There is perhaps no greater stain on my soul than the fact that I watch The Bachelor. It’s one of the worst things about who I am as a human being. Honestly, have I no shame? Honestly, have we no shame? Because the franchise brings in millions of viewers every season, without fail.
Virtually every episode is sickening in some way, and yet, we watch enthralled, season after season, entranced by the TV version of a dumpster fire.
The reasons we watch are certainly connected to that: the drama of it all. But, given the fact the bros certainly outnumber the pros… wait, no the cons outnumber the pros. Is seeing some good drama really all that’s going on? There are thousands of other choices on Netflix and Hulu for that.
If this was just about drama, I think I’d have an easier time tearing my eyes away from the most dramatic season ever. I decided freedom from the fandom would only ever come if I forced myself to face facts, so I’m dragging you along with me in the hopes that at least one of us will end up Bachelor reformed.
We’re Here For the Wrong Reasons
The whole premise is that we’re watching genuine, beautiful, well-intentioned people find love. We watch tear-filled interview after interview during which they all profess their unwavering desire to find “the one”.
Except, the ones who get the most screen time are actually usually the ones who spend the most time tearing each other apart. Which is why when Kendall didn’t succumb to the cattiness it was as if the scales, or the sequins of a rose ceremony dress, were lifted off of our eyes. For a whole five minutes, at least.
The problem is that after 22 seasons, we know that the show is unlikely to result in love. We know Instagram fame is a far more likely outcome for contestants than actually finding a life partner. The show is literally more likely to provide heartache than lasting romance.
Which kind of makes me feel like I’m a participant in the famous Milgram Experiment. Chris Harrison keeps telling me to watch, and I do, even though all I’m doing is participating in a situation wherein people are going to get hurt on a very public platform.
In fact, journalist Amy Kaufman went so far as to write an entire book sorting out the cultural craze that is the show. In an interview with TIME Kaufman said the show’s staying power is largely about the insaness of the social experiment that it is. It’s so far outside the norm, we can’t help but want to see what the dynamic will look like.
This isn’t shocking. Few of us would say we watch to see people fall in love; instead we recognize we watch because it’s nuts. Shouldn’t that be a red flag? I think it’s lame that I can watch people being treated poorly and treating others poorly and do so in the name of entertainment.
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Trying to write this section made it clear to me why Kaufman correctly thought she could write an entire book unpacking the show. The show operates by creating the type of environment that ensures people will have positive, emotional interactions.
The atmosphere is perfect: The mansion, the booze, the exotic locations. These things all contribute not just to how the contestants feel about each other and the potential of love, but the aesthetics also contribute to how we feel about it. It’s artificial, but gives off the impression of reality.
The people are perfect: Much like the overall premise of the show, while the people are not even close to perfect in terms of personality, they do have an aesthetic perfection. They have nice faces, they wear an insane amount of outfits (though often tacky), they usually have stable jobs, and if they make it to hometowns, their parents often have nice houses. The projection of wealth is apparent at every turn.
The love is simple: You either like this person or you don’t. You give them a rose or you don’t (except that awkward part when the bachelor or bachelorette inevitably falls in love with 12 different people).
The problem is that the relationships are built on these falsehoods, and when the couple transitions to a world where a date night consists of a badly cooked pizza at their local movie theater, things don’t feel good anymore.
Megan Schultz, wedding planning expert for Tungsten Rings Co. notes even normal couples struggle to capture the pure bliss they believe they’re supposed to be experiencing. If normal couples have a hard time navigating new love, how in the world can we expect a couple who has built their entire relationship over the course of a dream vacay to do so?
It’s almost as if — dare I say it — the love is somewhat built on the emotional high that is brought on by things other than the person. However, in that sunset lit moment, overlooking the clear blue waters of the caribbean, even I kind of love what’s-his-polo-shirt.
For a lot of contestants, the most meaningful things that can be said are lost.
The Way the Women Fare
I think all of it up to this point is tacky and distasteful, but I can kind of justify it because contestants choose to participate. However, we’ve arrived at the issue wherein I don’t care that they’ve chosen to participate. Also, choosing something and knowing the reality of something aren’t the same. The way the women fare sometimes makes me sick to my stomach.
In a scathing overview of the show for The Washington Post, Paul Farhi wrote, “‘The Bachelor’ resembles nothing so much as a contemporary harem… It’s hardly a surprise that the NOW Foundation, part of the National Organization for Women, recently gave the show an overall grade of ‘F,’ with failing marks for ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘social responsibility.’”
The show presents one beauty ideal and then it pits those beauties against each other in an inevitable cat fight. When they changed it up by featuring Rachel Lindsay as the bachelorette — she was the first person of color to snag the role and the oldest bachelorette yet — viewership dropped by a whopping one million.
In a world where a lot of the time they only have mere moments to convey the highlights of their personality, it often makes it appear that the weapon with the most power is appearances.
And the cherry on top is that 99.9 percent of the women are fair, with flowing locks, and a waist so small it’s at times completely obscured by the wine glass always in hand.
Additionally, in Kaufman’s book she wrote that in attempting to not contribute to the rising rates of STDs, the number one reason the show turns potential contestants away is because they already have one. This only adds fodder to Farhi’s harem idea. It’s the craziness, and not the people that are esteemed.
In a lot of ways, the show is the epitome of viewing others through the lens of consumerism. I kiss and ogle you and all the others until I’m tired of you, at which point you’ll be contractually obligated to leave without anything more than a five minute, nonsensical explanation.
We live in an age where content marketing — the idea that we want the product we consume to align with the things we prioritize as a human being — is one of the top internet marketing trends. Moments in history like the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the Me Too movement demonstrate that TV and movies fall under this umbrella.
But The Bachelor franchise seems to have escaped the ramifications of this reality that has oftentimes effectively cut short other TV shows. I am crying foul.
Just because something entertains doesn’t mean we should allow it to. Just because someone else decides to participate in something they should know in advance will leave them heartbroken, doesn’t mean we should support the mentality that any part of that is okay.
Not only that, it’s unwise to believe that we can watch The Bachelor and remain completely unaffected. Even if we don’t notice it, inevitably some of that fabrication will rub off on us as truth.
I’ll never fully denounce trashy TV, but there’s trashy TV and then there’s trash TV.