2/16/11

In Defense of the "Crazy" Bachelor Contestants or Pretty Hate Machine: The TV Show

I'm going to unapologetically begin this blog with a defensive statement. If you're the type of person who might read an article that's critical of a TV show and say, "If you don't like it, you shouldn't watch it," please stop reading now.

Don't waste your own time. I will likely infuriate you.

Everything floating around the public sphere is open for debate and discussion. In this post, I'll analyze parts of the show The Bachelor. This show is huge in the ratings right now, despite the fact that in 25 seasons there have only been two successful marriages.

It's largest demographic is women, in every age bracket of viewership. In other words, a gigantic chunk of female America is watching this show.  The fact that some people, believe it or not, think the show is real, makes it worthy of discussion.

Disclaimer over, let's begin...



One of The Bachelor's past
"crazy" women.
Obviously, I'm outing myself. Yes, I sometimes watch The Bachelor. Am I proud of it? No. Am I super ashamed? Not exactly. It's fluff. I tend to gravitate toward fluff. Especially since I'm in graduate school. Between lit studies classes and teaching and writing, I'm maxed out.

Watching The Bachelor affords me the chance to mentally check out for a little while. I'm also a fan of travel TV, so I enjoy the (inevitably) beautiful tropical locations. If that irks you, you probably also wouldn't want to know that sometimes I watch soap operas, eat ramen noodles and leave my nail polish on for weeks after it's cracked and chipped. I mean...not all at the same time. But still.

I have a background in video production, so I know a teeny, tiny bit about what goes into the shaping of The Bachelor behind the scenes.

The show is heavily edited to suggest plot where there is none. Editing is also used to portray certain contestants in a formulaic light. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the Bachelor stereotypes:


  • The Saintly Woman has recently suffered a horrific life event, usually it's the death of a loved one or a broken heart. What blurs the lines of "reality" programming is the fact that, these heartbreaks and deaths have actually happened to said woman.
  • The Funny Girl is exactly how she sounds. She might be a little bit bro-y. She's usually considered less desirable than the rest of the women because she is open and eager to make a connection vs. being dark, brooding and mysterious. i.e. someone who needs to be chased
  • The Super Hot Chick is usually a professional model. Embarrassingly, she is typically portrayed as an attention hog or the innocent victim of the majority of the rest of the cast. Because remember, there are only two kinds of hot women in the world. Evil Hot Women who are out to get you somehow. (see: your money, your innocence) 


Of course, Evil Hot Women are only revealed as Evil Hot Women after they reject you, OR after you are done with them.

(meaning you have already dated them or slept with them and you have now decided you don't want to continue a long-term relationship, but you're too chicken/Puritanically ashamed of yourself so instead, you must create a storyline to justify breaking up with them ((one that revolves around their constructed villainy)) instead of just telling them the truth, which might go something like, "I super wanted to sleep with you. I did that, now I'm no longer interested in you. Because my life has been constructed of black and white ideology, ((typically religious)) I must do anything I can to retain a picture of my own goodness, so your reputation must now be sullied, lest I have to actually confront my mental, emotional stuff)

...or Misunderstood Hot Women, who desperately need you to save them.*

Inevitably, each season one girl will be edited to look completely, utterly, hopelessly INSANE. Unfortunately, most people don't understand the magic of editing and think The Bachelor is 100% real. It has elements of the real. (See Above: death of a loved one/recent heartbreak) I'm sure some of the contestants are sincere in their quest for love or at least adventure or exposure.

But most of the show is sculpted after filming. You can be certain of that.

There's also something deeply disturbing about The Bachelor. Something that sets my feminist/human being-ist radar off. This radar bleeps even louder than the system set off by the little twinge of guilt I feel for watching something empty in the first place. So what's the problem?

It's seeing all those women scrambling for one man. 

For the record, I have the same problem with The Bachelorette. Most people would say the show is harmless. If these people want to get themselves into an on-air mess, knowing full well that appearing on reality TV is potentially problematic, they should be allowed to do so for our entertainment. And they should. They're all adults. We're all adults. We're all complicit in this garbage.

But. But, but, but. The consistent formation and propagation of these female stereotypes, along with denials from the show and people attached to the show that it doesn't intentionally harm or slander contestants through crafty editing? That makes the show potentially dangerous for viewers who don't know any better.

