In this guest post by Katie M. Lucas, we reveal why the number-one rated show among women is killing romance one rose ceremony at a time.
The Bachelor is terrible television. It’s anti-feminist, emotionally damaging, insulting and wildly unrealistic. We all know that – even me, who up until last Monday had never watched a single episode in the 11 years the program has been running.
I finally tuned in because I was curious. Not about the actual show – I knew enough about the premise (a group of tanned, size-zero women compete for a man’s heart AND a lifelong commitment on national television) to be offended. But I wondered how and why the show had garnered a loyal following of women. Now in Season 16, The Bachelor consistently wins ratings with all key women demos; the episode I watched was the #1 program for ladies the ages 18-34.
There are plenty of reasons to watch trashy reality TV – escapism, voyeurism, even for a confidence boost. A recent survey on Today.com deduced that many loyal viewers actually turn to reality programming to “make them feel better about their own lives”. The same is likely true for The Bachelor, where single women can take solace in the fact that their beautiful peers are no less unlucky in love, while attached femmes can feel extra grateful for their committed man.
Yet with The Bachelor, there’s a larger reason that women are flipping to ABC on Monday nights: the romance. Paulina, a 20-something in a committed relationship, explained: “There are so many reasons why I am sucked in… my completely unrealistic hope to one day live out the extravagant dates they go on, the beautiful men, and of course the hopeless romantic in me relishing every moment of the love story, likely scripted, that unfolds.”
Last month, the New York Times declared “The End of Courtship”, validating the prevalence of a culture of hook-ups and the casual hang. Women look to shows like The Bachelor as a reprieve from this depressing status quo. It seems like now that traditional love stories are fading into the background, women are realizing more, or are at least more comfortable in admitting, that they want a romance of their own – a lovely idea, even for the most independent feminist. And a dream that The Bachelor and shows like it are killing one ill-fated rose ceremony at a time.
The issue is that we’re watching a connection that’s doomed to fail. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Shauna H. Springer documented how ABC manipulates the bonding process, creating lavish situations where contestants are likely to displace their feelings of love and affection to the suitor instead of their actual source – the new, exciting experience. The result is what Dr. Springer refers to as an “unsustainable collision”. It’s a rush of feelings likely to fade and fall apart, which the track record of the show ultimately reflects – not one of the couples from The Bachelor are still together.
On the episode I watched, Bachelor Sean set up a “Pretty Woman” date where he took one lucky lady shopping on Rodeo drive to pick out a dress and shoes to match the diamond earrings he bought for her. (It’s never mentioned that Julia Roberts’ character was, ahem, a prostitute.) The woman was delighted, reiterating that such treatment was “every woman’s dream.” Very quickly, this date turned into a nightmare when Sean didn’t feel the romance and sent the contestant home, devastated. As the program ended, I felt sorry for everyone involved – the bachelor for having to reject this suitors so harshly, the woman who didn’t receive a rose and even the other girls who did, who had to live in a house full of animosity and false hope. Even for the remaining women who’ll be no doubt taken on the most elaborate fairy tale-esque “dates,” the collision will always be unsustainable. The cameras turn off, the dust settles and there’s nothing real behind the scenes. For the viewers at home, the takeaway is that relationships shaped by romance are a sham.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying mindless TV or focusing on the good nuggets of kindness and connection, but these implications of The Bachelor are larger for a generation of young women. As we grasp to the last straws of traditional dating, the show projects romance as a ridiculous, orchestrated charade. The program draws a straight line from courtship to heartbreak (whether immediately after a rose ceremony or in national headlines after the finale). Even as we realize the show is scripted, this idea is absorbed into the cultural consciousness.
The Bachelor is light, easily digestible, processed fluff. It’s the TV equivalent of cotton candy – the problem is that we’re hungry for a meal of substance. The show exploits not only the idea of romance, but also the thrill of falling in love. Whether you adore or hate the show, we should all agree that we deserve more.
Katie M. Lucas is the founder and editor of CharacterGrades.com.