Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Love's Labors Lost: "The Bachelor"

Well, America, the wait is over. ABC's "The Bachelor" has ended its 14th(!) season Monday (3/1/10) with bachelor Jake Pavelka choosing the improbably named Vienna Girardi for his hand.

Of course, the happy couple have yet to set a wedding date. If they follow in the footsteps of previous "Bachelor" twosomes, Jake and Vienna won't even make it to the alter: only four couples brought together by this "reality show" are still together and only one has actually married.

Indeed, seconds after Jake went on bended knee to give Vienna the ring, you could almost hear the organ music swell and a pretentious voice-over boom, "Can a one-time actor turned flight instructor find true happiness with an ex-Hooters waitress accused of clearing out her first husband's bank account to finance her boob job? Tune in tomorrow..."

Although this latest offering of "The Bachelor" franchise was subtitled "On the Wings of Love", love has nothing to to do with this program, ever. Despite the glitz and the gloss, "The Bachelor" is really just a depressing mixture of porn voyeurism, game show humiliations and tacky soap opera.

Just the basic set up is cringe inducing. A reasonably attractive guy is presented with 25 pre-selected reasonably attractive single gals. While the bachelor resides in spacious digs, the females are all housed together, each hoping to become "The One" and, of course, acting as catty and bitchy as possible.

As the weeks pass, the ladies are put through their paces in a series of "getting to know you" challenges. This might involve, for instance, being forced to do stand-up comedy in a club or endure a camping "road trip". As the herd thins, the bachelor will then begin taking the gals on group (2 or more) or single "dates", presumably to get more up close and personal--while the cameras record every magic moment. Woven amidst these excursions are taped interviews with the gals, who usually swoon over the bachelor and say more nasty stuff about their competition (like "She's so phony!" and "Why can't he see through her?!").

The centerpiece of each "Bachelor" episode is "The Rose Ceremony", where the bachelor hands the ladies who passed muster during the week a flower. Naturally, as not every gal can receive a rose, at least one or two hopefuls will be sent packing.

No matter how you slice it, "The Rose Ceremony" is sadistic torture at its finest. For many viewers (present company included), it brings back painful memories of gym class, where the best athletes divvied up their peers for rival teams, the least coordinated kids dead last. "The Bachelor", however, ratchets up the humiliation factor into the stratosphere.

First, the show's smarmy host Chris Harrison reminds the bachelor that he must send one or more of the women home. Next, the bachelor is given a few moments to prepare, where he comes to terms with his anguished duty. Jake, the most recent "Bachelor", entered every Rose Ceremony looking like he had just learned his beloved grandma had been torn to pieces by a pack of rabid dogs. Then the ladies, clad in cocktail dresses and looking very nervous, line up like human bowling pins waiting to be struck down. Finally, the bachelor starts handing out the roses. To heighten the dramatic effect of these proceedings, the room is lit ominously dark and dirge-like music accompanies each name spoken. There are also plenty of excruciating pauses. Once all the roses are handed out, the losers are given a few seconds to bid tearful goodbyes before she (or they) are quickly shoved into a waiting limo (their bags are already packed, by the way) and sent off into the night.

Are we done? Not quite. As the reject is driven away, viewers are treated to her copiously weeping in the limo, wondering how things could have gone so horribly, horribly wrong. Meanwhile, back on the "Bachelor" set, the remaining hopefuls are quaffing bubbly and eagerly awaiting next week's activities. Cheers!

"The Bachelor" is just low rent junk masquerading as...what, exactly? That is the central problem with "reality shows": they claim to be showing real events in real time involving real people, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Reality shows cull their participants from casting calls. Casting agents choose among the hopefuls, looking for heroes, villains and "break out" stars, just as they would for any movie or TV show. The events depicted are not spontaneous happenings; camera crews follow these people around for hours hoping for something to happen. The footage people see at home has been shot, edited for time and content and to provide the necessary "teasers" between commercials and next week's show. Of course, in the case of "The Bachelor", there is always extra footage held back for "specials" like "The Bachelor: The Women Tell All" (where the rejects get to air their grievances) and "After the Rose" (where the new "Bachelor" couple gush about how happy they are and their plans for their future). In short, "reality TV" is just as manufactured as any soap opera or tear-jerking Lifetime movie of the week--and just as unrealistic.

Jake and Vienna, of course, insist their love is real and true. For now, anyway. As I noted earlier in this post, chances are slim to none that Jake and Vienna will make it to their golden wedding anniversary--or even to the alter. That's because true love isn't a product that can be won a game show, like a life time supply of Rice-a-Roni. True love takes time, effort, sacrifice, compromise, communication: exactly the kind of thing you won't find "The Bachelor" or any other reality show.

In short, "The Bachelor" is to love and marriage what "Keeping up with the Kardashians" is to the nuclear family: nothing.

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