This week, after an US Weekly article came out about one of the current Bachelor's exes (Laurel Kagay) Chris Harrison, the host of The Bachelor called her a "fame whore" who was just looking for money. That sounds an awful lot like slander.

And dangerous? Come on, Audrey. It's a tv show. Aren't you exaggerating?

Come a little closer, I want to tell you a secret. Maybe not that close...it's not good for your eyes. I want to educate you about a phenomenon called violence. It has an unfortunate byproduct called murder. And women all over the world, every day, are murdered for being perceived as "whores". Or Evil Hot Women.

The contestants the show chooses to portray as "crazy" bolster the old idea that if a guy no longer likes a girl, or if she pushes him for answers or a commitment, or if she argues with him, or if she demands fidelity...that she can simply be written off as "crazy".

Let's Talk Details...

This season's resident "crazy" girl,
or so say the editors.
The most recent "crazy" contestant was Michelle. She was kicked off of the show this week by Brad, the Bachelor, because she challenged him too hard.

Brad said it was because they were "too alike" and butted heads too often. The show painted her as bizarre, catching her attempts to be funny, pairing them with creepy music and making her look possessive.

When Michelle got fed up with the process, she began to emotionally detach. (Granted this was after she made out with him in a bikini for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit spread, but so what? If we're gonna start hating women for posing in Sports Illustrated, I expect a lot of you to change your opinions on a lot of very beautiful famous women.)

She demanded that Brad stay connected with her. Supes rude considering the show is about connecting with a future spouse? Brad got annoyed and gave her the boot.

I know that recounting the gossipy details makes me sound like I'm about to break into the opening number of Bye Bye Birdie. But stay with me.

On a Wednesday afternoon interview on Ellen, Degeneres herself fell for the editing ruse. She treated Michelle with a lot of disrespect for the sake of a laugh. It was...frustrating. Even though I know the women must have some inkling of the risk of "reality", it also frustrates me that there's this kind of high school jock mentality of audiences to not only believe this stuff, but to then carry it over to the way the women are viewed off the show.

A few hundred years ago, having a bad reputation could've gotten you burned at the stake. whether you were male or female, so hang with me on the whole "public perception" gambit, won't you?

Michelle's exit was notable for how different it was. Instead of weeping into the camera about how much she would miss Brad, she didn't say a word. She limply laid her *possibly drunk* head down in the limo. I don't think I'd have much to say either about a man who treated me like I needed to sit down and shut up or go home. I certainly wouldn't give any fuel to the producers and editors to later use over sad music. But I guess that's less entertaining than watching a gladiator being eaten by a lion. So...crazy.

I think Michelle's exit was uncharacteristically strong for the show, something that in the long run, I hope will make her proud. I can't speak to how she'll feel about the rest of the show, but she'll never have to watch embarrassing footage of herself weeping over a man she only met a handful of times.

To me, it looked like a woman who had enough self-respect to contain herself when being broken up with on national television. Then again, I guess that makes her "crazy" for not wailing over an Austin, Texas bar owner that she barely knew. Not that Michelle is some feminist masthead, but good grief look what happens when one. single. woman. doesn't follow The Bachelor formula of weeping and gnashing of teeth upon her exit...it seems a bit much to me.

If she had stayed on the show, or even "won" Brad, people would say she was strong and knew from the beginning that her and Brad were "meant to be". But because she was aggressive in pursuing him and didn't cry when kicked off, she must be crazy? American TV audiences have a narrative problem. We're greedy for them. We'll take whatever we can get, even if the machine creating those narratives is fueled by some kinda hatred. What kind, exactly, I can't say. But somebody's poisoned that water hole.

Stop mixing metaphors, Audrey!

Okay.

I guess what seems "crazy" to me is the fact that 25 women are willing to go on television and fight for one man. (Again, I feel the same way about The Bachelorette.) I couldn't watch a person I'm pursuing make out with 24 other people. I wouldn't. I wouldn't even be second in line. I wouldn't even be first. I'd have to be only.

I guess some of you reading that will think that's crazy. Barbaric. The Wicked Witch of the West was right. What a friggin' world. To me, the contestants who lose it emotionally watching the person they are romantically interested in wooing 24 other people...well, that looks and sounds totally sane to me.

