The Bachelorette is slowly eating my brain. I blame Frank. And Chris. And Roberto and all the other rejected, Disney prince-esque castoffs. Because they have seduced me with their unrealistic, romcom ways.
The Bachelorette is perhaps the most ridiculous piece of television that I watch on a semi-regular basis. I became sucked in last season, after my mom started talking to me about Jake and Vienna and their various dramas. At first, this was a guilty pleasure, and I treated it as such. I did all the things a good addict does: I hid my addiction from my friends, indulged only in secret, hoarded up a stash of episodes to watch in a binge-tastic fest of gluttony, I denied knowledge of the contestants and their lives, feigned interest in other, better, more suitable television shows. However, eventually the truth (as "Rated R" Justin learned so publicly) must come out.
Once I had embraced my Bachelor and Bachelorette love, it became increasingly clear that I did not actually despise these people and their fame-whoring ways – I actually kind of adored them. All too hopefully, I insisted that my boyfriend watch an episode, on the off chance that he would come to love Ali and her band of suitors. He did not, but thanks to a bet, he now has to watch every episode. Though I don't want to credit him with my epiphany, watching it with a man revealed something very interesting about the participants: These were not ordinary guys. These were übermen, dudes designed specifically to appeal to a generation of women raised on Patrick Dempsey and Disney princesses. Any quirks they had were either ironed out or displayed as a fatal flaw, which inevitably placed them on the losing end of host Chris Harrison's woodenly-delivered (and painfully unnecessary) final line: "This is the final rose tonight." Even in the early stages, it was clear that Ali's bachelor had to have certain qualities: he had to be strong, yet sensitive. He was supposed to be athletic, conventionally attractive and family-oriented (and, y'know, white?)
Maybe I'm being too harsh; after all, these are real people crying and whispering and kissing and gossiping up there on the television screen. Yet all the finalists -– and, I would argue, the vast majority of the contestants –- are representative of such an interesting version of masculinity, one that is almost as inaccessible to the average dude as the puffed-up, bleached out version of female hotness is to the average lady. They are encouraged, over and over, to "be real" and to "open up" to Ali. They are praised for their openness, but discouraged from crying, lest they appear weak in front of the other men. They form tentative bro-bonds, which are easily broken the second Ali sets foot on the property. They are chiseled, masculine, strong and sometimes a little taciturn. Jealousy is only discouraged when it results in "drama," otherwise it is a symbol of their manly devotion to the bachelorette. They are searching for love and marriage, they want kids and homes and careers. There is no room for mere guys in this house; these are men, serious, honorable, manly men, unerringly handsome and inescapably bland.
Take, for example, Chris L. A Cape Cod native, Chris is the very image of masculine brawn. In contrast to Ali's giggly girlishness, he projects a sort of wholesome seriousness that makes me realize I'll never, ever be a real adult, no matter how many mini-soaps and hand towels I purchase. Unlike Kirk, who was (spoiler alert) eliminated last week following Ali's fateful and excessively dramatic visit to his father's taxidermy workshop, Chris appears to come from a nearly perfect household. While he has had his share of grief, Chris appears so grounded, so absurdly normal. His family is the picture of unity: the women all even have matching bracelets while the men sport similarly ripped arms. His life, from the outside, looks almost too good to be true.
Roberto, who appears to be the frontrunner for Ali's affections, is an insurance agent who dreams of being a professional baseball player. Last week, Ali went to his hometown of Tampa, Florida, where they spent almost the entire episode playing up his jockey side with nary a mention of his real job. Roberto is possibly the most suave man I've ever seen (Mystery could learn a thing or two from this dude). He is also, according to Ali, "so hot." In contrast to the serious and family-oriented Chris, Roberto is the sensual, sexual, salsa-dancing athlete.
And then there is Frank. Frank is one of the only men who hasn't really fallen in line with the manly man program. He wears vaguely hipster-esque clothing, including low cut v-necks and cardigan sweaters. Frank is sensitive and artistic and he's generally been made out to be one of the most likely candidates for Ali's heart. He is, without a doubt, the most obvious exception to the generalization I'm making. Yet Frank is still such a type. In fact, all of the men on the show fit easily into predefined categories of The Boyfriend. There is the Creative Guy, the Athletic Guy, and the Family Guy. Frank is the "creative guy," but take off his glasses and remove the cardigan, and he could easily pass for either of the other two.
However, in the end, it's not about the men themselves, but the way that they are shown, the way they are edited, the things the producers emphasize and the traits that they bring out in interviews and hometown visits. Like all reality television, these people are never going to be real despite their protestations to the contrary. Realness may not be impossible, but it is as ephemeral and insignificant as the average resulting relationship. Frank, Roberto, and Chris are certainly real people, with real lives and dreams and desires and whathaveyou, but for the rest of the world, they don't truly exist outside of the fiction of The Bachelorette. They are reduced to personas, crafted carefully by the whims of a producer, made to appeal to their (typically female) audience. And this is why I find them so fascinating. We are being sold an image of masculinity, a type of manliness that should appeal to women — and, as previously mentioned, this image is seriously whitewashed and reductionist. Much has been said about the performative nature of femininity, but shows like The Bachelorette can serve to remind us of the performance that goes into masculinity as well.
Image via ABC.com