90 Day Fiance: Embodying the Best and Worst of the American Dream
90 Day Fiance and its more than a dozen spinoffs makes up one of the most-viewed reality franchises on television.
The show is legendary, and some of its stars have very effectively monetized their fame.
At its best, it’s an entertaining and sometimes educational series on love and immigration during a pivotal era.
At its worst, 90 Day Fiance consciously appeals to the worst, most toxic suspicions and prejudices of its audience.
Vox recently did a fascinating write-up about what 90 Day Fiance represents.
The show has reacted to its culture since its premiere in 2014.
We have all seen how the policies of the Trump era made life so much harder for multiple stars.
The article’s analysis of what the show represents was particularly intriguing.
It’s a huge departure from the now antiquated model of reality TV.
Because 90 Day Fiance will make its stars famous, but it doesn’t catapult them to superstardom.
Part of the appeal of the franchise is that it doesn’t produce (many) reality TV veterans who are “in on” production.
The stars will hype up drama or repeat lines for producers as needed.
But the show documents their real lives and real struggles, even if conversations escalate into fights for the cameras.
Part of that authenticity comes with the franchise’s infamously low payout.
First-time 90 Day Fiance stars might make $1,500 as a couple per episode, with a possible but small pay bump if they return.
Hey, an extra $18k or so a year sounds nice. But even if it weren’t split two ways, that’s not Housewives money.
Because of this, the struggles that the stars face only change as their relationships do.
Danielle Mullins, one of the biggest stars in the series, had to create a GoFundMe just a few years ago.
She needed to raise $5,000 to move her trailer or she might lose her home. There’s no glamor here.
This contrasts with Teen Mom stars who went from teens with troubled lives making poor decisions to making millions.
The Alaskan Bush People family owns hundreds of acres in Washington State and a mansion in Beverly Hills.
And though June Shannon lost her fortune to drugs, the Honey Boo Boo family as a whole came a long way from the sideshow act of roadkill-eating extreme poverty.
In contrast, most 90 Day Fiance stars keep their regular jobs.
Some are able to boost their success using their fame (or notoriety) from the show.
Until recently, that only applied to entertainers like Usman or various professional models.
More recently, stars of this series and others have found new ways to monetize their fame.
The first and most accessible has been Cameo, a pay-per-vid service.
Fans can buy short, custom-made videos by celebrities, often to wish a fellow fan “happy birthday.”
In the past year or so, even more stars have gotten involved with OnlyFans, an adult media subscription site.
OnlyFans can feature hardcore porn, but most of the stars have not produced such content (excepting Paul and Karine).
A number, from Larissa Lima to Deavan Clegg and Evelin Villegas, have posted artsy if risque photos in swimsuits and lingerie.
OnlyFans is designed for sex workers and was not intended for celebrities, but celebrities can monetize it most effectively.
And while Bella Thorne nearly broke the site (in a bad way), small-name reality stars can use their fan bases to make money.
It’s a more reliable gig than product promotions … but there is stigma, and let’s be honest, not every star will make as much from it.
Even the biggest 90 Day Fiance success stories are usually raking in high five figures or low six figures on these services.
Because of that, the show’s stars tend to keep their regular lives and usually their “real” jobs.
Making $50,000 in Cameos in a year is a great windfall, but fame is fleeting — don’t quit your day job unless your day job sucks.
Stars of The Hills or Laguna Beach or of course Keeping Up With The Kardashians had glamorous or interesting lives.
Reality TV turned them into huge stars, catapulting most of them to success that, in some cases, they straight-up didn’t need.
That era is in the past. Nobody appearing on TV now realistically thinks that they’re going to be the next Kim Kardashian.
That does not mean that the show does not have an exploitative dark side, one made arguably worse by the low payout.
Watching a creepy older man prey upon a young woman living in extreme poverty isn’t entertainment.
More than once, 90 Day Fiance viewers felt like they were witnessing, if not a crime, a horror show.
And, like many reality shows, 90 Day Fiance has followed people through some of the worst moments of their mental health.
Moving, getting married, having kids, divorce — these are all massively stressful even without cameras.
And we have all observed that some of the cast is clearly chosen because they have obvious personality issues that make them toxic — but entertaining.
Unlike most reality television, however, 90 Day Fiance focuses upon the dynamic between American and non-American partners.
Here, the show preys upon some of the darkest aspects of the audience’s point of view.
Fans will heatedly declare that the non-American is “just after a green card” … even when that claim makes no sense.
Xenophobia is not the show’s only problem or even its worse.
The show and its audience are more racist than xenophobic, though the two often go hand-in-hand.
And the series is more misogynistic than either of those things.
So yes, there are times when people will cheer for the non-American or root against the American partner.
But too often, that is a situation when they simply hate the American partner more.
In particularly, too many viewers vocally hate women who are confident, who own their sexuality, or who speak with accents.
Sometimes people pat themselves on the back for siding with the non-American spouse …
… but it turns out that it’s because the American is a Black woman. It’s troubling to see.
Viewers hold other bigoted views, as we have all seen on social media after Tarik and Hazel shared their polyamorous intentions.
90 Day Fiance absolutely represents the current state of America, depicting real struggles like xenophobia, poverty, and the pandemic.
The show also symbolizes America’s nightmare economy — paying the stars less despite sky-high ratings.
As with high-productivity workforces, we then see Sharp and TLC pocket the real money.
In turn, the stars — the ones who manage to have fanbases despite bigotry — must hustle to rake in the dough.
They become creators on sites like OnlyFans, competing with and displacing struggling non-celebrities.
90 Day Fiance is a grim mirror for real life marriages, but also for predatory economic structures that deny workers the fruits of their labor.
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