I tell anyone who will listen that I watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. It's that compulsion we feel to lead in with our embarrassment over something when we see people-- "Hey, good to see you, by the way I have a stain on my shirt. Yep, I know it's there, haha, just wanted to let you know that I know."--and so when I announce to the world that I watch it, it's like I'm covering all my humiliation bases. I know it's a terrible show, and it's even worse that I'm giving it ratings.
Maybe it's a zeitgeist thing. 25 people from different walks of life come on a television show to find love. Of course, many of them aren't really searching for love; their hunger for celebrity is obvious. Still, we get people who represent all different lifestyles, who communicate in different colloquialisms and slang, who embrace the youthful culture they've been plucked from. Whether they know it or not, their behaviors--our behaviors--are being documented and frozen in time. Our grandkids will laugh at us for using the word "salty" or demanding selfies all the time. And anthropologists will have more than enough material to fill twenty thousand textbooks.
I never, ever watched The Bachelor until Juan Pablo's disastrous season. I was equally fascinated and horrified, watching these girls make absolute fools over themselves over a guy who said little more than "Ees okay". This coincided with me reading some more "feminist" work, so I bristled a little over the blatant objectification of the women . Cameras boldly scanned down their bodies, producers asked them scandalous questions and the girls fought with one another in the most catty, basic ways possible. I felt a stirring of guilt when I couldn't look away because damn it was so mesmerizing! "Guilty pleasure" took on new meaning.
Juan Pablo was an asshole, but he started off as the sweetheart of every sappy girl and guy watching the show. He was highly anticipated and immediately declared a hunk with a heart. I remember being inundated with the publicity for that season, and I'd only ever paid attention to the show with that detached "Oh, that's on right now? Ugh." I still have images of Juan Pablo's seemingly innocent face biting a rose stuck in my brain. Help.
The first night I ever encountered the show, I was watching Master Chef. The Bachelor came on while I was doing something and somehow I was sucked in. I think it brainwashed me, but whatever. There's no going back now.
At first he came off a bit...stupid. That blank expression on his face wasn't that of a nonchalant, innocent, open guy but one who was rather vapid and smug. The former professional soccer player has a daughter from a previous relationship. He evoked her name every time someone he wasn't that attracted to tried to kiss him. I make that assumption because while he said, "I'm not going to kiss so many girls anymore; it isn't right for my daughter to see this," he turned around and made out with three girls in one night.
I'm not going to get into the reasons why he sucks. I just want to point out that the "nation" was swept away with him--and I'm not being sarcastic by saying "nation". This show has incredibly high ratings, and from I can tell 40% of viewers hate-watch it, while 60% really think there's an actual romance unfolding on the screen. Everyone believed he was this amazing, sensitive, rugged and gorgeous guy. In the end he turned out to be quite the dick seeking fame, and according to reports he may be splitting with the girl he picked (Nikki Ferrell). Since most people called that when they got together, it surprises no one. We just watch on with our popcorn.
I found out while watching Juan Pablo that the next season always draws one of the more interesting/lovable candidates that got ditched during the previous season to be the next Bachelor/Bachelorette. In this case, Andi Dorfman, a girl who walked out on Juan Pablo in one of the later episodes, was picked.
She's a nice girl. The thing I find supremely interesting is she's an attorney-- an Assistant District Attorney, actually. The news reported she quit her job that supposedly meant so much to her, which I find sad. Seems she has enough money to relax now?
Anyway, this season has mostly been boring but as I've never experienced The Bachelorette before, I didn't turn it off. The Bachelor seems dedicated to making girls look like totally catty, brainless bitches. The Bachelorette is concerned with finding out just how stupid the guys can look. Every week they are forced to do something absurd. The men are awkward and silly-looking most of the time, which brings an odd sort of satisfaction, I must admit. One week they had to strip--one of the guys was a teacher, by the way--and dance in front of Andi and a packed club. Another, they had to mime. In France.
