Bachelor Nation and the Culture Behind the Bachelor Franchise
The Bachelor stands in front of the doors of Bachelor Mansion. He’s an attractive man, dressed in a suit, and is supposedly the guy every woman wants. Apparently, that’s why he’s still single. It’s the season premiere, and the first limo, filled with all the women who will be vying for his heart, is pulling to a stop in front of the mansion doors. The first contestant steps out of the limo wearing flashy high heels, an elegant and overly expensive dress, and clearly has had her hair and makeup professionally done. She approaches the Bachelor in the hopes of making a good first impression because, little does he know, they are going to be engaged in a few weeks. At least that’s what she hopes. The Bachelor asks her name which he won’t remember for the rest of the night because he’s meeting thirty other women, and they exchange some witty comical banter that would honestly just be creepy in a real world setting outside the film set. She goes inside and the Bachelor watches her walk away with a forced dreamy smile, cameras rolling, waiting to see if they’ve captured the moment the Bachelor met “the one.”
The next woman steps out of the limo and an identical scene plays out. Viewers speculate over each interaction in hopes of witnessing love at first sight for the couple. There is even a Bachelor Fantasy League to predict the winner of the season. Is it fair to be betting on a love that is fabricated and commercialized for the sake of a TV show? And for that matter, is it right for the show to portray such a distorted view of love, embellishing the idea of love to be something entirely altered from reality?
Reality TV has a way of creating real world scenes in dramatic environments. This is especially true when it comes to ABC’s The Bachelor franchise. Fans of The Bachelor, also known as “Bachelor Nation” are aware of the likelihood of how the “love story” will end the moment the limo pulls up the perfectly lit driveway of the famous Bachelor mansion. While there may be some real moments of love and heartbreak, the scenes are staged in a way that adheres to the storyline the producers envision. As a fan of the show, I can attest that while The Bachelor is entertaining on the surface, its underlying theme portrays a distorted view of love which can be harmful to viewers, especially those who may not separate the “reality” from the fantasy of the show. When not taken out of context, the show, while a little strange, is entertaining, just as a reality show typically is.
But it seems the show has surpassed that of the typical reality series and has integrated its own implied belief system pertaining to the realities of love on reality television. What I mean by this is that there are implied “rules” of the Bachelor world that are portrayed as tropes which can only be recognized by a fan. For instance, anytime there are fireworks, a kiss is expected. And anytime Chris Harrison, the “host” of the show, walks into the room, drama is about to ensue. Or the fact that there is always a “villain” character that all the other contestants hate. These tropes don’t align with real world values. It’s an issue of perception versus reality and while I’d like to think Bachelor Nation understands the difference, the fairytale love is an all too easy story to want to believe in.
The show appeals to a large audience, basically anyone from teenagers to middle-aged males and females. Some viewers are married, some haven’t dated, and others are looking for the one and think maybe The Bachelor is the place to find it. But the question is this: is love really found on the show, or is it merely the idea of love, dressed up to be seen as the real thing? And is it ethical to be marketing plasticity to be authentic? Or is the issue relating to the fans of the show being blinded by their own views of love? Regardless, why is it so important to watch one man date thirty women, or one woman date thirty men (The Bachelorette), in the hopes of finding “the one?”
When the show reaches its final episode, there is one contestant left standing, and viewers are left with the illusion that this love has surpassed the show. That this reality show has brought this couple together and it no longer matters who gets the final rose in the end because they have found their one. It isn't about the rose, it's about true love.
However, the cameras are still rolling—this love and the given final rose is still very much the defining factor to be profited from. The only difference is, at this point, it almost no longer matters who gets the “final rose,” or who is chosen by the Bachelor. For instance, “Will you marry me” is typically followed by “will you accept this rose?” It’s a bit ridiculous, yet mixed with the backdrop of some exotic location, pricy and stylish clothing, an expensive engagement ring the network paid for, combined with a perfectly scripted proposal, and dramatic music playing in the background as the happy couple reflects on the moment they fell in love…on a group date with ten other women; it’s the love story of the century. I mean, not really, yet somehow, Bachelor Nation is invested enough in the story to care how it ends.
And I understand this perspective because I am a part of Bachelor Nation myself. It’s easy to get sucked into the drama that is The Bachelor. The show is marketed to appeal to viewers and convince them to invest in the storyline and begin to root for the idea of love—to be excited when someone says they’re “in love” and to be heartbroken when someone is told their love isn’t enough. As a fan, I know the concept is strange, but somehow amid my eye rolls and questioning the sanity of the contestants, I find myself thoroughly interested in who the Bachelor will choose in the end, making my own predictions and investing way too much thought and analysis into whether or not the relationship will last outside of the world of The Bachelor.
The reality behind the story isn’t always what it appears to be. Why would anyone want to get married after a couple “real” dates and the person they are in love with has been “dating” thirty other people for the past weeks? Do these contestants truly want to be engaged, or are they just giving into the pressure the show adds for a happily ever after? Once out of the “bachelor bubble,” how often does this “true love” survive? In reality, love isn’t a fairytale, but in the world of The Bachelor, a fairytale is exactly what love is. What does this show say about society and what it means to be in love, or for that matter, be in a relationship in general?
The moments on the show are staged, but most of the feelings of the contestants are said to be authentic. Assuming the feelings are real, this begs an entirely different question: Is it a matter of morality to be entertained by the fact that people have had their heart broken on national television? Why do I find myself reaching for more popcorn when a contestant is sent home, sobbing her eyes out and questioning whether or not she will ever find love? This scene should make me sick, but instead it makes me sad and sympathetic for a moment. That is, until the scene switches, and the Bachelor has a romantic conversation with someone with whom he thinks he has a closer connection with.
While sure the show might end with a proposal, it’s rare for any bachelor relationship to survive in the real world. That’s not to say it can’t. Since its series premiere in 2002, there have been several bachelor couples who are now married and have children, and truly are happy together. However, those contestants are the exception, not the rule. The reality of this reality show is that it is just that—a reality show. The show profits off of the idea of love and the image of heartbreak. And while there is truth to the premise of the show, it’s also a complete fabrication and creates unrealistic expectations for those who watch. So, why is the show still taken so seriously?
Love is not a contest. I mean, honestly The Bachelor is like the hunger games of love. And the viewers cast their votes and let the games unfold, excited over a twisted competition that really shouldn’t even exist. The Bachelor dates thirty women, at the same time, until he finds “the one.” Not only does the concept make cheating totally “okay,” but in a dark way the idea is kind of borderline polygamy. Yet this “love story” is completely fantasized over like it’s a dream come true.
The contestants of the show are real people with real emotions who have real lives outside of the Bachelor world, and it can be easy to forget that. Moreover, given the vast audience and fan base the show maintains, it’s clear The Bachelor has the opportunity to influence a lot of people with the underlying messages portrayed throughout the seasons. Instead of portraying a romanticized view of love, perhaps Bachelor Nation could ask a different question: what is love and how can the world of The Bachelor represent love more realistically?
From a reality television standpoint, The Bachelor knows the formula for what will keep viewers watching. However, its portrayal of love just isn’t realistic. In reality, everyone can relate to the idea of searching for love, but The Bachelor isn’t necessarily going to be the place to find it.