A commentary on the gilded world of dating shows
Dating reality shows find themselves poised as one of the most indulgent guilty pleasures available to consume on TV today. Whether you have watched anxiously as “The Bachelor,” or “The Bachelorette,” gives out one last rose to a crowd of anxious romantics, the tense conflict on “Love Island,” or recovering from the shock over the plot twist from Netflix’s answer to the dating show demand, “Love Is Blind,” you understand the hype. People find themselves addicted to and wrapped up in the storylines between the cast members in these shows, watching episode after episode as the love stories unravel, and tensions arise.
According to hollywoodreporter.com, “The Bachelor” — arguably the most popular among dating shows — attracts an audience of just under 7 million viewers weekly. For reference, the entire population of Washington State is just over 7.5 million. But the fan following doesn’t end there. The show’s following takes up ample space on social media as well, with commentaries on the different contestants, events happening in each episode, and predictions for how the season will end dominating your newsfeed across almost every platform.
The website cheatsheet.com explains a lot of the criticism that “The Bachelor” receives. Despite the diehard fan base for the show, a lot of negative commentary surrounds it. “The Bachelor” franchise often receives negative reviews for being highly undiverse. In a total of 39 seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” combined, only one non-white lead starred in the show.
The show fails to adequately portray diversity in other ways as well. Looking at the female contestants, you notice they always wear expensive clothing, have their hair and makeup styled perfectly, and all wear a size two with perfect bodies. Also, the show only represents heterosexual relationships, which surely won’t last as an acceptable norm for too much longer in the social climate we experience in America today.
Even some sexist criticism has emerged regarding the protocol for how a woman chooses a man at the end of “The Bachelorette.” In “The Bachelor,” the man at the end proposes to the final contestant that he has chosen to marry. If this were standardized for “The Bachelorette,” the woman should propose to the man to keep things consistent. However, instead, the final two male contestants propose to the woman.
Taking all of these things into account helps to evaluate the show from an objective standpoint. The producers of a dating show cast people. Casting, in a broad sense, involves picking people that production feels will suit their image for a specific role the best. This is important to keep in mind with “The Bachelor.” They want to sell you a fantasy of unrealistic love, complete with the perfect-looking contestants, the expensive dates, luxurious mansions, and money everywhere you see. Viewers watch with the knowledge that following the show, the contestants attain a certain level of fame and fortune due to the show’s popularity.
Kaitlyn Bristowe, a former contestant of both “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” has told the story on various podcasts that after picking her fiance from “The Bachelorette,” the two were parting ways after the engagement and she realized that she knew nothing about her fiance Shawn Booth — she didn’t even have his phone number.
This isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a relationship. A lot of contestants from the shows have gone on to have successful and fulfilling relationships, despite not having the opportunity to actually get to know each other in a setting where they are not forced to worry about their appearance on camera and pressure from the directors of the show. But even more of these relationships are not fully actualized and end in failure.
These shows make up for their lack of authenticity in how entertaining they are, certainly. But the danger lies in thinking that these shows serve any legitimate purpose outside of just being entertaining. Love is a complex emotion that requires a balance of intimacy, freedom, trust and respect, among lots of other things.
If you imagine any real-world relationship where a dozen women plot against each other to compete for one man’s affection, and the man faces the insurmountable pressure to literally compare all of the women and pick the best one to marry, you likely don’t feel as convinced by the premise leading to a happy relationship. There’s immense value in just simply being entertained, and these shows serve that purpose well. But anything outside of that, and they just fall short. Falling in love in real life shouldn’t involve proving your worth, ever, and it certainly, will look less glamorous — plus, will likely involve a lot more unflattering angles.