On Monday, March 9 and Tuesday, March 10, the two night, drama-filled season finale of “The Bachelor: aired on ABC. The finale for the reality dating competition, which lasted two hours each day, included breakups, hookups, fighting and a whole lot of tears, as per usual for the series. But even as this season, led by Bachelor Peter Weber, descended into an unusually high amount of drama, fans seemed to enjoy the chaos, with the second part of the finale installment drawing in 8.5 million viewers, the highest ratings in four years. As the world faces increasingly complicated and stressful events, it seems that people want something to distract them from the pain of the real world, the messier the better.
“We have income inequality, growing college loans, increased homelessness, sexism and misogyny in the workplace, climate change, a weak infrastructure, a feeling of political powerlessness,” says Dr. Mary Ann Davis, a professor of Pop Culture sociology at UNO. “For the first time, we have a shorter life expectancy instead of a gradually lengthening one. Let’s fantasize instead of focusing on the uncomfortable.”
Although the world of “The Bachelor” – one where 30 women live together in a house and compete for the same man- is hardly the typical fantasy, it offers something different from the stresses of a frequently changing society, one which demands constant attention. “The Bachelor” finale aired just before UNO’s classes were moved online to help lessen the spread of Coronavirus, but this pandemic is certainly not the only recent issue that demands escape.
As things such as presidential elections, climate change and police brutality demand national attention, people are beginning to push back against this strain by choosing to spend portions of their time engaging instead with shows like “The Bachelor”, even forming communities based around the show. A member of one such Facebook group, titled The Bachelor Peter, noted that “for me [“The Bachelor”] is easy tv. Mindless. Generally entertaining. And because I am in a ‘Bachelor’ ‘pool’ and Facebook group, it makes it fun to have something to talk about with friends instead of politics, religion, pandemics, etc.”
UNO graduate student Kirsten Quarforth agrees that the benefits of watching “The Bachelor” have little to do with its quality, saying “I like the bachelor for multiple reasons. Even though reality TV is definitely somewhat staged, it still feels more real than a fictional TV show. But I suppose my primary like about the show is that it’s so widely watched that I can talk about it with other people/ THE MEMES, and it’s simple enough that I can have it on in the background while I do things so my apartment both feels less lonely and I get a little mindless TV in.” When asked why she enjoys it, grad student Emily Paxton simply said, “it’s a hilarious escape from reality.”
Davis herself does not watch the show, saying that she “prefer[s] to watch a TV series that has a storyline that is non-racist, non-sexist, preferably those that show gender equality and present positive role models without a class bias.” “The Bachelor” franchise does include a gender-reversed version of “The Bachelor”, called “The Bachelorette”, but has been famously unwilling to show more than a few queer participants, and has never had a Bachelor of color (although there has been one black Bachelorette). According to Davis, “this train wreck is just as entertaining as watching concussions on football or NASCAR crashes.” This year 102 million people watched The Superbowl, and 9.17 million people watched NASCAR’s Daytona 500.
Even though “The Bachelor” may not be the best, or the most socially conscious program, it’s popularity shows that people look for an escape that takes them as far away from their normal lives as possible. We’re paying attention all the time, and sometimes we need a break. And that’s not always bad.
“[‘The Bachelor’’s popularity] is not good, not bad, we have a long history of escapism TV,” says Davis. “These provide escapism from reality…bread and circuses. Avoid taking responsibility for one’s life or reality. What will we do with the ban on public events in reaction to the Coronavirus/without the NBA or Broadway shows? Likely watch more TV.”
Photo via Mastechsolutions on Flickr