I am a proud part of the 26.2% of Lovett high school students who self-identify as part of Bachelor Nation. Nothing gets me going like the Monday night routine of locking myself in my room, climbing into bed, and cozying up to an hour of fabricated drama, superficial conversation, and 30 angry singles all vying for the attention of one usually underwhelming bachelor or bachelorette. What could be better?
More often than not, my Bachelor habit catches people off guard. The Bachelor doesn’t quite seem in line with my interests or aesthetics, and frankly, it isn’t. I like my Rimbaud, Ken Burns docs, and other pretentious whatevers, and I don’t watch much TV at all.
But, when I do watch TV, it’s often reality, and in the fall, it’s usually The Bachelor or Bachelorette. “How could you?!” you may be asking, “This doesn’t match your vibe at all! Don’t you wear Doc Martens and an NPR sweatshirt?” Hush, child, I hear you. But man, there’s just something about it.
First and foremost, I want to be clear that I see no need to “defend” reality TV or present The Bachelor as something frivolous for which excuses must be made. I’m not even going to call it a “guilty” pleasure, because I don’t feel guilty. It is frivolous, but it’s also great. Sometimes, you simply want to be entertained, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Rather, I’d like to examine why this type of entertainment--The Bachelor and reality TV at large--does appeal to me. Why do I love my Bachelor Mondays when I care so little for anything that happens on the show? When I find it so difficult to invest myself in literally any other series longer than one season? When I’m relatively intentional with the media I give my time to, and that media tends to attract a very different target audience?
For one, I think I love that there is absolutely nothing of consequence happening on The Bachelor. Unlike most shows, reality TV tends to have pretty inconsequential plots, and The Bachelor is no exception. The Bachelor asks nothing of you. No idea who this dude is? Don’t worry, he’ll be gone next week. Bored out of your mind by the conversations on this date? Skip ahead, you won’t miss anything.
The Bachelor is like a ‘choose your own adventure’ story where you can skip around as much as you please until things catch your interest again. Instead of grinning and bearing the exposition or world-building of a show you can’t get into, you can plug right into the good stuff with reality TV. It’s all the dopamine of a regular show but none of the commitment, which is great for me because I hate commitment.
Along this line of thought, I think I love that reality TV offers one of the most passive experiences a viewer can have. You don’t have to remember any plot-points, connect any dots, analyse or wonder about anything. Nope. Whatcha see is whatcha get.
I can feel the intellectuals in the crowd cringing at my defense thus far. “Isn’t that just a waste of time?” “You could be doing so much else!” “You don’t even really enjoy it!” All fair points, but let's go deeper.
First, is it a waste of time? Sure. On the productivity scale, I would say watching The Bachelor ranks at about a zero--I get absolutely nothing out of it, and no one else does, either. In fact, it might even get a negative score for taking away valuable time I could be giving to something a future version of myself or someone else might be grateful for.
The missing link in this argument, however, is that Bachelor time is dead time. It cannot be repurposed for productivity because it’s reserved for the moments when the brain just can’t do anything else. Were I reading instead, I’d probably comprehend none of it. Were I proofing an essay, I wouldn’t be able to think straight. It’s burn-out time. Plus, I spend plenty of my time being useful to The System. I owe you nothing!
And, is what I’ve described--a dedicated period of time to do nothing, think nothing, be nothing, and simply find peace in that--not the goal of the mindfulness movements that have garnered so much traction as of late? Is watching The Bachelor not, in a sense, a form of meditation?
In fact, some of the basic tenets of mindfulness are non-judgmental focus on the present and accepting one’s current state, training the brain not to concern itself with the future, or the past. Mindfulness practices ease anxiety and depression, as they facilitate self-compassion and grounding. Does creating the time for my mind to turn off and press pause on my worries with The Bachelor differ so much from listening to my Headspace app? Must even ‘resting’ feel like a chore?
Mindfulness has increased in popularity as a reaction to mental health issues’ new highs. We’re taught that our productivity equals our worth and that we can optimize literally every aspect of our lives--this creates stress and productivity-shame that we can’t escape even after work or when we go home at the end of the day.
According to Merriam Webster, a hyperproductive is “extremely or excessively productive,” and the structure of our world tells people they must be hyperproductives or fail. This is not new--according to Max Weber’s 1906 The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, “waste of time is the first and in principle the deadliest of sins,” but with digitization and new awareness of all of our competition, as well as constant exposure to the successes of our peers, it is definitely getting worse. Just a quick browse on the internet for the word “productivity” will yield hundreds of ‘hacks’ to optimize your productivity in everything from work to your morning routine, self-care, cooking, or even napping.
I of course fall into this mindset more often than not, striving to use every moment of my day in ways that will maximize achievement--and in fact, I sort of love it, I’m the ultimate sheep--so giving myself an hour a week to indulge in utter frivolity seems a pertinent reminder that not everything needs to mean something. I will still be alive after taking an hour off, and no worse for it. By cutting out time every week to do something that serves no purpose at all, I see my Bachelor habit not as a shameful vice but a proud political act of defiance.
On the question of enjoyment, I believe The Bachelor strikes an odd balance of totally engrossing and completely boring, but this duality is liberating. Because I have my Bachelor Time, and because I’ve gone ahead and given myself the permission to follow the season through, liking it is the least of my concern.
Again, I don’t have to wonder if this rare rest time I’m giving myself is the most effective rest time I could be having, if it fulfills me enough to be worth taking time from my work. I don’t grapple with that anxiety with The Bachelor because I can allow it to be neutral. Sometimes, the drama is great, and I get a thrill out of the whole hour. Others, I skip through more than half of it or bear it, unimpressed. Either way is A-okay.
And then, is it wish-fulfillment? Does a part of me envy the simple problems of Bachelor competitors and the trivial nature of their concerns, coming on a TV show to compete for love? Does a part of me feel better than the simpler contestants--am I an elitist? Or is it comforting, reminding me of our ultimate desire for connection and the crazy lengths we’ll go to, as well as showing me other real, multifaceted people who don’t have it figured out yet either?
Many of these competitors are actually smart--smarter than they get credit for. They’re lawyers, divorcees, PhDs and single parents. Some are remarkably emotionally intelligent, and it’s maybe sort of empowering to see the competitors I do genuinely come to respect put aside society's perceptions of them and this show to do something they want to do.
Though some Bachelor content is vapid as it comes, I really do respect a lot of the people who show up each season. Maybe these people remind me you don’t have to just be one thing. You can be both--all. You can do whatever you want to do with your own life, ditch the expectations and the unspoken hierarchies of what is thought to be ‘worthwhile,’ and your choices don’t need to make sense to everyone or be ‘in line’ with anything. You don’t become less intelligent, or less ambitious, or less capable, or less worthy of respect--or at least, not to the people who matter.
At the end of the day, though, maybe it isn’t that deep. Is watching The Bachelor a political act? Maybe. Is it an anarchical revolt against the system? Perhaps. Is it secular America’s new religion? It’s possible. Is it a meditation on the human condition? In a sense. But maybe, overall, it’s just fun.
Maybe I just like to watch The Bachelor because I like to see people wear pretty dresses and get their hearts broken and do expensive things and go on dates. Maybe I’m just a teenage girl who wants to fall in love, or have my life start falling into place like these people who’ve somehow made it through their 20s intact. Maybe I just love to hate the drama queens, love to be shocked by people who are surprisingly amazing and unsurprisingly awful. Maybe I just want to see how the other half lives. Maybe I just want to figure out which half I’m in. Maybe I just want to be distracted, because life is tough.
And would that be so unjustifiable? I don’t think so, no.