I am not a “reality TV” kind of woman. My television preferences come in exactly three flavors: news, baseball, and The Simpsons. I watched American Idol for one season, but aside from that I remain a reality TV virgin. When BeckySharper and Pilgrim Soul discussed the drama of The Real Housewives of NYC, I had to sit on the sidelines and wonder why this stuff was considered entertainment. But now I have been sucked into the swirling, soul-killing vortex of the genre, and all in the name of investigative blogging. I am talking about the hour I wasted last night watching The Cougar.
Oops! Wrong kind of cougar in that photo! Please forgive the error. Although that cougar’s face looks spookily like my own befuddled expression after an hour watching the dreck on TV Land last night. The premise of The Cougar is that, since men have been dating younger women “for thousands of years,” it takes reality TV to turn the tables in a bold sociological experiment that will “put an end to that double standard.” Wow, really? Making an easily mocked and heavily scripted reality TV show is going to obliterate ironclad double standards? Gee, it sounds so easy! Maybe next season they can produce a show called Stud-Shaming!
There is one essential problem that I have with the show, and that is its very existence. This is not a blanket condemnation of dating shows, but the fact that The Cougar is based on the fallacy that women have an expiration date, and then turns around and pretends to be making some grand statement about society. The producers are clearly trying to prove that they are doing this in a sly nudge-nudge wink-wink manner, as if to say “Look at how enlightened we are!” But by constantly harping on the woman’s age, whatever larger point they (doubtfully) may be trying to make gets lost amid the half-hearted “age-is-just-a-number-so-stop-focusing-on-it-but-remember-how-awesome-this-show-is-to-have-a-woman-of-a-certain-age” banter between the host, the men, and the cougar herself.
The cougar, if you’re interested, does have a name — not that the producers always seem to think that’s important. Her name is Stacey, but please remember that she is also The Cougar and shall be referred to as such when it pleases the voiceover writers. She’s 40, has four children, and has a job in the real estate profession that seems to have a somewhat nebulous definition. Stacey wants a husband and has taken the perfectly logical step of auditioning twenty men on basic cable television to have the honor of being Mr. Stacey.
It should be noted that Stacey does seem to have a definition of empowerment that is a bit askew from my own, as she says that “it is really empowering to have my choice of twenty men.” Maybe Stacey is of the mind that women’s equality means that a woman can headline a reality TV show that is abso-fucking-lutely fixated on the fact that this is an older woman and thus we can never forget that she is older than the men, not younger, she is older, older, older, older, old. Did I mention the men are younger than Stacey? She is a Cougar, and the viewers will not forget that — in the name of equality! The authoritative voice of host Vivica A. Fox makes it very clear during the premiere episode that nobody cares when older men date younger women, and hence this show will bring balance to that imbalance of the sexes! Except that the whole point of this show is to focus on Stacey’s age and how “daring” this is. Maybe it would be more “daring” to have Stacey starring in a show that does not give a shit about her age, let alone make it the entire basis for the show. By making it The Issue driving the show, the producers fetishize Cougarhood and make it impossible to equate it to the older man/younger woman situation.
The fact is that there is no equation here, no parity between the genders when the significantly older party in a relationship is a man and when it is a woman. For those who think taking offense at the word “cougar” is much ado about nothing, I will repeat my comment on yesterday’s Jezebel post about this phenomenon: Just the fact that we have to give this “phenomenon” a name is ridiculous. What do we call older men who date/marry younger women? Is Michael Douglas a lynx? Is Hugh Hefner a puma? Was Tony Randall a snow leopard? The fact that there’s no corresponding inane term for men just shows that this is something perceived as being outside the norm for women and so there has to be a ridiculous label applied to it.
Now, with that out of the way, I will treat those of you who missed last night’s masterpiece with some epically
fantastic cringe-inducing highlights:
- There is a contestant named Colt. A nice young male animal for our female cougar.
- Joe the bartender, who wore a safari hat so he could properly demonstrate that he was hunting for a cougar.
- The contestant who greeted Stacey by saying, “You look way too old to be a cougar.” He meant to say she looks way too young to be a cougar, but whatever.
- The contestant who said, “This is my first cougar experience.”
- The singing contestant who serenaded Stacey with these lyrics: “You like guys under thirty, it doesn’t mean you’re dirty. You like us young and clean, as long as we’re over seventeen.”
- The police officer contestant who introduced himself by saying “You’re under arrest. You stole my heart. You have the right to remain delicious.”
- The bleep-filled exchange between two contestants: an Andy Roddick-doppelganger (who has his own twin as a fellow contestant) and a pretentious twit in an ascot. It started out with them arguing about whether or not “age is just a number” then devolved into the Roddick-doppelganger yelling at the other guy and calling him an “ascot-wearing motherfucker.” Maybe not those exact words, but it was bleepy and he said “ascot,” so I’m sticking with that.
- The contestant who said Stacey was “a grey squirrel I just want to pounce on.” Insert your own “squirrel-and-nuts” joke here.
- The contestant who said “I really hope this cougar likes lamb, because I’m nice and sweet and tender.”
And finally, in what might just be enough to keep me watching this trainwreck…
- The seduction-guaranteed pick-up line: “How’d you like to try an Australian kiss? Like a French kiss, only down under?”
Meow indeed! Now excuse me, ladies. I am going on the prowl for my own tender lamb.