Is “The Bachelor” just good fun and guilty-pleasure entertainment? Or is it sexist and offensive?
I wrote a column a few weeks ago arguing that “The Bachelor” (which wraps up its 22nd season on Monday) is sexist — that if Warner Bros. (which produces it) and Disney (which owns ABC, the network that airs it) really wanted to stand up for women in this #TimesUp era, they’d cancel the show.
Somewhat surprisingly, I heard from a bunch of people who agreed with me. (Which doesn’t always happen when you write a column.)
”I once tuned in for some 20 minutes and that was enough for me. Nauseating!” wrote one reader.
“I watched it once and was appalled,” wrote another.
Not at all surprisingly, others disagreed and let me know it. (Which happens all the time when you write a column.) Like this reader, who said I was flat-out wrong when I argued that the show sets a terrible example for young, female viewers.
“Funny thing is, the teens and preteens I know either (a) don’t watch much network TV and never this garbage, or (b) find the stereotypes and the women a joke chasing after a bygone era,” she wrote.
Then there several who told me to lighten up.
“You’re taking this issue of ‘The Bachelor’ far too seriously. It is totally amusing, few take it very seriously and we enjoy watching it as we would any other TV show. It’s filled with laughs, stabs, sarcasm, satire and most of all it’s funny entertainment.”
He was one of many who suggested that they enjoy watching “The Bachelor” because they like to make fun of it — a position familiar to the author of the new book, “Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure.”
“There’s some weird thing that happens when you’re in a group watching,” Amy Kaufman said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “You just feed off each other. … You just pile on and pile on, and that can be fun in a messed-up way.
“But I think that’s ridiculous to say that’s the only reason we’re watching.”
After conducting dozens of interviews with contestants, producers and celebrities who are fans of the show, Kaufman has come to the conclusion that, even though viewers know much of what happens on the show is not real, they’re attracted by the fairytale, romantic elements. That viewers love the idea that people can go on the show, go on extravagant dates in fabulous locations, fall in love and get married — even though that almost never happens.
She is convinced that the show’s viewers “still want that stuff more than they’re willing to admit.” Including the millions of female viewers, who watch even though a lot of those fantasy elements are built on stereotyped gender roles that devalue, if not outright demean, women.
“You don’t think about that stuff as you’re watching, which is messed up,” she said. “I think there is something subconscious going on. It seems over-the-top and ridiculous and cheesy … but, clearly, we desire something like that in a way that we’re not, maybe, honest with ourselves about.”
Kaufman, a Los Angeles Times reporter who covers the entertainment industry, outlines in her book the excesses and manipulation that go on behind the scenes — but she remains a “huge fan.”
While she’s “troubled” by a lot of what does go on in the production of the show, Kaufman is not ready to call “The Bachelor” out as irretrievably sexist. She basically agrees with this comment left on my anti-”Bachelor” column:
“I consider the fact that hundreds of women voluntarily pursue appearing on the show [the] strongest counterargument,” wrote the commenter. “What ‘The Bachelor’ shows us is that women will, in fact, demean themselves for a shot at some fame, travel and a good-looking man. Acting like desperate losers is their own choice.”
Kaufman, who interviewed dozens of “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” contestants, disagreed with that “desperate losers” characterization, but she agreed with the first part of that sentiment.
“It’s not like someone was forcing them to go on this show,” she said.
And there’s certainly no dearth of women and men willing to volunteer. In the current season, which concludes Monday at 7 p.m. on ABC/Channel 4, there were not one but two women from Utah — Maquel Cooper and Marikh Mathias.
There’s a long list of women from Utah who have appeared on “The Bachelor,” although none have ever made it to the final episode. And quite a few Utah men have appeared on “The Bachelorette,” from Jef Holm — whom Emily Maynard chose over Arie Luyendyk Jr. on “The Bachelorette” in 2012 (although Holm and Maynard broke up soon after) — to Bentley Williams, who became the most reviled man in the franchise’s history after he bad-mouthed “Bachelorette” Ashley Hebert.
She joins me in being troubled by the women on “The Bachelor” who seem determined to be subservient to the guy at all costs. She and her friends, who gather to watch the show on Monday nights, think it’s “shocking and unnatural” that the women often agree to “pick up and move to wherever a guy lives and just live our lives according to what he wants. And the tendency is to judge it and be, like, ‘Ugh. That’s all they want out of life?‘
“But if a woman wants to get married and that’s more important to her than having a career, I guess that’s fine. Who am I to judge that?”
No matter how you feel about “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette” and the other spinoffs, there are some serious issues. The franchise has created bad publicity for itself, including the allegations of nonconsensual sex between contestants on “Bachelor in Paradise” that temporarily shut down production and the lawsuit filed by a “Bachelor” producer alleging she was sexually harassed.
Kaufman didn’t altogether disagree with my contention that “The Bachelor” does a disservice to women by focusing “on the worst of the women — the ones who are phony and manipulative, who backstab and catfight.”
“I enjoy the more, quote-unquote, ‘sincere parts’ at the end when they seem to express real feelings for one another,” she said. “And a lot of people I know do like the earlier episodes where there’s the token drunk girl or the villain antics are really played up. To me, that just feels really, really artificial and hard for me to take seriously.”
It’s hard for me to take anything about “The Bachelor” seriously, except the possible ill effects on viewers and contestants.
On TV • Arie Luyenyk Jr. introduces the final two women (Lauren Burnham and Becca Kufrin) to his family and makes his choice in a three-hour “Bachelor” on Monday at 7 p.m. on ABC/Channel 4.
On Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Channel 4, there’s a two-hour follow-up — Arie, Lauren and Becca talk about what happened, and the identity of the next “Bachelorette” is announced.
In print • “Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure” will be in bookstores and online on Tuesday — and it’s a must-read for fans of the series or anyone interested in what goes on behind the scenes of a TV reality show.
Author Amy Kaufman, an admitted fan of the show, doesn’t hold back from exposing the darker side of the “Bachelor” franchise — but does it in an extremely readable way that doesn’t read like an indictment.