But Jeff Daniels, a 50-year-old computer programmer, thinks the shows are a hoot. "Of course it's a lie," he says, laughing. "That's what makes it perfect TV."
Still, it's all too much for 23-year-old Heather Miller, a brunette with light streaks coursing through her long hair. She objects to how "Joe Millionaire" calls the women contestants "girls." To her, that word indicates how the two shows play off a coarse series of stereotypes about men and women. She complains that the two shows perpetuate the idea that a woman without a man isn't complete, and that a woman has to have a man with money to feel successful. That, she opines, is dangerous because of the power television can have in shaping people's perceptions.
"We learn about who we are from the media. The media reflects who we are," says the Wellesley College graduate, "but then it reinforces who we are back to us and it imprints itself on us so that we just keep perpetuating the same old ideas. These are all the old clichés."
"Joe Millionaire" certainly plays on the idea that a tall, dark, and handsome man with riches is an ideal mate. Or at least it tries to. Evan Walker seems to be all of those things and ever so suave, until that is, he tries to mount a horse for the first time in front of 20 women. Eliza Doolittle would have winced.
By contrast "The Bachelorette" does try and play with so-called "traditional" gender roles when it comes to dating. At the end of the series it will be Trista who will have the opportunity to propose to a man.
Still, the show doesn't stray too far from some traditional views. Dr. Brooke Barton, a clinical psychiatrist, says the old cliches have never really gone away, but a backlash against the career-focus of feminism has brought back the emphasis on early marriage and babies with a vengeance. "Trista talked about all the traditional values," she observes. "We're in a very reactionary mode right now and you can see people reaching back to these traditional values on these shows."
The shows themselves are a hot topic around Hollywood.