A friend of mine recently suggested that I write a post about the show The Bachelorette. My friend has joined a group of women who watch the show regularly, poking fun at it in addition to analyzing it. She was curious to hear what I had to say about the show, as she felt that the current bachelorette had little or no sense of self, and she found that understandably disturbing.
It took me a while to warm up to the idea of writing about this show, as I don’t like reality TV. I haven’t liked it since the first episodes of Survivor debuted. Back then, I was working for a small tech company, and the engineers would gather in the evenings—whenever we were working crazy hours—to take a break and watch a bunch of people trying to survive on a desert island while surrounded by the amenities of modern life, like video cameras. Something about the whole idea bothered me, so I didn’t watch—and I hoped it would go away.
It did not go away. Instead, reality TV flourished like the crabgrass in my yard, confident and tenacious. It thrives on the worst aspects of human nature, glorifying greed and shame, chicanery, rudeness, and stupendous acts of self-serving vanity motivated, I assume, by deep insecurity. Of course, I still haven’t watched any of it—I am basing this opinion on the snippets I see about shows like Jersey Shore and The Real Desperate Housewives of Wherever and yes, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and now, God help us, Bachelor Pad.
So. It took me a while to warm up to the idea, but the other night I watched the finale of The Bachelorette with my friends. I had fun, because I was with good friends, we had tasty snacks, and no one judged the (fairly crude) wisecracks I felt compelled to make. But I didn’t know if I could write about it. There was too much to say, and reality TV is too much like crabgrass. I’ll smack down a few words against it, but you know it’s coming right back, a smile on its face, digging its ugly little tendrils in. What’s the use?
As I was talking to my husband about the inherent difficulties in writing about this show, my daughter (who was listening in, as we were in the car at the time and she couldn’t help it, a fact I wasn’t taking into consideration) started asking questions: What show was I talking about? What was I going to blog about? I told her the basic concept of the show, and said that I didn’t know what to say because the whole thing is so silly. My daughter, in her eight-year-old wisdom, said, “Well then you should say that. Say it’s silly. And weird.”
You know, I thought, that just might work. So here goes:
Why The Bachelorette Is Silly
- TV love ain’t real love. It is easy to become infatuated with someone in thirteen weeks, especially when that someone is attractive and you are traveling together to various exotic destinations, surrounded by luxuries you most likely can’t afford in that real life you live, the one in which you are worried you won’t get married anytime soon. Falling in love with someone—the kind of in love that takes wedding vows seriously after five years, or ten, or fifteen? That’s gonna take a little more reality than reality TV has to offer.
- The show encourages weakness. The show is built on fear—fear that a woman will end up an “old maid,” or that either a man or woman won’t find “The One.” The show uses this fear as a motivator, pitting people against each other to see who can triumph over loneliness and who will be deemed unworthy of love. It is weaker to find a mate out of fear than it is to stand alone, get to know yourself, and find a mate when the time is right. But self-examination and healthy choices aren’t usually the stuff of television.
- The woman is STILL waiting for a ring. In a show in which a woman has something like 25 suitors, only one of whom she can decide to marry, the finale comes down to…a ring the guy chooses, and whether or not he gives it to her. I think, for this show, the woman should propose to the man. I think SHE should fly in on an airplane to Fiji, wearing a jammin dress, and ask HIM to marry her, while he waits all anxious, surrounded by various props of island love, like blooming pink flowers and driftwood. (It is true that the woman has a rose to give the man—the “final rose”—which symbolizes that he is her choice. But I think she’s in an oddly passive position, waiting for a proposal, when she is supposed to be the one holding the power of decision throughout the show.)
- The franchise encourages damaging myths. Myths like, “It’s hot when guys fight over a woman.” Or, “Being married is a woman’s ultimate fulfillment, the most important goal in her life.” Or, in the case of The Bachelor, “Women should have catfights to determine who gets the ultimate prize—a man.” Or, in the case of Bachelor Pad, “Hot people can have anything they want, and get away with all manner of shenanigans, because snagging one is worth any amount of pain. Cause, you know, they’re hot.”
- Money, money, money. This show is not about love, or marriage, or the trials of young people. This show is about money. It’s about island vacations for entire families, and ostentatious rings, and salaries for the producers and creators and actors—I mean, everyday people. Also, it’s about money.
Why The Bachelorette Is Weird
- It’s surreal reality. It was my daughter’s word, weird. I didn’t use the word as I was describing the show to her—I only said it was silly. All she had to hear was a brief description of the show’s concept, and she understood that this is not a normal human situation, it’s a manufactured one—and that is weird.
- Who ARE these people, anyway? Are they actors, or wannabe actors, out for fame and money, or at least a foothold in the industry? Are they sincere in their desire to find a mate? If they are sincere, what on earth makes them think they’ll find one under such false pretenses? Why are they willing to make such a personal thing so public? If self-esteem is an issue for some of them (I’m no psychologist, but I’d say it’s a safe bet), then shows like this are preying upon human insecurities to make a buck. That is both weird and unhealthy.
- It has a high “ick” factor. After the finale, when the bachelorette has accepted one proposal and turned down another, there is a postmortem called “After the Final Rose.” In this show, the host brings out the guy who lost the girl to ask him how it felt to be turned down on national TV. If the man had sincere feelings for the woman he proposed to (and he was either one hell of an Oscar-worthy actor, or he did feel something for her, and thought she felt it in return), this question is cruel and unusual. The fact that we are expected to watch this man’s humiliation and then hear his reaction to it is just creepy—it encourages us to think of him as unworthy of basic respect, not to mention good manners. If the whole thing is staged, and this guy could care less about the woman he proposed to, then that‘s creepy in another way. Why is it entertaining to make people play the role of themselves falling in love and being rejected?
- It’s ominous. The contests, the melodrama, the unhealthy relationships, the unctuous host asking the “tough” questions, the tabloids, the paparazzi. This is the stuff of nightmares, not marriages.
- It’s just a game. In the final shot of the finale, the happy couple is shown walking together on the beach. The newly-minted female finance says something like, “Did you ever think things would work out this way?” Her successful suitor replies that, when she announced that her future husband was in the room on the first show of the season, his first thought was, “What the f— are you talking about?” That made me laugh, and I liked this guy in that moment. He knows, she knows, we all know—it’s just a game. How weird is that?
Ok, so The Bachelorette is silly and weird. As reality shows go, however, it is relatively tame—for example, based on the previews I’ve seen, Bachelor Pad seems to be about promiscuity, debauchery, and the objectification of both women and men. And I’ve enjoyed some silly, weird shows—Three’s Company comes to mind. If a rerun of that came on right about now, I can’t promise I’d switch the channel right away. I’d like to take the high road and say I wouldn’t watch even a second of that ridiculously sexist show as a grown-up, self-respecting woman, but I’d be lying. I might, truth be told, watch an entire episode. I might even enjoy it.
I can see why The Bachelorette is compelling—it’s fun to question the who, when, where, why, and how of Boy Meets Girl. And, despite my cynicism, I don’t rule out the possibility of true human connection from any situation in which people come together—I think one of the couples from this show has gotten married and stayed that way. I found myself wanting to believe that the jilted guy was who he seemed to be—a genuine person, who said he’d grown from this experience and felt he’d come away with his dignity intact. I don’t think emotional growth or dignity are the norm for this show, but if they were a part of his experience, then kudos to him, and may he go on to find peace in the real world.
In fact, I hope that all of them—whoever they are, the casts of this unreal reality show—can find peace, happiness, and love in their real, everyday lives. I’m just not expecting this show to make that easy for them.