America’s guilty pleasure concluded another season last night with a three-hour extravaganza of love and tears: two hours of the finale where the winner was revealed and then one hour of After The Final Rose where the rejected gets one final chance at an explanation. I, along with millions of others, watched it all.
I started seriously watching The Bachelor last year during Chris Soules’ season, but I had caught a few episodes here and there before and definitely joined in on the Juan Pablo hate. The show takes up a lot of time on the ABC Monday night schedule so if you’re channel surfing around the networks it’s hard to miss. In the two years of watching I’ve learned a lot about the way that the show is made and marketed and how other people watch it.
Last year, I started a Bachelor-routine with some friends at school. Several of us had class during the Monday night airtime, so we all pledged not to watch or read spoilers and would save the episode to watch on Thursday as an early-weekend treat. Five or six of us would spend two hours crammed into a dorm room watching the show on a precariously perched Macbook. I loved watching it with this group of girls. A couple people were film majors and talked a lot about editing and the role of producers. Copious feminist commentary filled the commercial breaks. It was nice to relax with some silly enticing addictive TV once a week.
This year an early graduation and a few study-abroads have separated the crew, so I spent this season watching with my mom while dramatically texting and Snapchatting my friends. I also became entrenched in Bachelor live-Tweet culture. I mostly follow members of the Bachelor family: my favorite contestants from previous seasons like Andi Dorfman, Sharleen Joynt and Becca Tilley. The contestants from this season also often live-tweet the show as they watch back their whole experience, sharing where they bought their outfits and what they were really feeling in the moment. The next-day is recap time – bloggers across the Internet post their predictions and analysis.
Sharleen Joynt posts recaps on her blog every week and often focuses on editing. She focuses a lot on how the different characters are created, particularly who is dubbed a villain. This season, Leah became a villain for about twenty minutes as she tried to take down Lauren B by talking to Ben about how Lauren acted differently around the girls. This tiny little plot, as Sharleen talks about beautifully, had no basis and was here and gone in a minute. It didn’t make any sense. The characterization of Olivia was much more interesting; she was portrayed and edited as a condescending mean person when in reality she might just have been an introvert who didn’t click with the other girls (though the Teen Mom comments were definitely out of line). Sharleen has a large audience because of her dramatic exit from Juan Pablo’s season and because of her detailed explanations of how things work filming. She has spawned many other bloggers who are talking about the show in so many ways: how the show has changed with the growth of social media, how race is a factor in what contestants stay, how girl-on-girl misogyny manifests itself each season.
The director of The Bachelor is an alumnus of my university and last year he came to speak at homecoming. He talked a lot about how much footage is taken, how late the nights are, how the alcohol keeps flowing. He’s the one responsible for helping create the ‘story’ of a season, especially with regards to the visuals. Listening to him speak made me pay much more attention to the production elements of the show. Are the in-the-moment talking head clips filmed outside or inside? Can we tell how far into the evening it was filmed? What questions might they have asked her? Is the camera-man right up in her face while she talked about her divorce? At this panel discussion, there were many questions about how the show would evolve to keep up with the times, when we could expect to see a POC Bachelor or Bachelorette, when we would see an LGBT season. This keeps me thinking about how the show maneuvers each season to set itself up for these possible shifts and evolutions.
This is how I watch The Bachelor. And I want to think that this is how other people watch The Bachelor, too. One of my friends says that I have too much faith in the average viewer, that most other people really are sucked in to the manufactured romance without thinking critically. But the communities I’ve engaged with around this show say differently. The community, both online and in real life, that is built around this show is strong and passionate and prepared to analyze every clip and voice-over. We know that this show is silly and contrived (and sexist and hetero-normative and often racist) but apparently it is not going away any time soon. These questions and critiques are what watching The Bachelor is all about. Now excuse me, I have to go read some more recaps.
Apparently I have a lot to say about this topic, so tomorrow I’ll be talking some more about The Bachelor and its relationship to women, both fans and contestants.