I know you're out there. You hate reality TV. You see it — and rightly so — in all its pettiness, its vindictiveness, its exploitation, its ugliness, and its palpable desperation, and it makes you weep for your fellow man. It's everything that's wrong with television and with America in general. You don't taint yourself with such offal. You choose your friends carefully. They are all well-read or at least fluent in important pop-culture hallmarks. You can have deep discussions with them about white privilege or Pet Sounds. You all try to buy sustainable, humane meat products. You will only buy your eyeglass frames in Hayes Valley.
Yes, things were going just fine in your universe until that fateful day you heard your pal say, "Well, I gotta split. The Bachelor is on tonight." Why in the hell, you must be asking yourself, are seemingly intelligent people into that show?
Let me try to explain. I shall call this The Elitist's Guide to The Bachelor. I can't promise that I will turn you, but at least you will go away with a greater understanding of our subculture.
First of all, like good literature or drama, the themes on the show are Shakespearean: backstabbing, cuckoldry, vanity, romance, and revenge, all with bikinis and bear-chested machismo. It's A Midsummer Night's Wet Dream. We root for the underdogs and hiss at the villains, an armchair Greek Chorus of millions.
Take last week, when a girl on the show named Victoria made a spectacle of herself in front of Juan Pablo, El Bachelor. When faced with several other beautiful, confident women all vying for a chance to one day transmit their mitochondrial DNA with the ex-soccer pro, she did what any normal person would do: She drank herself silly. She then told the camera that she was going to straddle him, because "life was about straddling people ... and things." Then she collapsed in a sobbing ball next to a toilet in the bathroom. Frailty, thy name is woman!
The evil voyeur in me wanted to laugh at her, but I had to be honest with myself: If I were in her shoes, the evening would have gone just about the same way. I have no idea how all these women have so much confidence, let alone the balls to seduce a dude on TV. They are all phonies, to quote Holden Caulfield (I knew you would like that!); the only real people on the show usually crash and burn. She was the ultimate underdog, the Mimi in La Bohéme, bravely facing The Beautiful People in the face of consumption (or in Victoria's case, possible alcoholism).
Another huge theme on The Bachelor that keeps me coming back is the Shakespearean idea of disguise. Characters on the show — and make no mistake, that's all anyone is in this franchise — often pretend to be someone they are not. One guy even went so far on The Bachelorette as to wear a Mardi Gras-style mask for the first two episodes, the Phantom of the Soap Opera. The producers were kind enough to play an organ fugue every time he entered a scene. He said he didn't want to be judged for his looks, but just like when KISS decided to unmask themselves, we were all underwhelmed by his real mug, to put it kindly, and were left wishing he would have kept us in suspense.
But those are all literal disguises. Every season there is a prime manipulator who is one way with the Bachelor and another with everyone else — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wrapped up in a bouncy, tight-bodded she-vector of sex. This is why I keep coming back to the show. Watching someone be that artful is fascinating. Will the Bachelor find out before it's too late? Will other contestants set aside their own yearnings for him and risk it all by telling him that the object of his affection is a straight-up lying-ass ho? The answer to these questions is always "yes," but invariably, the Bachelor always ignores the advice and goes ahead with the wrong woman anyway. It's not until his family shows up, the Wise Counsel, and reveals to him the error of his ways that he changes his mind, if ever. "Oh Brad," says his mom, "she's not one of those girls, is she? The one that none of the other girls like?"
Lord, what fools these mortals be.