It’s that time of year again. Those special weeks when we collectively hold our breath as one man hands out roses to narrow down a field of twenty-five women until he finds the one. “The Bachelor” is back and with it the notion that a series of made for TV adventure-filled dates will lead you to a life-long relationship with someone you had to vie for in a romance version of “The Hunger Games.”
The last time I wrote about this show was in 2011 and I argued that it promoted unflattering images of women and their approach to relationships. I’m going to stick with that, as not much has changed in four years. This season the women include a self-professed “chicken enthusiast,” twins and a contestant who broke up with her boyfriend after seeing bachelor Ben Higgins on “The Bachelorette.” It was a wake-up call, she says. He could be her soul mate. I’m pretty sure the chicken woman is just made up and the addition of twins is like a plot from “Three’s Company.” As for the one who feels TV is guiding her romantic destiny…I suppose it could happen? The dentist from Portland who dresses like the “first impression rose,” is a ready-made Twitter hashtag.
In the opening montage of the first episode, Ben takes us on a tour of his hometown in Indiana. He drives by his elementary school (the scene of his first kiss with a girl who broke his heart), appears in a town parade, visits his high school where he was quarterback (naturally) and takes a few selfies with very excited residents. In case all this imagery wasn’t clear, the point is that Ben is an all-American guy from the heartland. The fact that he wants to find love after appearing on “The Bachelorette” and confessing that he thinks he could be “unlovable,” is supposed to be sweet.
All this adds up to one reason why viewers watch the show: Nice guy+some zany women=entertainment. But some watch because falling in love is a wonderful thing and who’s to say you can’t find your life partner on reality TV? Some actually have. But there’s also the element of familiarity. The bachelor and the bachelorette have been unlucky in love during their season and return triumphantly to set things right. They are characters in a sequel.
Ben’s persistent humility adds to his likability. He comments that all these women are out of his league and sure hopes they don’t find out. Aw shucks Ben. The women competing for his marriage proposal tell us that they watched him on “The Bachelorette” and he seems like a good guy. “I would love to land Ben’s heart,” says one before she even speaks to him. Several others claim he is the perfect guy, also having not met him yet. It’s easy to label these women delusional but can we really blame them? In our social media world, everyone is a perfect version of themselves, blurring the line between representation and reality. So why wouldn’t Ben be the perfect guy? He sure seems nice on TV.
“The Bachelor” is on Mondays at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.