Don't Judge: I Watch 'The Bachelorette'
And here's why you should too.
Readers, be forewarned: a new season of The Bachelorette has begun.
Every Monday, Chris Harrison and his merry band of behind-the-scenes manipulating producers will cram twenty minutes of truly great TV into two hours of programming.
You are due a warning as my Tuesday nights will now be subdivided between watching DVRed Bachelorette and writing your weekly "Walk in Harwood Park" (the highlight of your Wednesday web browsing, I’m sure). This week, in hopes of forestalling any drop in quality—too often conflated in this space, perhaps, with quantity—I struck the brilliant plan of combining the two, show and article, into one mega-Tuesday evening extravaganza.
When I bring up my non-coerced viewership of this “reality” TV show, colleagues’ reaction generally ranges from bemused astonishment to open hostility.
How could I possibly waste a portion of my ever-shrinking free time on something so puerile? Couldn’t I watch something worthwhile, like Parks and Recreation, or (gasp!) read a book? Have I no pride? No manhood? Coming to understand my willingness to prostate myself before an ABC-designed pursuit of “love” begins, as it should, with the beginning.
The Bachelorette, where dozens of men chase one woman is, as all connoisseurs of reality TV know, grossly inferior to its progenitor, The Bachelor, where dozens of women chase one man. It was The Bachelor that first hooked me. There is nothing more wily than a woman in pursuit of man, unless it’s a woman in pursuit of a man who’s simultaneously being pursued by another woman.
Multiply this by a factor of 24 contestants, and we start to see why the show is so fantastic. A woman on the hunt is clever. She is dangerous, but not overtly so. She has many weapons at her disposal and the willingness to indiscriminately use them all. Coming up with good examples of the wiliness of Bachelor women is difficult—precisely because they’re so wily! Even I, a simple and uninvolved viewer, am mesmerized and hoodwinked by their tactics. Their methods are so precise that it is difficult to dissemble the real emotions from those wrought and wielded to win the heart of the Bachelor. This is why I watch, and why all men should.
The Bachelor is an up-close-and-personal viewing window into a secret feminine world swirling just below our everyday existence, although we males are generally too obtuse to notice. Vying for the affection of the bachelor forces women’s wiles into plain view, carefully cut into storylines for convenience and narrated at a fourth-grade level. Whether or not we men do anything with this information is, of course, another matter entirely.
The Bachelorette, alas, fails to offer such valuable lessons for the viewer. To put it bluntly, men are not smart. (See our obtuseness above.) Given that, watching a pack of guys hounding after a woman does not make for high-brow viewing. Like examples of clever women, finding a case study for moronic men is finding hay in a haystack.
The current contender for the “You Left Your Life Behind for a TV Love and This Is Your Big Idea?” Award is a contestant who insisted on wearing a creepy Eyes Wide Shut mask for his first meet-and-greet with the Bachelorette, and, apparently, for the entire first week or so of filming- even when she wasn’t around. His aim was to show “it’s what is inside that counts” but he ended up looking like a creeper, aided by Bachelorette producers playing ominous Phantom of the Opera music every time he peered around a corner. The poor guy is convinced this is a great plan. It is not, for the record, a good idea, but typical of what we can expect from this hapless pack of aspirants.
So, then, The Bachelorette is kind of the opposite of the pedagogical Bachelor; it is a never-ending stream of what-not-to-do lessons. This is your relationship; this is your relationship if you think streaking through a cocktail party will impress girls. I can only stare, mouth agape and head shaking, hoping against hope that my own pathetic efforts to snare an eligible female were not so ill-advised and transparent (all the time knowing they were).
The show is also worth watching as a perfect example of the ultimate reality TV question: Is this whole thing rigged?
Any reality show brings with it conspiracy theories questioning the motivations of the contestants, the role of the network, producers and judges, or the very existence of the prizes the contestants are supposedly striving for. The Bachelorette, though, makes the motivation of its contestants a central theme of every season.
In the current iteration, not five minutes had elapsed from the start of the show before the erstwhile husband-seeker was gravely discussing if a particular suitor was there “for the right reasons.” The “right” reasons are, of course, finding one’s true love on a dating show involving dozens of potential Mr. Rights, constant camera attention and carefully scripted dates. The “wrong” reasons generally involve self-aggrandizement. On TV, no less! The shame.
Every Bachelor/ette season has at least one of these villains, someone with more grandiose ambition than simple engagement to a near-stranger. They are carefully edited into caricatures of evil, with every televised word coming out of their mouths offensive and every musical cue ominous. Yet somehow, despite the Evil One’s obvious faults, he or she remains week after week, chosen again and again by a suitor apparently set on self-destruction. Heck, this time the villain was identified within minutes of the opening credits, before the audience (and, for that matter, the Bachelorette) had even laid eyes on him. One can’t help but question: Is this for real? Is the guy a plant? Is the Bachelorette in on the fix? What am I watching?
Suddenly, I’ve gone from to a simple night’s relaxation time to questioning the very nature of “reality” in a 24 by seven news cycle world, wherein the viewer is forced to make value judgments on issues and events where our only information is filtered and colored deliberately by its deliverers.
The Bachelorette, in other words, is like Fox News. Truth may be an elastic thing, and never more so than when there is a singular source of selective facts.
The Bachelorette is an excellent test of your critical thinking skills, looking for hidden motivations and possible counters to the surface storylines we’re fed. Chris Harrison and his overlords want us to believe one narrative, but only we, the viewer, can decide if we will accept their proffered rose. So when people ask why I watch The Bachelorette, I can’t help but think of the perspective it has sharpened and the lessons it has given. I mentally flash through the arguments I’ve laid out for you here.
And I reply, “’Cause my wife makes me.”