Think back to when you were dating. Would you sit by peacefully in your best pageant-wear trying to look like a nice, sweet, 1950's Barbie Doll while the man you wanted to marry worked his way through a horde of other women? Or would you start to lose it a little bit and demand his time and attention or else you'd walk? You know what? I'm going to stop saying "lose it" and start saying "gain it". The "it" is self-respect.

Last season, Vienna Girardi was given the unfortunate role of the "crazy" one. First she was crazy for pursuing the bachelor, Jake Pavelka, with too much vigor. (FYI, according to the code of Evil Hot Woman, if a woman pursues a man, she's probably a slut.) The other contestants united against her in  an embarrassing (for them) verbal attack. They cornered her in a kitchen for being "too fake".

This is a heavily recurring term in the reality TV world. Like being "thrown under the bus" or screaming "You don't know me!".

I don't even think women know what it really means when they're accusing fellow contestants of fakeness, but the whole thing feels very caveman. "Me Ugg, you want my man. You fake because you intimidating."

I mean, I doubt a caveman would use the word "intimidating", but you get the idea.

It just makes me want to lock all the contestants in a room together and force them to watch Beaches or Mean Girls over and over again with intermittent breaks to listen to "Sisters are Doing it For Themselves" by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin.

What the flipping heck happened to the nineties promise of girl power? 

Chris Harrison, host of The Bachelor
and sarcastic rose-handler
extraordinaire.
Anyway, after a post-show breakup, Vienna was labeled as crazy in a historically disgusting train-wreck of an interview, lead by the ever-smarmy Bachelor host Chris Harrison. Harrison buddied up with Pavelka like they were long-lost frat brothers. They tradied frequent smirks. They accused Girardi of infidelity.

She stated she wanted to move away from L.A., something Pavelka initially promised after their engagement. When Pavelka dug his heels in to begin an acting career and do a stint on "Dancing with the Stars", Girardi detached.

Instead of taking any blame, Pavelka played the "she's crazy" card. And as far as I'm concerned, so did ABC. Yes, it's sick that I know this much about it. In fact, I wrote an article about it right after it aired because I found it so disturbing. 

Again, I am complicit in this machine. But if I sunk this much time into watching it, I have to do something about it.

This show, for all it's light-hearted fun and beautiful landscapes, adds nothing but fuel to the disgusting sexist fire. Healthy relationships allow room for a spouse who can challenge you. Great partnerships involve someone who can call you on your errors, little white lies, or moments of emotional detachment.

The Bachelor seems to promote the idea that the man should choose the most demure woman, the one who will give him the least trouble. The minute there's a disagreement or anything even resembling a real relationship conflict, most Bachelor contestants are so offended at having their egos challenged that the girl is immediately sent home.

To which I say, thank your lucky stars ladies.

This is a show that asks you to believe that what it's selling is 100% real. Maybe, hopefully, that will change. When a machine is this large, when it makes this much money, there's usually someone being crushed under it's gears. And I wonder if someday, more won't come out about this.

For the record, the two married couples that met on the show don't live in Los Angeles and aren't in any form of media for a living.

What's the Point?

I implore you, please think twice before participating in The Narrative. The "That girl is crazy/a slut/desperate/etc." culture that surrounds the show. The easiest way to get rid of someone or dismiss them, especially from a ego-centric male point of view, is to simply label them (or edit them) as crazy.

Think about what it's saying to the young girls who are watching. I know, they shouldn't be watching. Their parents should be monitoring what they consume. When the world is full of good, or even present parents, I will allow concede that point.

The message is, be good, be quiet, and you'll get a handsome wealthy man. To the women who don't stay quiet after maybe going on the show a little bit naive, I say, rage on. Tell the world about the way that the show promotes the Virgin/Whore Complex.

My goodness, but I got riled up. Apparently, I'm more agitated by this whole thing than I initially realized. When I started writing about this, I thought I'd just make a note to anyone who watches the show that they should think twice about believing the editing. Now I'm thinking of chasing down some interviews with some of the "crazy" contestants and writing a larger piece about this...

What do you think of the crazy women of The Bachelor? Do you think it's time they had their say or do you think they should let it go because it's part and parcel with appearing on reality TV thing?

I say, no matter what decisions you have made in your life, you always deserve the right to tell your side of the story.




*I don't really believe that. I'm being facetious to make a point.

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