TLC’s runaway hit reality show “90 Day Fiancé” follows engaged couples through the duration of their 90-day K-1 visas in the United States. If the couple does not get married when the visa expires after 90 days, the foreign, visiting fiancé must return to their homeland. During the show, viewers don’t just meet the couple, they also meet their families and travel to the countries the visiting fiancés hail from. While raising questions about our immigration system, the show also proves that American citizenship remains the most coveted status in the world—something people will do unimaginable things to obtain.
Some couples, like season two’s Mohamed Jbali and Danielle Millins, are flagrant examples of loveless visa scammers. Handsome and fit 26-year-old Mohamed from Tunisia marries 41-year-old Ohio native, Danielle, who is deeply insecure and overweight. Watching their relationship it’s clear Mohamed is not attracted to Danielle. He openly complains about their sex life, while Danielle obsesses over Mohamed’s past relationships with younger, more attractive women.
In one explosive episode, Danielle confronts Mohamed with evidence of his infidelity, screaming, “You’re a user, Mohamed! You used me!” In that moment, she knew she was just his ticket to the U.S. But who can blame Mohamed? Tunisia is a small provincial country in a troubled part of the world. It’s also one of the least economically free nations in the world. In the end, Mohamed and Danielle end up divorcing, and thanks to their brief marriage, he remains in the U.S.
One of the most heartbreaking and raw moments in the series occurred in season five when the show followed 24-year-old Annie from Thailand and 48-year-old David from Kentucky. In exchange for permission to marry Annie, David is expected to pay her family and even other villagers. Throughout the season, David’s excessive drinking torments Annie. Twice she breaks down in tears during one of David’s drunken episodes.
Before Annie leaves Thailand for the United States, her mother helps her pack. With teary eyes, Annie tells her mother it will be a very long time before she sees her again. Throughout the farewell exchange, Annie’s mother is curiously stone-faced. However, when Annie’s mother is interviewed for the cameras and out of Annie’s sight, she lets her emotions show. With tears rolling down her face, she explains, “I worry since my daughter is going so far away, but on the other hand she has a bright future [in America]. She can support her parents and her family, so I’m happy for her.”
There it is. Annie’s mother is willing to let her only daughter leave with an ugly man who has a drinking problem and is is twice her age, for the prosperity and opportunity she is confident her daughter will find in America. Annie’s mother obviously cares and worries about her daughter, but does not let her feelings show because she wants her to be strong and follow through with the marriage for the sake of her future and the survival of her family in Thailand. It’s impossible to know from what exactly Annie’s mother was saving her, but in a country renowned for its sex trade and where one in every 113 of its population are modern day slaves, it’s not hard to imagine worse for Annie than a life with David in the U.S., no matter how unappealing he is.
The relationship between 23-year-old Rosemarie Vega of the Philippines and Ed Brown, a 54-years-old California native, is one of the most talked about in the franchise because of how starkly it contrasts American wealth and privilege with third-world poverty. Ed is not a rich guy, yet he must have felt like Bill Gates visiting Rose’s family home in a remote village in the Philippines.
Rose and her family live in the back room of her family’s humble shoe store. The rooms have no windows, the roof leaks, and electrical wires hang exposed to the elements. Ed, accustomed to standard American safety measures, asks Rose about this safety hazard as water drips on them. She seems perplexed. The family sleeps on a mats, and showers together, using a pot of hot water and a plastic cup. Ed has clearly never seen or experienced this level of poverty. “I expected it to be pretty bad” he said, “but this is really bad.”
When Rose and Ed prepare to sleep on his first night in the Philippines, Ed takes one look at the mat Rose lays out for him to sleep on and complains that it will irritate his skin condition, “Atopic Dermatitis,” which he says requires that he sleep on sheets with “at least one thousand thread count.” Lying on the mat he mutters under his breath, “What the f-ck am I doing? This is f-cking insane.”
At one point, the camera cuts away to Ed in an interview with his eyes newly opened to the depths of poverty experienced by a huge swath of the world’s population. It’s a profoundly illuminating moment for a reality TV show. Both Ed and the viewer grasp the scope of American privilege and comfort, which we all casually take for granted. “After seeing how Rose lives in her village, it makes me wonder, you know, who wouldn’t want to come to America for a better life.”
’90 Day Fiancé’ says so much about how fortunate we are to be Americans, and yet the prevailing narrative in American pop culture is that our country is not so great and that American capitalism is oppressive and not working to lift citizens out of poverty. “America was never that great” declared New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, the grandson of Italian working class immigrants.
Colin Kaepernick has done more than any other sports figure to promulgate the notion that America is a racist country. His decision to kneel for the national anthem began a trend that has in four short years become normalized.
Today, it’s no longer shocking to see grade school children kneel for the national anthem. Black celebrities who have benefited from our economic system like Jay-Z and Beyoncé now sit for the national anthem. Suburban girls, always ready to jump on the latest trend, post TikTok videos calling on their friends to wear rainbow colors for Pride Month, instead of red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July because, “America sucks right now.” It is no wonder a recent poll found that only 51% of students report feeling proud of America.
Prominent and popular American leaders regularly denigrate the American dream, declaring it dead or a fantasy. Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) pronounced in a congressional hearing, “It is physically impossible to lift yourself up by a bootstrap, by your shoelaces. The whole thing is a joke.”
This year, in a virtual speech to the graduating class of 2020, Michelle Obama sent America’s graduates off into the world with a similar message. “The truth is,” she told graduates, “when it comes to all those tidy stories of hard work and self-determination that we like to tell ourselves about America, well, the reality is a lot more complicated than that.” She continued, “No matter how hard you work,” for some “it’s almost impossible to move upward at all” due to “structural barriers.”
It’s an odd message from a woman who grew up on the south side of Chicago to working class parents, went to Princeton and then Harvard Law, became America’s first black first lady, and has a net worth of 70 million dollars, due to the success of her book “Becoming” and a lucrative Netflix deal.
No matter how self-loathing mainstream American pop culture becomes, the lines of immigrants willing to do anything to get to America—whether it’s crossing the southern border in 120-degree heat or marrying a repugnant American bachelor—prove that America is still the land of opportunity and the greatest country on earth. The history of the United States is the story of immigrants.
“90 Day Fiancé” is a dramatic, up-close reminder that nothing has changed. Indeed, the show seems to have slipped through the cracks of the woke left’s acceptable pop culture messaging, stealthily undermining their anti-American narrative.
To everyone other than America’s ungrateful left, America remains a symbol of freedom and the most coveted citizenship in the world. In its own way, “90 Day Fiancé” proves American exceptionalism, underscoring that the biggest privilege that really exists in this world is the privilege of being an American. So the next time someone disrespects America, her flag, or her anthem, tell them to watch “90 Day Fiancé” and dare them not to kiss the ground we are so blessed to walk on.