January 13, 2015
TV is bad for you. Books are good for you. Reality TV is really bad for you. I have a weakness for reality TV. I sent in audition tapes for the 2nd and 3rd seasons of Survivor. Somewhere CBS has a video of me swinging on a vine in Forest Park wearing only a loincloth and smoking a pipe. I will never run for office because of this.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about The Bachelor, most mixed between horror and revulsion. But my very powerhouse wife loves it, so out of solidarity, I’m tuning in.
I suppose one could argue that reality TV gives you a perspective on lives other than your own. Certainly, the world’s eyes were opened to the experience of living with HIV/AIDS because of Pedro Zamora in 1994 when he was part of The Real World: San Francisco. But the problem is there isn’t a lot of reality on most reality TV. There is a lot of editing and staged situations. I’ve always thought a good idea would be a season of Big Brother where they spiked the food with meth and put a gun in the house. That would be Must See TV.
So that brings us to The Bachelor, where some studly guy gets to pick his wife from a stable of beauties who have professions like, “make-up artist” and “cruise ship singer.” He gets to move his way through the crowd, like a jihadist’s fantasy of the afterlife. There’s even a few virgins in the harem to balance out the widows!
So here’s a feminist take on it. Of course, beautiful dumb people have a right to hook-up, breed and lower the national IQ score. But there is a message in this show that’s a familiar one. Women are bitches. Bag-stabbing bitches who will do whatever it takes to get the man, including of accusing their fellow bachelorettes of being crazy and having hairy buttholes.
Here’s the thing. Guys don’t compete with each other. Not really. Maybe on the rugby field but not on the rugby field of life. Early on we get the message of male bonding. It’s us boys against them. From Little League to the frat house to the boardroom, it’s “bros-before-hos.” The old boy network is the foundation of patriarchy. Michael Kimmel wrote about this so well in his study of college-age boys in Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men (2008).
Quick name-dropping story. In 1992, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton were in Atlanta for the VP debate. I brought Kevn Kinney to perform a few songs for a mass crowd at the rally downtown. I was standing behind the podium with Val Kilmer (then aka “Jim Morrison”) and Hilary was speaking. Val and I both looked at the black seams up her stockings at the same time and then at each other. It was a male moment, bro. I use that story as an example of the unspoken language of patriarchy.
So boys bond but girls are taught to compete with each over the same scarce resource, Prince Charming (or in this case some “awesome” dumb-ass from Iowa). There is no female bonding, just the war of all against all. “I hate her and her skinny thighs!” “That drunk bitch is a skank!” “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” And it all plays out on The Bachelor to remind us that bitches can’t be trusted.
Now I don’t know what season this is. I know this show has been on since 2002 (I blame the terrorists!). It seems odd that any of these young women want to live on a farm in Iowa, turning cute pigs into bacon. But there doesn’t seem to be much intellectual discourse going to address that “reality.” I thought I might start a drinking game where I took a shot of whiskey any time anybody on the show said that something or someone was “amazing,” but I would be dead by the second commercial break.
On last night’s episode, Chris Soules, this year’s mentally challenged caveman, picked six women from the herd for a “group date.” Here’s what it was. 1) Pool party! So the women slide into their bikinis and climb on to each other’s shoulders to wrestle as Chris tries to not blow his load in the pool. 2) Tractor race! (Clothed) Chris parades his mini-harem through the streets of LA in their bikinis, where they then mount five tractors. (You know this was fantasy imported straight from the fields of the Hawkeye State.) The lucky winner gets a one-on-one date with Chris and tractors are sufficiently slow to give viewers plenty of time to watch the non-bathing beauties bounce down the road.
It’s such crap and I’m not sure what the appeal is. Maybe, like The Jerry Springer Show, it’s fun to watch people who we feel somehow superior to. (“Jesus, these folks are stupid.”) But I suspect that part of it is the romantic Prince Charming fantasy that is so ingrained in our gender socialization. These women are willing to humiliate themselves on national TV (“Is that whore making out with him?”) to find “true love.” I’m willing to admit that for many the prize is just being on TV. Same reason people go on Jerry Springer.
Now I know that occasionally ABC mixes it up with The Bachelorette, but giving women the same opportunity to be douchebags as men is not “equality.” And I would love to see a sociological analysis about how gender plays differently on that version of the show. Maybe somebody could count the number of times the guys competing say, “Bro!” or puff up their pecs. But The Bachelor routinely beats The Bachelorette in the ratings game, and my guess it’s because it is the opposite of “girl power.”
Here’s what I would like to see. 1) A version of this show where the contestants all had IQs over 100 and could talk about vectors of oppression and the lastest op-ed from Paul Krugman (But that might be Portlandia). A show where, at least, the bachelor asked the women about their lives and thoughts. OR 2) A season of the show where the women realized that this “Compete for a Pig Farmer” set-up was bullshit and bonded together to take over the show, chugging all the Fireball themselves and making Chris walk around downtown LA in a banana hammock.
I don’t expect to see any feminist uprising on this season of The Bachelor. I imagine that some “amazing” woman named Ashley will get the final rose and they will live happily never after in Reality TVLand. In the end we’ll learn that all the “girls” are “basically nice” and wonder what we could have read in all those weeks.
This book was mentioned in this blog and can be bought at Powell’s by clicking the cover below.