I get a lot of scornful, “I can’t believe YOU watch THE BACHELOR” sort of comments from my friends when they find out about my obsession. Granted, if you know me even a little, it’s a bit surprising. On the surface, someone like me (feminist, relatively moral human being, incurable monogamist) watching a show like The Bachelor requires a level of cognitive dissonance few are capable of. But I promise it all makes sense if you dig a little deeper.
What appeals to me about The Bachelor franchise isn’t the drama, the hot men, the international travel, or the suspense of the rose ceremonies. It’s the completely accidental, unintentional running commentary the show provides on human nature in general, and specifically human relationships.
Hear me out.
We laugh at the people competing for love every Monday night at 8/7c because we intuitively recognize the motions they are going through as false. We see that, by and large, the emotions these men and women purport to be feeling are fabricated products of a completely unnatural situation involving isolation, groupthink, and lots of alcohol. “Nobody could fall in love in eight weeks while dating twenty-four other people!” we scoff. When the last rose is handed out, we see the dejection on the face of the unlucky bachelorette that didn’t get chosen; we wonder how she didn’t see it coming; we know Hunky McHotpants only let her go because she wasn’t as pretty as the other girls and that’s really all he cares about anyway. If we have even a vestige of a conscience, we feel a pang of empathy as we watch the jilted almost-lover riding away in a black limo, crying and talking about how stupid she feels for thinking this time things would be different.
But here’s the thing: each of us has been in the metaphorical black limo. We have all, at one time or another, felt stupid for thinking, this time, it would be different. We have all imagined ourselves in love with someone we didn’t really know, we have all let special circumstances and free booze replace hard work and critical thinking. There is a very thin line that separates each of us from the contestants on The Bachelor, and that line is social shame. Most of us wouldn’t be caught dead baring our souls on national television like that, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t thought those Exact. Same. Things.
Which leads to the question of whether or not those things, those feelings, are fake—as we assume them to be when we see them on television—or whether they’re integral parts of the human experience. Anyone can tell you that much of The Bachelor franchise is heavily manipulated, if not outright scripted. Read interviews with past contestants and they will tell you that the producers will purposely set up situations to cause drama and ask extremely pointed questions just to get the “money quotes” they need to make the series as successful as it is. It is both a science and an art. But it’s not all fake, as the (albeit few) very real and lasting marriages that have resulted from the show will testify. Sometimes it’s real, and sometimes it works.
Which could just as well be said about our relationships in real life.
Sometimes it’s real. And sometimes it works.
I wonder if some part of the scorn and derision people express towards The Bachelor comes from the fact that The Bachelor is, unintentionally but effectively, a mirror of human nature. It shows us what we are really like at our rawest, our most shameless. It shows us just how far we will go to find love (and just how far we will go to get laid).
And that is, well, kind of gross. It’s uncomfortable to see ourselves and our pain in the face of a drunk, white girl in a limousine with mascara smeared all over her cheeks, whose name is probably “Britney S.” and has an occupation like “dog lover” or “free spirit.” We’re more sophisticated than that, aren’t we?
Deep down, we know we aren’t. So it is easier not to look at it. It is easier to watch Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black and Game of Thrones, more serious, sophisticated shows, and pretend that those somehow say more about human nature than a series as shallow and frivolous as The Bachelor.
In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes of his deceased wife:
Perhaps that also applies to reality television.“Reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable. And how or why did such a reality blossom (or fester) here and there into the terrible phenomenon called consciousness? Why did it produce things like us who can see it and, seeing it, recoil in loathing? Who (stranger still) want to see it and take pains to find it out, even when no need compels them and even though the sight of it makes an incurable ulcer in their hearts? People like H. herself, who would have truth at any price.”
Emily Joy Allison is a poet and provider of fine burritos in Nashville, Tennessee. Her first album is called Dichotomized and can be found on her website emilyjoypoetry.com. You can follow her on Twitter @softlysoaring.
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