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Romance in the cowshed: Challenging and reaffirming the rural idyll in the Dutch reality TV show Farmer Wants a Wife

Peeren, Esther, Souch, Irina
Journal of rural studies 2019
farmers, farms, marriage, television, Netherlands
This paper examines the representation of rural life in the immensely popular Dutch version of the reality TV show Farmer Wants a Wife (2004-present). It asks whether this representation manages to move beyond the persistent association of rural life with the idyll, which, as many rural scholars have noted, prevents important aspects of contemporary rural life from being seen and understood. A comparative visual and narrative analysis of the first series (2004–2005) and the eighth series (2014–2015) of Farmer Wants a Wife reveals how it initially challenges but ultimately reaffirms this association. The first series emphasises the profound dissonance between the idyllic expectations of the rural on the part of those seeking to find love with the farmers and the decidedly non-idyllic realities of twenty-first-century farming. By the eighth series, the show has largely abandoned its commitment to documenting the realities of Dutch rural life, instead privileging the love stories, for which idyllic portrayals of the rural function as an unquestioned backdrop. The ambivalent, changing way in which the rural idyll is mobilised in Farmer Wants a Wife is conceptualized through the genre theories of Mikhail Bakhtin and Lauren Berlant, which yield new insights into why the association between rural life and the rural idyll is so persistent and how it might be loosened. (215 words)