Rape, Romance, and Reality Television 


Grant Robicheaux appeared a few years ago on the Bravo reality TV series The Online Dating Rituals of the American Male. Now, he stands accused of drugging and raping women.

Robicheaux, a surgeon in Newport Beach, Calif., in 2014 appeared in a single episode of the show, during which he went on a date with a woman who told him, “I wanna know what’s wrong with you, because you seem, like, too perfect.” Afterward, she told the camera, “He seems a little too perfect. I think there might be some dark skeletons in that closet.”

Earlier this week, Robicheaux and his girlfriend Cerissa Laura Riley have been charged with raping women with the use of drugs. Investigators say they have discovered “hundreds of videos of apparently intoxicated women believed to have been filmed” by Robicheaux and Riley, according to The Mercury News. Both have denied the charges.

There certainly isn’t anything in that episode of The Online Dating Rituals of the American Male that particularly hints that Robicheaux will soon be accused of such prolifically heinous acts. In fact, the same date who suspected “skeletons” later said she’d like to set him up on a date with her mom. What’s more suspect is the show itself, and the marketing around it, which plays men’s bad dating behavior for light-hearted laughs.

In the episode, Robicheaux does seem unhealthily focused on women’s “perfection,” and he does say in response to a dating profile in which a woman describes herself as a “social butterfly” that she “sounds promiscuous.” Robicheaux also seems oddly put out when a date declines to share a bottle of wine with him (she doesn’t drink and said as much on her dating profile). But within the context of the show, which plays men’s romantic pickiness, sexist judgments, and insensitivies for laughs, these things seem perfectly normal.

In fact, Bravo promoted the show with a series of video clips in the style of a faux nature documentary. These clips purported to show various “species” of male daters engaging in courtship rituals as a British man narrated. In one, a man with a chin-strap beard pounds a shot while standing next to his date—whose shot glass is empty—as the narrator explains, “Here, the Predatorus Obnoxious attempts to administer an abundance of aphrodisiacs. The male asserts his dominance by placing a paw on the backside of his counterpart.” The guy on-screen smacks his date on the butt. “Imposing intimacy is one of this species strongest capabilities,” says the narrator. And then the date slaps him in the face.

At the time, Bravo also placed several paid posts on Buzzfeed, including one titled, “The 10 Types Of Guys You Find On Every Dating Website.” Examples: “The guy who doesn’t know how to take things slowly” and “The living proof that chivalry is dead.” The butt of the joke was, ostensibly, men with their aggressive sex-seeking, but the entirety of this promotional project has the effect of neutralizing and normalizing the behaviors that they comedically skewer. You don’t even have to get past a promo for The Online Dating Rituals of the American Male to know that the show itself did much the same.

Of course, this show is old news. It launched four years ago and ran for a single season. But it does fit perfectly within the reality TV tradition of portraying romance as a ritual in which men (and sometimes women) scheme, cajole, manipulate, persist, and control. In the Bachelor and Bachelorette model, love and sex are a game to be won. It’s a competition between contestants, but also between the pursuer and the pursued. It is the same ideal found in the #MeToo resisters who warn of the death of “romance”—the implication often being that it is romantic for men, in particular, to aggressively and coercively pursue women.

In June, a contestant from The Proposal, a reality show about competing to marry a stranger, was accused of “setting up a woman for date rape,” as Vice reported. That same month, it was revealed that a contestant on The Bachelorette had been convicted of groping in an incident that preceded the filming of the show. Last year, production was shut down on Bachelor in Paradise following a report of an alleged sexual assault on set. And, as Vice pointed out, Megan Lowder left season 19 of Big Brother after her treatment by the men in the house—“I had a lot of guys yelling at me and attacking me”— triggered her PTSD from a past sexual assault.

Sexual assault happens at an incredibly high-rate in the population at large, and there is no reason to think that perpetrators are any more common on reality TV. But it is worth considering how these shows can both set up, normalize, and even romanticize toxic behavior as the “dating rituals of the American male.”

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