Outraged By The Bachelorette's New Twist? The Producers Are Banking On It

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Certain things make me believe we're already living in more of a dystopia than any fiction could ever dream up for us. The Bachelor is one of those things. Oh, how I thought I was done writing about this pop culture side note. Yet, it appears that it's not done with me. I thought I'd escaped its shiny clutches when I stopped watching Andi's season halfway through, and didn't even watch the finale of Chris's season. I was so proud of myself! Yet, news travels fast, and I'm spellbound again by this latest twist: Britt and Kaitlyn have both received the dubious honor of being the next bachelorette (not entirely unprecedented, as there were two simultaneous bachelors circa 2006).

I'm always surprised when people critique The Bachelor. It's too easy, isn't it? What we ought to marvel at is how any of it exists at all; it's so irrelevant, uncool, unsuccessful in its mission, predictable, repetitive, sexist, and so forth. Yet, year after year, it airs. The Bachelor is immortal. Nothing will kill it. People watch it ironically, perhaps, but they watch it nonetheless. They have watching parties. They tweet about it and write of it in serious news outlets.

Why? I have theories. In part, surely there is some cognitive dissonance among us as we marvel at how this show happened at all, let alone continues to happen for 29 seasons. But I also think it gives us a chance to broadly and wildly psychoanalyze (ourselves, others, our entire culture). To admit or hide, compare or contrast our own romantic proclivities, personalities, and desires. We're not like those girls. We're not that guy. We don't want to quit our jobs, live on a farm, and have babies. Unless we secretly do. Or unless we totally don't and somehow feel a lot more clever and wise than those who want the opposite of what we want. It's during our viewings of The Bachelor that our contradictions battle within us. It's far more gory than a guilty pleasure. It's satire, nightmare, and fairy tale.

The internet is riled up about this latest news of dueling bachelorettes. It's misogyny! As if the show isn't already horrifically rife with that. When I first saw the red and gold promotional image, the two pretty girls going head to head, I thought of gladiator battles, of 1984, and of The Hunger Games. I thought about it as real, for a moment, not as a reality show. What if these women fought to the actual death?

In Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses, she writes about an ancient ritual where a young couple was crushed under a ceremoniously constructed house and then eaten in order to celebrate the cycles of life. What if the new Bachelorette season played out like that, a true life and death ritual acknowledging (celebrating?) the state of our current times? Only one of these women, after all, is worthy of being that most coveted of things: a wife!

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These shows are most compelling when the rules break down. When one of the men dies in real life because he existed there most of all. When one of the front runners disqualifies himself because the whole thing is too weird. Even Britt, despite her extraneous make-up, had moments of being real real, not reality show real. Even much-loathed Juan Pablo, who refused to fall in love, was nearly interesting. Those break-downs, the admissions of humanity or truth (often accidental, often just a glimmer), are where the fascination lies. That those moments cannot be squelched entirely in the death grip of this franchise is somehow thrilling. I watch in the hopes that one day the world won't need this show, and nor will I, that it will chip away bit by bit, making space for something else.

The bottom line is, Who cares? And the answer is that most people don't. But all this ridiculousness has me hypnotized. In a world saturated with tasteless media, celebrity distractions, and a zillion television shows, The Bachelor and Bachelorette still stand apart. Both old fashioned and gratuitous simultaneously, they strike a note that no other reality show does (even its own spin-off, Bachelor in Paradise, can't quite find the same anachronistic surreal tone). On The Bachelor, the Playboy pin-up really wants to be a wife too (or instead?)! Both retro and trashy, the show champions a 1950s sense of domestic life, where women quit their jobs to have babies, and yet, after the bride is chosen, the outcome is usually far more contemporary.  For example, Chris and Whitney are currently in LA for his Dancing with the Stars stint. They aren't on the farm quite yet.

Being infuriated and confounded by all of this is what the show does to us because we ask it to. We engage. The diabolical cleverness is that our outrage is why we love it. Energy is energy and we devote ours to these courtships, over and over again. The Bachelor is simply a mirror held to each of our downfalls. The logic of the show is our own worst logic as well.

In the end, one person is chosen, and it's their destiny to exist in this place, a world disconcertingly similar to ours in many ways. The social structures often seem ridiculous, and yet we can't shake their familiarity. There is often an upsetting conclusion to these dystopian stories. Partly because we can't help but believe them to reflect some larger truth of our lives. Partly because they often also reveal the death of some essential part of our own humanity.

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Till next time, when we will all gather round the collapsing house to watch as two girls fight to the death.

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