I used to have a passing interest in the genre, but a brief and unfortunate phase in the fall of 2008 – in which I convinced myself that the original I Love Money was a deconstructionist PoMo masterpiece (don't ask) – caused me to relegate reality TV to the garbage pile in my mental pop culture map. It has remained there ever since, until, that is, a few weeks ago, when my roommates cajoled me into watching the penultimate episodes of The Bachelor.
Although I had not seen The Bachelor before, my impression going in was that the show would not jive well with my sexual politics: I self-identify (sorry, cringe worthy term, yes) as a sex positive feminist in the vein of Gayle Rubin, Carol Queen, or Susie Bright (those of you familiar with The Bachelor are, no doubt, already face-palming). Nevertheless, I cozied up on the couch and prepared to be mildly amused and vaguely offended. It was worse than I imagined.
Let's skip past any racial issues evoked by the very white bevy of women recruited for the studly protagonist (Really ABC? You couldn't eke out a tad more diversity in this day and age?) and just get right down to my real problem with the show: its incredibly retrograde outlook on sex and romance.
Perhaps it's an obvious point to anyone who has watched The Bachelor for its fourteen (14!) seasons, but the sexual Puritanism the show exhibited stunned me. Elaborate formal dates set up as a gateway to love? Check. Hollow compliments on each woman's beauty? Lots! Pathetic euphemisms for sex? Sooo many.
It was like I had had a dream in which I was trapped in the 1950s, but then I woke up and – holy shit! – the dream was real. I was not aware that adults still "spent the night" with each other. In my circle of friends, we call that having sex.
Speaking of sex, there is the issue of Rozlyn Papa, the contestant booted from the show for having an "inappropriate relationship" with a producer. Gawker and GawkerTV have already mentioned the obvious irony inherent in this incident, but the point deserves to be restated: it is insane to punish this woman for carrying on an "inappropriate relationship" when Jake Pavelka, the titular bachelor, freely snogs the harem of women laid before him.
I'll stop short of calling this a double standard, as I can already imagine dissenters — hi dissenters! — falling over themselves to point out that, yes, there is a show titled The Bachelorette and that, indeed, the contestants on that show are probably also expected to maintain sexual exclusivity. But it was hard not to wince at Rozyln's chastisement, as it so perfectly exemplifies a sexist double standard that is still prevalent in American society. The man gets his rocks off with every girl around, but hey, he's just trying to find love. The woman has a single dalliance and she is castigated for being unfaithful to a man with whom she has established no exclusive sexual relationship.
The episode would be bizarrely hilarious if it didn't reflect so poorly on our culture. No matter how you slice it – whether you appreciate these events as drama or as irony – I hate what the Rozlyn incident says about us. Even assuming the best – that people knowingly chuckle at the irony of it all – I don't find Rozyln's dismissal from the show to be funny or entertainingly absurd. It's just sad to see such blatant prudery and (arguably) sexism play itself out on the national stage.
Even worse was The Bachelor reunion special, in which the host and other contestants put Rozlyn on trial for her actions. Here's a compilation of the most judge-y clips:
You've got to love the expression on her face at the end. What a grotesque spectacle. Why were these women prodded into convicting someone of a meaningless crime? What an absurd witch-hunt. The idiomatic cherry on top, for me, was the host's closing castigation: "I hope that you will become a better person from this." What? Next time she's on a reality show about fake love, she'll keep her legs closed? Give me a break.
Like I said, I hadn't watched reality television for years. Shows like Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, et al, drove me from the genre. I simply ceased to find the parade of pathetic, psychologically damaged social misfits to be entertaining and I was convinced that the bottom of the barrel had been scraped. Then I saw The Bachelor and realized that it was actually the faux-classiest show that was the most sickening.