My aunt Lulu is visiting this week (we’re all ecstatic!) and of course on Monday night we drank wine and watched The Bachelor. She was totally into it, but kept saying, “Who are these poor women? Why would they put themselves through this?” And I remembered this fascinating New York Times article by Andrea Seigel about the psychology behind the reality TV shows, including the Bachelor…
Just as “Survivor” isn’t really about enduring life on a deserted beach, “The Bachelor” isn’t really about dating or marriage. It pretends to be about romance by using props like red roses and satin evening wear and shimmering-wet driveways so that it looks as if the mansion just got hit by a John-Cusack-movie rain, but it’s really about science — which you might even think of as the opposite of romance, especially if you aren’t a scientist. In fact, if “Survivor” is about being unable to escape who you really are when you’re dropped into uncomfortable conditions, then I would say that “The Bachelor” is about forgetting who you really are when everybody around you gets lost in the same overpowering fiction. The show is this generation’s Stanford Prison Experiment.
“The Bachelor” is the prison guard, and his potential fiancées are the inmates. I’m not suggesting that the dynamic is inherently abusive, although it can be—this past season, Bachelor Ben would shut down any woman who expressed fear of his rejection, which was especially weird, seeing as how he was rejected himself during the previous “Bachelorette” season while down on bended knee.
From the first night of the season, the producers keep the alcohol flowing, and the contestants stay awake until it’s nearly sunrise, working hard to get the attention of one person. One person who has generally been pretty lackluster. With every new season, people complain that “The Bachelor” has proved to be a terrible model for building lasting relationships, which is like complaining that politicians are just trying to win votes. The show could improve its track record only by setting out to make matches between S.-and-M. partners.
I’ve always believed that if you’re truly in love with someone, you shouldn’t be able to answer the question “What do you love about him?” with any kind of real satisfaction. The things you’re able to articulate should leave you at least a little hollow. Contestants on “The Bachelor” will usually have to answer this question for his family, and there will be the usual adjectives like “kind” and “generous” and “funny.” It’s not that I think anyone is intentionally lying, but that they’re describing traits that belong to the set of circumstances more than the person. “The Bachelor” is kind because he has no reason not to be; if he becomes disillusioned with you, he can just send you home. He’s generous because he has a production team purchasing intense, expensive experiences for your dates. He’s funny because you’ve both been flown to a charming village in Switzerland and a funny little cow wandered up behind your picnic. If you want to insist that the show is about falling in love, then it’s more accurate to say it’s about falling in love with being on vacation.
I became especially fascinated with the 13th season of the show, when Jason Mesnick first proposed to Melissa in the finale, then decided that he was really in love with the runner-up, Molly, by the time of the update special. What happened with Melissa during those six weeks of engagement? “The conversations, which were so great on the show, were completely different,” Jason tried to explain. What I think he was really saying was, So we went to a movie in a normal theater. With other people around us. With bad popcorn. Walking out of the theater, she said, “That’s my new favorite movie!” I thought to myself, Really? That movie? And in that moment, I realized that was going to be our whole lives.
Read the full article here, if you’d like. And the women are’t even allowed to watch TV or read books; their only escape from the house is to go on a date with the bachelor, right? Talk about losing perspective! Do you watch the show?