It's this type of buffoonery that makes some of the viewers sigh--"He's so devoted to her that he'll do anything!"--and others like me who go, "What the fuck am I watching?"
But watch I did.
I'd read the spoilers (thanks http://realitysteve.com ) when I accidentally stumbled on them during Juan Pablo's season. Knowing the spoilers somehow makes watching even more fun. You know Chris is going to get dumped (though really, since he lives on a farm in Iowa in a town with something like 750 people in it, that should have been obvious even without spoilers). It's just fun to see how it happens, to watch Andi as she makes the decisions you know she's going to make, to see everyone be utter morons. Mostly everyone uses "like" as filler so extensively that it sometimes becomes too much to listen to. Especially Andi, the attorney. How did that go over with the judges, I wonder?
Overall, the season was a little ho-hum. Juan Pablo's was fun because towards the end everyone started flipping out on him. Andi comes off a little too nice, the boys mostly come off super respectful, and the guy she picks in the end is a no-brainer. Not shocked. You know there's something wrong when you're complaining about people being too nice.
Reality Steve has covered this show extensively, so reading his blog is always fun, especially to a newbie like me. He's suggested there's a bit of brainwashing going on in the house, and I agree. These people are sequestered with no phones, no internet. They start proclaiming their love very soon and it seems like they mean it, and you're just like really??? But it makes sense when you consider the environment they're in, the producers that hover around feeding them lines. This is a darker side of the show; it reminds you that these people, whatever their motives were for coming onto the show, have lives. One of the guys on show--Eric Hill--suffered a tragic accident and passed away. That threw another heaping of reality into a show that's definitely skimpy on the "reality" part in "reality TV". Unfortunately Eric left the show on a sour note. His loss is genuinely felt by everyone on the show--that, I can tell. ABC filmed the reactions of Andi and the remaining contestants--a decision heavily debated by viewers. Some felt it was a fitting way to remember him; others felt like they were exploiting the tragedy.
The bottom line: I don't really believe I'm watching a love story. So why do I watch it? Well, why does anyone watch a reality show? Seeing something called "reality" so blown up, so injected with artificiality and staging, mixed with the kinds of people you might even know, is intoxicating. It feels good, for a time, to see people fuck up and act like idiots and dicks because you think in comparison that your life is so much better.
The problem is what it does to love. It sanitizes it, boiling it down to one man or woman making out with 25 strangers they'll probably never get to really know under the circumstances. It inflates the concept of romance, turning it into something cheap and unnatural. It turns women into animals, clawing over each other in a primal fight to get the man to haul them off to his cave and give them babies. It makes men seem insincere, and the lines they use sound hollow and embarrassing.
Maybe the real issue is that it makes romance seem like work. For such a "romantic" show, I see very little of it. It must be constructed and built up on TV, like actors on stage who wear an excess of makeup so you can see it from the back row.
I don't really know what I'm talking about. I haven't watched the show enough to make a truly informed commentary on the meaning behind all this seemingly meaningless nonsense. I just know that they had a Men Tell All special and a previous couple from the show came on stage to have an ultrasound. What do you do with that?
I'll keep watching because I apparently hate myself. I can't help but think my time would be better spent reading a real love story, or watching a truly romantic movie. Unfortunately I've been sucked into the world of roses being handed out every week, fantasy suites and relationships that will never convince me.
But I have to wonder: what will anthropologists say, what will future generations say, about love and romance amongst this generation in 2014? Or will they still be tuning in each Monday night, screaming at the lead for sending home a great guy, or a wholesome gal? Dating games certainly aren't new; turn on Game Show Network for the reruns. One--The Dating Game--even had a fucking serial killer on it (Rodney Alcala). We've just expanded them a bit.
We have Tinder, we have Match.com, we even have FarmersOnly.com ... Love and romance has evolved. Perhaps I'm taking it all a bit too seriously. Maybe someone can find love on these shows.
Or maybe they'll at least get a spin-off.