Monday, May 25, 2015

Kaitlyn's Bachelorette: Ep 1

My favorite podcast of late is Popaganda, "the feminist response to pop culture," produced by Bitch Media. The title of the latest episode is "Guilty Pleasures." In this episode host Sara Mirk admits to blasting Top 40s pop when she's alone, and interviews other feminists who admit to love affairs with macho action films, Game of Thrones, and Rom Coms. The guilt that accompanies each of these pleasures for the women in this episode stems from their acknowledged consumption of something that isn't likely feminist--macho films elevate men as the heroes, Game of Thrones is gratuitously violent and sexual, and Rom Coms usually suggest a woman's singular pursuit is the love of a man. And yet, feminists and non-feminists alike, consume it all. 

I was actually in the process of thinking about getting back into blogging about the Bachelorette when this podcast aired. It struck a chord, because the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise has long been my personal guilty pleasure. I justify my interest in the show by telling friends I watch it for the psychological aspect. And its true, I am fascinated by the decisions made in the truly experimental, abnormal setting that is the famed Bachelor Mansion. But I also love it for the same reason other people love it--the drama! 
bach mansion
As you probably expected, I have decided to indulge my guilty pleasure and watch this season of the Bachelorette. But I decided to critique the show, in case anyone was curious as to why this show makes me feel so guilty.

What's Wrong with the Bachelorette?

The typical critique of the Bachelorette/Bachelor is that the shows are embarrassingly white. Of the 19 bachelors and 16 bachelorettes, all have been white, with the exception of the 18th bachelor, Juan Pablo, who is an American-born Venezuelan. Furthermore, the contestants selected for the show are also overwhelmingly white, though I don't know the ratio, nor do I have data on the degree to which individuals of other races and ethnicities apply to be on the show. That would be an interesting data set. 

But even if we over look the racial under-representation, there is still the problem with sexuality and class. That "problem" being that where media focus on particular classes and categories of people over others, those classes are promoted and often elevated. I do understand, though, that the targeted audiences are likely to drive the heterosexual premise of the show. If you're interested, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of Modern Family fame) starred in a hilarious spoof of The Bachelor (with host George Takai!) if the show were to produce a gay spinoff. SPOILER ALERT the gay men in the house just date each other instead of vying for the attention of one man. 

Regarding class, the contestants, especially the men, are middle-to-upper class. And I suppose this makes sense. It might be problematic for the show to encourage financially unstable people to enter into longterm commitments. But its very clear that the 19 men selected to be the main Bachelors are especially financially secure. Bachelor 19, Chris Soules, may be a humble, hardworking farmer, but he's also a millionaire. Other former Bachelors include Andrew Firestone, of Firestone tires, worth 50 million, self-proclaimed businessman Bob Guiney worth 1.5 million, an Italian Prince, and Juan Pablo is a millionaire as well. A few others are *only* worth 500-600k, like two-time bachelor Brad Womack, Sean Lowe, and professional fisherman Byron Velvick. (An embarrassing amount of googling was invested in writing this paragraph).

Also, there is obviously a preference for younger women on the show. The men are young as well, but the women especially are more likely to be in their 20s. This just further perpetuates the stigma that older women are less deserving of sexual desire and love. I don't know about the average age of the contestants vying for love (I only have so much time to devote to bachelorette blogging!), but the average age of the Bachelors is 32. The average age of the Bachelorettes is 28. To put this in some context, the average marrying age for women in the US is 27, and for men the average is 29.

Finally, my last issue with the show has to do with the way the show treats sex, and furthermore, the public and personal shame that results when the cast members have sex prior to the arbitrary fantasy suite date, which for some reason has established itself as the magical number/date for appropriate sex. The fantasy suite dates are around week 9, when there are 3 contestants still left; this is the week after the hometown dates. If any sex happens before this night, the fallout is pretty disastrous. Ive only watched the series since 2009, but in that time there have been a few memorable fallouts from pre-fantasy suite sex. For instance, Juan Pablo and Claire Crawley "went in the ocean" one night and yada yada yada. During the show, they never refer to what they did as sex… its merely "that night in the ocean" or "what happened in the ocean." It was so strange to hear a show that is so overtly sexual, tiptoe around actual sex.

an annoying Juan Pablo and a sad Claire
And then in the previews for the current season, its clear that Kaitlyn has sex with someone before week 9. In the previews we see her crying on multiple occasions about her "mistake" and feeling really terrible for what she did. If she feels bad, fine. But it looks to me that she's more so embarrassed by the implications of having sex before week 9. Which, to me, is so stupid. If the show were about monogamy and abstinence, then I would get it. But its not. which is part of what makes it so popular. The International Business Times reports (Um, okay?) on an interview with Entertainment Tonight, where Kaitlyn said she wasn't ashamed of having sex and the tears were more so because she worried that her actions would jeopardize her relationships with the other men. You can read that here.

Kaitlyn in the previews for the season: "I made a huge mistake."
OK, back to MY guilt, not hers. The under-representations of race, sexuality, class, age, and implications of sexual behavior can have resounding effects on our societal beliefs about love and deservingness--that only white, upper-class, straight, physically flawless, young people deserve love.

But what is clear is this show, while technically "reality TV," is not at all characteristic of what's real when dating. This show is not about what's normal or average, because of course these people aren't average, and the situation is not normal, which is why their behaviors are so entertaining. But the show does likely perpetuate an ideal for young men and women to subscribe. And it's one to which I do not...

...And yet, I love to watch. Why? I think my enthusiasm for the show is that I love to analyze people's behaviors and speculate on underlying motivation for their actions. Are they insecure? Inexperienced? Inebriated? This show puts people in a situation that is so absurd--25 single men vying for the attention of 1 woman, with no other women around!--that insecurities, inexperience and inebriation are very likely.