We all know the phenomenon: the compelling draw of a train wreck, the knee-jerk crane past a car accident; the transfixed stares as fisticuffs flail in a bar. It's human: we're drawn to havoc, drama; the adrenaline pump of chaos -- at least other people's chaos. And certainly the witnessing of other people making every kind of fool of themselves has never been more on display than in our love affair with reality television. Which must explain the inexplicable clusterf**k that is The Bachelorette.
Disclaimer: I'd never watched the show before last week. It's not that I'm a TV snob -- I truly love television's "new golden age," but my selections tend toward premium dramas and pretty much any original programming at Netflix (if you haven't seen Bloodline, do). But a friend was in town who happens to be a Bachelor/Bachelorette hate-watcher from way back, and since we were together on said show's viewing night, well... I either moped in my room or I watched the damn thing. I watched the damn thing.
Dear Lord. If reality TV truly is a window into the soul of humanity, I have seen our doom (winking hyperbole intended).
Certainly some reality TV -- talent, history, dancing, decorating, animal or Anthony Bourdain -- has merit; but much, so much, does not. That hearty list is pilfered with shows built on a sort of schadenfreudey voyeurism (any Housewives permutation, Big Brother, Cheaters, etc.), offered with ridiculous manipulations of survival and human interaction (Born in the Wild, Naked and Afraid... The Apprentice) or presented with idiotic formats designed to suck your soul (all the aforementioned, along with Duck Dynasty, Dog, the Bounty Hunter, anything with a "shore" attached and all shows involving (in)famous people and their families).
And while I can appreciate fluffy viewing diversions on those nights when nothing good is on, you're too tired to invest in a new series and you've already seen Rick Steves bouncing through Brussels, come on... The Bachelorette??
After watching the one (and only, I assure you) episode I did, I was left with (at least) the following ten thoughts and questions:
- When did men get so desperate and catty? Or have they always been and I've just never witnessed group mating rituals before?
- I love a sensitive, vulnerable guy, but sobbing hysterically, into a scarf, on TV?
- So, sanctioned group sexual auditions are now the dating norm... again, on national TV?
- Did any of these guys ponder how cringingly pathetic they come off to the viewing public?
- Why is this woman being applauded for "daring" to have sex with one of her fawning supplicants? Don't people do that every day?
- And when did "sex for TV ratings" become a giant step for womankind? Please!
- How does a normal fellow go back to normal dating after rejection on The Bachelorette? Does "normal" even apply?
- Will Kaitlyn get therapy for severe narcissism overdose after all that pandering? Is there such a thing as emotional diabetes?
- Why is The Bachelorette legal when prostitution is not? (And, hey, I'm all for legal prostitution.)
- How can anyone complain about what gay people do when straight people have reduced love and marriage to this mortifying public spectacle?
Oh, I could go on, but why bother?
Clearly this list, and any number of appropriate add-ons, would apply in reverse to The Bachelor... and likely a whole lot of other sex/marriage/dating oriented shows. Because, for whatever reason, modern culture has become fixated on the notion of viewing human foreplay, so to speak, as gladiator sport. And journalists and media opinion-makers are right on board, jumping through hoops to assign greater sociological importance to the most mundane of behavior. I stumbled on an article this week giving breathless kudos to Kaitlyn for boldly "pulling back the curtain" of the show's prudishness regarding contestant-sex (as if the "Fantasy Suite for two" didn't already suggest that sex between contestants was encouraged). Apparently Kaitlyn's flagrance, versus the show's whispering hypocrisy, vaunts her to game-changing sexual pioneer status.
Oh, modern culture... you're so easy.
Look, I don't care what anyone watches; really, I don't. As long as it's not evil, abusive or illegal, taste is subjective. If Duck Dynasty floats your boat, or Keeping Up With the Kardashians is must-see TV, go for it. I'm only commenting on this particular show because, in my brief glimpse, another kind of curtain was pulled back. A reminder that modern society is what we make it: with our votes, our dollars and certainly our viewing habits. Whatever kind of inane throwaway The Bachelorette may be for many -- most? certainly, my friend! -- I hope the cyclical, serial impact of blubbering boys -- I mean, men -- desperately swirling around the entitled siren at the show's center, doesn't confuse or mislead formative minds, or overall cultural "think," about the real -- less salacious, less manipulated and more honest -- elements of true and tender love. That would just be sad.
But beyond that, wasn't Ireland amazing?
Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Rock+Paper+Music. Access details and links to her other work at www.lorrainedevonwilke.com, and her novels, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH and HYSTERICAL LOVE at her author pages at both @ Amazon and Smashwords. Watch her book trailer for AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH here, and be sure to follow her adventures in independent publishing at her book blog, AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.