: Mattel released a statement almost SEVEN YEARS AGO saying that Barbie and Ken broke up. Did Mattel think we'd forget that fact? Well, I have NOT.] The show is trying to determine which of the 8 contestants (now 7, one got kicked off in the first episode) has the most boyfriend potential. The show is so stilted... I'm not sure who their target audience is (probably not critical, college feminists), and it's not even on television (only online). I am curious about how the show is going to portray idealized masculinity as it goes on. In the first episode it is revealed, while preparing for the talent show (or ... un-talented show... see what I did there? If you watch you will see what I mean) that a couple of the guys were cheerleaders in college. The pro-football playing "Dreamer Ken," Kurtis Taylor, scoffs at this. "My sisters were cheerleaders," he says.

Other than that, there wasn't a whole lot of implied gay-jokes, and I was left to wonder about some of the contestants' sexualities. The show is searching for "the great American boyfriend," and a boyfriend can certainly be a boyfriend to a boy, right? I'm figuring that the show has a heterosexual theme, but it's possible that Mattel could be liberal, right? (Probably not.) In any case, I'm going to continue watching... it's truly bizarre. And unless the overwhelming blandness of the guys' personalities turns me away from the show (a possibility), I'm going to watch to the end to see how gender plays out in this show.

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