I started college believing I had cultivated the skills necessary for survival as a dorm-resident—good sleeping habits, time management, cleaning routines, flexibility in sharing the bathroom vanity, etc. However, the arrival of second semester uncovered a hurdle for which I was hopelessly unconditioned. At 6:45 on the evening of January 7, my dorm floor erupted into a crazed furor of giddy, batty-eyed females, each gushing with excitement over some event involving limousines, a lavish mansion, and a “first impression rose.” I sat on the couch in my room, dumbfounded, until my roommate leapt through the door and screamed, “The Bachelor!” at which point I packed up my chemistry books and headed for the library. Since then, I habitually evacuate the building on Monday nights.
Occasionally on my way out, I run into die-hard Bachelor fans who demand an explanation for my noninvolvement in the ritual. I smile, respond with the never-failing explanation—Biology major—and continue on my trek. Lately, however, I find myself reflecting on the true reasons behind my avoidance of the show. I’ve concluded that it results from a clash between the traditional values by which I was raised and the twenty-first century entertainment norms for young women. To be blunt, none of my most trusted relationship experts—not Jane Austen, not Anne of Green Gables, not even Cinderella—offer any wisdom to suggest that nine weeks of manufactured romantic havoc could possibly result in “happily ever after.” In all of their experiences, love is spontaneous rather than applied for; it grows on its own time rather than ABC’s; and although it might work its way into a triangle, it never takes the form of a polygon. With that being said, can I isolate a grain of good in the The Bachelor’s portrayal of twenty-six over-tanned, unrefined women, all convinced that they have found true love in the same, shallow guy?
My dorm-mates argue that I can. While they openly acknowledge the show’s staged, mindless, even pathetic nature, they celebrate it as a source of entertainment. Emma Gray, Associate Editor of The Huffington Post, articulates well their rationalization. She writes, “[I]nstead of taking The Bachelor franchise too seriously or using it as any kind of model for our own conduct, we take from it exactly what it can give us—an escape from our daily lives, a reason to appreciate our real, imperfect romances, and an excuse to drink wine on Monday nights.” Of course, in the college residence hall, the excuse to drink wine does not factor into the argument (at least not at my college). Still, Gray’s statement offers support for my friends’ logic. They maintain that, in the continuous shuffle of deadlines, jobs, extracurricular activities, and social commitments, a temporary escape to Bachelor Mansion, where dress-choice and flirting tactics function as the greatest sources of stress, is healthy.
“You should try it,” the Bachelor buffs advise. “For just a little while, allow the words ‘amazing’, ‘genuine’, and ‘family-oriented’ to cover the extent of your vocabulary. Forget about sincerity. If you must analyze something, let it be bachelorette Tierra’s funky eyebrows. By the end of it all, you’ll be longing to diagram photosynthesis.” Indeed, after the hour-long displays of drama at its highest extreme, my friends return to reality with greater appreciation for busy but meaningful lives, complicated by deep relationships and flawed but authentic personalities. To summarize, they approach The Bachelor not as a representation of societal actualities, but as a method of relaxation and togetherness—an opportunity to laugh with each other, a conversation in which they can all participate. They hold that the show, though bawdy and unrealistic, can be condoned as a means of bonding, balance, and perspective.
In contrast, the older persons of influence in my life (my parents, in particular) consider The Bachelor utterly irredeemable, empty of even one respectable quality. Although they, like my friends, emphasize the importance of community and leisure activities, they insist that American women can and should pursue such necessary components of a well-rounded lifestyle through more sophisticated avenues—the History Channel, perhaps, or maybe even a good book. While they acknowledge the show’s effectiveness in highlighting the advantages of mainstream, unglamorous lifestyles, they label it a waste of time, adding that contentment should be cultivated within the individual rather than extracted from the weaknesses of others. Furthermore, as advocates of the proverb “He who lies down with dogs rises up with fleas,” they assert that prolonged exposure to the messages broadcasted through The Bachelor results in subconscious acceptance of twisted values as societal norms. Ultimately, they view the show as low-quality, not to mention unscrupulous and potentially destructive.
I respect my friends for their efforts in balance and friendship-building. However, I’ve decided that my own view falls closer to that of traditional folks. If The Bachelor possesses some hidden shred of respectability, I am unable to separate it from the overwhelming majority of crooked, romantic fluff. Observations of Bachelor-related conversations cement my position. Grounded exclusively in criticism of the contestants, they lead me to concede my parents’ claim that the Bachelor-hype is primarily a product of the satisfaction that comes with watching other people make messes of themselves. This is an enticing form of entertainment, but it is egotistical and, dare I say, hypocritical.
As it turns out, the clash at hand is not so much related to justification of The Bachelor itself. (It seems as though the only people working to uphold the show’s honor are the producers.) Instead, the heart of the issue presents itself in the justification or disapproval of using the show as a source of entertainment. While my fellow college students (and a multitude of other women) regard it as an acceptable avenue for building community and alleviating stress, others see it as an unworthy inhibition to productivity and a threat to morality.
I have no intention of abandoning my Monday-night library routine. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned; perhaps I undervalue the importance of community within the dorm; perhaps—no, probably—it takes more than a dating game to coax me out of my academically obsessive default state and into one of relaxation. Whatever the reason, The Bachelor is a guilty pleasure that I simply cannot justify. However, I stand in no position to criticize my friends. In fact, I like to think that, between their infatuation with The Bachelor and my own set of trivial fantasies, we’ve established a pathetic sort of equilibrium. They’ll continue to prattle on about cat-fights and rose ceremonies, and I’ll sit in my library cubicle, imagining tasteful scenarios in which Gilbert Blythe and Mr. Darcy fight over my missing glass slipper.