Reality and Fiction in The Bachelor
To write about recently seeing the opera “Il Trovatore” or to write about watching The Bachelor? The Bachelor it is.
I am not encouraging anyone to watch the show, nor am I suggesting that it’s a quality watch, unless you enjoy watching reality television, then you would definitely enjoy this. I am wondering why I enjoy it. Reality television tends to get a bad reputation and for some good reasons.
Its name suggests its based on real life but of course, the shows are actually staged. It also usually features catty fights and high drama, such as in The Real Housewives or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Other shows are more about competition, organized like a game, such as with Survivor, Top Chef, American Idol, or Dancing with the Stars. What I think makes The Bachelor so alluring, is the way it balances both fiction and reality. All reality shows, balance these elements; however, The Bachelor also presents itself as both a game and a “realistic” show.
In case you’ve never watched the show, it’s about a bachelor or bachelorette who tries to find true love and gets engaged at the end. The bachelor gets to choose from about 30 women and talks to each on small “dates” to get to know them better. Each week, there is a rose ceremony and a few women get sent home if the bachelor doesn’t think they have a connection. As the show nears an end and the bachelor is left with three women, he eventually meets their families. Tensions grow high as the remaining women inevitably “fall in love” with their future husband. Of course, the show can only end with one woman and while the contestants usually get engaged, marriage after the show does not usually last long.
Although viewers are led to believe a couple actually falls in love in the end, it is still a game, as contestants compete to be the winner of the bachelor’s love. I know what you’re thinking. That’s absurd and so demoralizing! And it is. I would never subject myself to that process, as many contestants end up feeling not good enough or blame themselves for not finding love but, what keeps me watching is the idea that part of it isn’t real. Plus, people love people watching (at least some do) and reality television captures people’s most intimate and private moments.
The Bachelor prides itself on making privacy public, including people’s relationships. The viewer gets an inside, almost scandalous, view of people’s personal lives, and I mean really personal. I sometimes wonder how the camera man doesn’t feel uncomfortable getting really close to the contestants as they kiss. The ability for the viewer to watch relationships unfold is what creates a connectedness to certain men or women. We want them to find love too. It also helps that most of the contestants are attractive.
Finding love, of course, is a key component of a happily ever after, which is the end goal of the show. The contestants travel around the world, get dressed up, and receive roses from their suitor, all very fairy tale-esque.
The show connects with its viewers and contestants who believe that true love really exists. Whether or not people have a “soul mate,” many believe in getting married as an integral part of their lives and achieving happiness. So, while some of the features of the show are pretty dramatic, such as going on luxurious dates, its grounded in the realism of marriage.
This mixture of fiction and reality is not only what makes the show entertaining, but also watchable. I oftentimes wonder why I watch the show, when I understand much of it is staged? Well, Dana Cloud’s “The Irony Bribe and Reality Television: Investment and Detachment in The Bachelor” explains the contradictions behind the show. She labels the inner workings of the show, the “irony bribe” and states, “viewers can regard the program as ‘real’ and ‘not-real’ and therefore worth viewing and worthless at the same time.” Finally, someone can make sense of my craziness! She labels the fantasy of the show the “mythic romance,” and says that my reactions “against taking the fantasy seriously” are what makes the show entertaining. Her point on reactions could not be more true, as I usually have to pause the show to vent about its ridiculousness. Why is he picking her? Again with the kissing? Oh, please, he’s saying I love you and they just met.
The strong reactions that the show conjures up is an integral part of its existence. Unlike the opera, where I sit in silence and speaking among others is highly frowned upon, I can make as much noise as I want when I watch! I’m usually on my own couch and no one can tell me shhh! Reality shows are meant to be taken with a grain of salt and a lot of noise. For me, I enjoy watching the show because I can talk about it afterwards with one of my best friends. We’ll oftentimes text one another, U watching? to which I respond prob not until tomorrow as I debate between watching the newest episode or doing homework. The conversations I have with my friend are happening across the country as The Bachelor gathers large fan bases, just as sports fans gather to watch “the game.” Even after the show ends, the drama continues in tabloids and magazines until the following episode resolves all tensions.
Even though, I have attempted to provide a list of reasons, why the show is appealing, it’s hard to overlook all its criticisms. It’s ironic that I watch a show, whose values oppose my own, including the amount of frivolous kissing and lack of monogamy. The process is also highly unnatural and seems mentally debilitating. You’re supposed to find love by “dating” 30 women? And of course, one of the most pressing critiques is its lack of diversity. Only last year did the show finally have its first Black bachelorette. All criticism aside, I will still be watching the finale on Monday and before you judge those who watch reality television, keep in mind they understand it’s highly fictional and yet so entertaining.
Cloud, Dana. “The Irony Bribe and Reality Television: Investment and Detachment in The Bachelor.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 27, no. 5, 2010, pp. 413–437.