Yesterday my obliging viewing partner and I watched the penultimate episode of the The Bachelor before the final decisive revelation (next week’s episode is a reunion show, then in two weeks, the big reveal). In this episode, Brad takes the remaining three women to South Africa. Now they’ve been to Costa Rica, Anguilla, and the Dark Continent–I’m really making the effort here to choose terminology that Texan Brad might use. After all, his child-like shock at viewing a pride of drowsy lions betrays his belief that Africa is a place of magic and wonder. Just like Disneyland, except here the material poverty surpasses the spiritual kind.
So why can’t we find love in America? What’s so innately detrimental about experiencing romance in the United States that Brad can’t whisk the ladies away for a weekend at the Hearst Castle, or a tour of the Grand Canyon?
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that these questions are partially provoked by a friend of mine who’s studying the aesthetics of grandiose and significant places constructed by humans. In The Bachelor, Brad chaperons the women to places where ostensibly they will be awed by nature: the lush, verdant jungles of Costa Rica, the warm sand and light drizzle of an Anguilla night, and an open-air tree house on the South African savanna. Hope they brought mosquito netting!
Although the beauty of these locales originates in their natural qualities, they have become tourist destinations through human efforts to subdue or capture nature. In one distinct space, in a single tiny corner of South Africa, we can experience everything–the myriad types of wildlife and plants, the heady scent of a foreign and therefore slightly dangerous place, and the thrill of having the ubiquitous experience of love in a spot where surely no one else has felt it as you do.
Brad and his women travel to places where an entire culture is condensed into a single oceanic resort or a starry picnic under unfamiliar skies. How accurate their travel destinations seem when we recall that this is a television program about condensing love. The Bachelor asks us to believe that a man and a woman find some sort of kinship in the span of a few short weeks merely by experiencing each other through the heightened awareness of an endless first date. Much like their hyperbolic travel destinations, the women of The Bachelor, and to some extent, Brad, experience a sort of exaggerated journey to true love.
And much like the man-made jungle or the constructed safari experience, The Bachelor is all about taming women. My viewing partner and I often refer to the show as “infantilizing women,” but that’s not what it’s doing. It isn’t re-imagining women as children; it’s re-imagining uncontrolled single women as full-fledged adults. It’s about subduing all desires except for the right one: the desire to find a man and get married. The final rose ceremony doesn’t culminate in a conclusive flower and a trip around the world; it ends with a rock. A diamond and the promise of an engagement, that’s all women want.
The Bachelor eliminates our urges to explore, to probe our world in its natural state. We are taught to focus our hysteria on the overly intense beauty of artificial vistas and on the rugged ideal of a proper man. We must channel our energy into securing this man, but as Chantal O. recently learned, we must never appear over-eager lest he think that we are unstable or erratic.
The Bachelor is my vicarious encounter with the romantic dream of true love. It is every Disney princess movie, every perfect Hollywood marriage, and every single woman waiting for her entitlement. The Bachelor doesn’t sell white picket fences to spinsters in cluttered studio apartments–it’s a commercial whose message is keep waiting, no matter what, for the fantasy that is your birthright.
Can a single television show really capture the zeitgeist of a generation of women? (rhetorical LOL) And when will this hysterical bitch be tamed just like nature? (You know, there’s a reason both women and fields are “plowed”) Stay tuned!