A man appears on the screen: greyish brown hair, blue eyes, black tux. He holds a rose in his hand and tries his best to flash a smile at the camera. Intense music plays in the background, broken up by a monologue of the man’s journey to find true love. You aren’t listening to him though, because if you’re anything like the rest of America, he isn’t why you’re watching “The Bachelor.” Instead, you’re watching to see the plight of 29 young women desperately competing for the love of one 36 year old man.
Is “The Bachelor” entertaining? Yes. Is it horrible? Most definitely. I’m sure most viewers, myself included, know this and watch the show regardless. But maybe there is more to our endorsement of this show than the loss of a small amount of dignity. The blatant exploitation of human emotion that is displayed in “The Bachelor” is damaging societal values on a deeper level than we would like to consider. What does it say about Americans that we watch a show that degrades women and perpetuates patriarchal ideals on how women should look? What does is reflect upon our culture that we support choreographed, emotionally charged situations involving the consumption of large amounts of alcohol?
In light of recent developments in feminism, the amount of effort and passion put into gaining respect and recognition of women has never been more evident. Although our society is still grappling with important issues involving gender equality, we have made significant progress. So when you see the first episode of “The Bachelor,” where woman after woman is “introduced” via a clip of her walking down a beach in a bikini, the disconnect between the supposed progress made by society and the values of the show become apparent. The cameras pans up and down the contestant’s body, giving the viewer plenty of time to form judgements before she can even say her name. When the women finally meet our Season 22 bachelor, Ari, the pageantry is in full swing; the women are clad in red carpet style dresses prominently displaying each contestants body, long professionally highlighted ringlets, and false eyelashes pasted onto painted and shadowed doe shaped eyes. And it continues throughout the season with highly questionable group dates that include dressing up in revealing costumes—a fake-boxing match, mimicked dog show, or a public burlesque display, to name a few.
But glammed-up women in expensive cocktail dresses and skimpy bathing suits are not enough to quench our thirst for entertainment. The producers know they will need more and they know how to deliver it: lots and lots of alcohol. An endless supply. All day. All night. Because “The Bachelor” wouldn’t be “The Bachelor” without wine-drenched dinner dates, mimosa infused pool parties, and martini fueled rose ceremonies. It’s almost too simple. Toss a couple dozen vulnerable women into extremely uncomfortable situations, offer them drinks, and wait for the onslaught of tears, fights, jealousy, break ups and no end of other dramatic encounters to materialize. One can’t help but to wonder, why are the producers so carelessly throwing away the respect that women have worked years to gain?
“The Bachelor’s” use and abuse of human emotion is a another common theme throughout the season. It may seem unbelievable, but when these women say they are really and truly falling for this guy they met just days ago, they mean it. It is the fault of the producers that they feel like this; when access to the outside world is completely cut off the and one is sequestered in isolated locations in which the main conversation revolves around the splendor of one average guy, regular emotions are blown into crazy proportions. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is how they feel. The show broadcasts these real feelings that are often difficult to manage to the world for the purpose of our entertainment. We eat it up, laughing at them, crying with them, it doesn’t matter which; the point is that there is no respect involved.
The season 22 finale, which aired on March 6, may finally have delivered Harrison’s long standing promise of ultimate drama—but the pay off felt cheap. The Bachelor proposed to one of the two remaining contestants and dumped the other, only to change his mind, break up with his fiance, and pursue the one to which he said goodbye a few weeks before. An unedited version of this break up was broadcast to 7.8 million viewers. Imagine: millions of people, glued to their TV screens watching nothing more than a woman sitting on a couch crying for half an hour. Forget about which season wins the “Most Dramatic” award – this season made it to the hall of fame simply by containing the most glaring example of emotional exploitation in Bachelor history. Yes, the contestants sign up for this show and supposedly understand what they are getting themselves into. But I’m not so sure that makes us, the viewers, any less guilty of disrespecting women as we endorse this irresponsible production.