The Ring Machine Springs to Life!

It’s May, and you know what that means: it’s almost time the latest season of the Bachelorette, which premieres some time this month—I’m not sure when, I don’t really care, I have no intention to watch it. I tuned in about a year ago, when JoJo Fletcher smooched her way through a battalion of identical men before she finally picked one of the identical men out from the rest of them and asked for his identical hand in marriage. It was very stupid, and I have no interest in reliving that again, because—and we all know this—it’s going to be exactly the same this year.

Nevertheless, this show continues to fascinate me, not as an entertainment product (it is ultimately a very dull show) but as a sociological barometer of sorts, or maybe a kind of giggly Rorschach test for the hoi polloi. Consider what we’re in for this season:

Accomplished Texas attorney Rachel Lindsay takes a recess from the courtroom to start her search for happily ever after in the 13th edition of ABC’s hit series, THE BACHLORETTE, premiering at a special time, MONDAY, MAY 22 (9:01-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. After opening herself up to finding love with Nick Viall last season on “The Bachelor,” this hopeful, down-to-earth woman will embark on her own journey to find her soul mate, meeting a record 31 bachelors who are all eager to win her heart and the final rose. (Note: “The Bachelorette” will return to its regular time slot on Monday, May 29 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT).

In “Episode 1301,” Rachel turns to her close friends from last season on “The Bachelor” – Alexis, Astrid, Corinne, Jasmine, Kristina, Raven and Whitney – to discuss her hopes and dreams for her upcoming adventure. After her gal squad offers some good advice, she is ready to meet her men.

As an aside, Trial of the Century is now accepting bets for how many, and what kind of, courtroom-inspired puns will be deployed during the upcoming season. For my money, I foresee the phrase “I plead guilty to loving you” being uttered at least two hundred times.

Anyway, it is interesting to witness the commodification of love, which is more or less exactly what is going on here. The Bachelorette‘s nominal realism is supposed to at least trick us into believing that Rachel is indeed looking to “find her soul mate.” But that old-fashioned romantic image has been married to a cold corporate structure of technical and financial interests: Rachel’s “journey” has “special time slots” and “regular time slots,” it is divided into numerical “episodes,” it has its own time zone reference point, it is based on self-referential “seasons.” Other reality shows do this, of course—think Survivor—but there is something distinctly uncomfortable and almost absence when it comes to the Bachelor series. Survivor, after all, mostly involves people stumbling around on beaches and stabbing each other in the back and climbing up walls; the Bachelor series involves love and marriage, which is—or at least used to be, and in any case should be—serious business, not the kind of thing you can or should cram into a “time slot.”

The commodification of love, of course, is not new: pornography has been doing it for years. But pornography has never had any pretensions about what it is and what it is trying to do: it is a perversion of real love and intimacy, and it’s just fine with that, thank you. The Bachelor and the Bachelorette are not pornography as it is typically defined, but nevertheless the shows accomplish, in a roundabout way, much of what pornography does: they deal in highly choreographed faux-love, they present a naive and unhelpful approximation of what real relationships are supposed to look like, and they do so as part of a megalithic cash cow the likes of which it is difficult to comprehend. And of course, lest we forget, the last few contestants generally do indeed end up banging each other in the “Fantasy Suite.” Ultimately the Bachelor series can be looked on as ultra-soft-core pornography in slow form, a scripted and unpleasant endeavor leading up to meaningless paid sex. And people love it!

Reality TV in general is very stupid and useless, though there are exceptions (like the Great British Bake Off, perhaps the finest competition show ever created). Yet there is something specially disquieting about shows like the Bachelor, which—like strip clubs—take something that should be special and secret and make it into something listless, boring and aggressively public. Twenty-one seasons ago I might have scoffed and said, “This show will never last.” I would have been completely wrong. And I’m not sure what to make of that.

One comment

  1. David

    The show is much like romance novels – it is porn for women. Arguably, it is just the “reality TV” version of the romance novel. It is nothing new. Soap operas have been doing it for decades & it’s success was completely predictable.

    It may have some utility as a sociological barometer. Prior to the “sexual revolution” instigated by advances in birth control technologies, society was able to maintain the illusion that the majority of sexual interactions between moral people occurred within the sanctity of the marriage contract. The popularity of the Bachelor/ette series makes it perfectly clear that a significant part of the population believes it is acceptable to establish sexual compatibility prior to signing the contract. The revolution started by the likes of Jane Austin is complete in Western society. Marriage is no longer primarily an economic contract & individuals, rather than religious institutions, can (at least try to) control their own sexuality.

    Consider the bright side, unlike the “Survivor” type of program at least the Bachelor/ette series holds out the hope that honesty & sincerity will overcome subterfuge.