A “modge-podge” of guys and 26 versions of masculinity— why aren’t you watching?
The Bachelor franchise is where good-looking people go to die.
Episodes enact a kind of public “disemboweling” of each contestant’s insecurity around the question of whether or not they are lovable. It’s a show that’s mostly about watching people look for love in all the wrong places—and fail at it.
The 12th season of ABC’s The Bachelorette seems like reality trash, but the franchise’s popularity stems from the way it parades before its audience a range of ideas related to gender, dating, and American identity. Under a gloss of good-feeling fun, the show is pretty nihilistic in its world-view.
If you’ve never seen an episode, I recommend it. You’ll be privy to a morality play on American identity and traditions during a rundown of exactly what it means to be a man. In this season, the luminous JoJo chooses between 26 willing males all vying for her hand in marriage.
Horror-film style, each guy gets eliminated one-by-one.
While the show portends to be about finding love, it mostly deals in heartbreak. While it seems obvious that “true love,” however you define it, is impossible to nail down during in a few weeks of television, we all know that heartbreak, and its partner humiliation, is readily available.
The flipped script—a woman choosing men, should depict some form of female power. Instead, JoJo offers the men a chance to compete with each other, against each other, which unleashes the requisite anxiety and machismo.
The show engages in a kind of social amnesia, nostalgically pretending we live in a time before the social changes of the 60s and 70s. It asks us to believe that dating rituals have remained static and conventional. Where is the gay, lesbian or bisexual edition, or one that features mostly people of color, rather than the token-y smattering to satisfy “diversity?” The show asks its audience to believe not only in the fantasy of fast love, but in the fantasy of traditional gender roles.
If 26 guys seems like a lot, what we really get is type-casting—or as one contestant calls it “a modge-podge of guys,” of masculinity. The show’s implicit question is “where do you fit in this universe?”
What does your “occupation” say about you?
What you do is thought of as a key piece of identity and one of the franchises most charming tenets is the way it plays fast and loose with the concept of “occupation.” The Bachelorette marches dudes out of limos and provides a graphic with their name, age and occupation. Some guys have legit jobs like “Commercial Banker” and “Real Estate Consultant,” but then you have others who are simply known as their type: Hipster, Superfan, Erectile Dysfunction Expert (which sounds almost accusatory) and, best of all, Canadian.
The Canadian is immediately framed as a doofus, and seems present only as a foil to the rugged Americans, especially those endowed with unimpeachable masculine occupations like U.S. Marine, Fireman, and Former Pro Quarterback.
The Canadian ultimately gets a rose—an admit ticket to the next episode—probably because he offers a vision of what failed masculinity looks like—and it’s un-American. He pokes the Erectile Dysfunction Expert in the belly button which is deemed far more antisocial and bizarre than it is actually is. He strips down to his “male underwear” and dives into the pool. Then, he’s filmed possibly shivering, hands cupping his privates. When he finally gets the chance to speak with JoJo he prattles about viral videos. In short, he’s a hapless dork—further solidified by the ways the other men shun him. He’s the runt of the pack, despite having perfect abs and all that.
Are you a Smooth Man or an Awkward Man?
One of the most notable aspects of JoJo is not, in fact, her cleavage. In the first episode, she wears a nude shimmer dress and leads with her breasts. When one of her suitors comments on her gown, he accidentally blurts out “breasts,” in place of “dress.” Uh, thanks, Freud. Rather, JoJo seems most appealing in the way she could barely get through the evening—plagued as she was by awkward men.
At least half of her suitors seemed incapable of basic conversation. Few could keep their insecurities in check, no doubt rankled by the thought of an audience of millions. The Marine resorted to push-ups. One guy dressed as Santa and pulled her onto his lap. Another asked her if he was doing okay. A different fellow commanded a barely tolerated kiss. One more gave her a set of blue balls–the kind you can throw. Several were stumbling drunk. Occasionally, the camera would capture desolation behind glazed eyes.
JoJo gave the coveted “First Impression Rose,” to the Quarterback, who managed to play it cool.
What type of Man are you in the Bachelorette’s catalogue?
The Franchise has long been critiqued for its overwhelming pool of whiteness. While JoJo’s contestant pool beheld a few non-whites, including some mixed race men, the darkest black guy was shuffled on and off posthaste, with mere seconds of screen time. A man who identified himself as Chinese and Scottish, complete with kilt, was ridiculed by the other men before his rejection.
Ultimately, the show offers a lesson in masculine ideals—most of which are retrograde. The season preview promises the resident Alpha acting out in fisticuffs. Almost everyone has the same hairdo—reminiscent of a 50s pompadour. Several sport 5 o’clock shadows over Gastonian jawlines. You need muscles just for entry, so everyone has those. Most of them wear a navy or black suit. At one point, the Canadian was accused of not knowing the “American standard” regarding suit ties.
More than once, someone shouted “God Bless America” as a stand-in for “whoo-hoo.”
The Bachelorette works at creating fantasies around mating rituals in America while simultaneously toiling in despair. All lovers of reality TV wonder if something authentic can spring through artifice. Can love? But the question most readily answered here is whether or not authentic anguish can spring through. And often, it does.
Photo: Getty Images
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