Tonight’s debut of The Bachelor Chris Soules’ season will take over all three hours of ABC’s prime-time schedule. But has the show’s warped and tragic take on relationships taken over how we think about dating, romance, and love–and actually done some good?
That’s the argument made in a GQ profile of Chris Harrison by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who calls him “one of the smoothest motherfuckers I’ve ever met.” She writes:
“At this point, The Bachelor is more than just a hit—it has altered the way our society talks about sex and relationships. And Harrison himself, as the show’s sole constant (aside from the roses and the candles), is the principal agent of that change. The Bachelor is a part of your life, whether you watch it or not. It’s in the water you drink. Maybe you date someone who spends her Monday nights watching the show and you slowly became a sort of willing consumer, poking fun at first, then casually checking the DVR to see if there was a new episode. Or maybe it’s simply that after more than a decade, this show has seeped into the brains of your lady friends, and therefore into yours, messing with your girlfriend’s/wife’s/Tinder hookup’s notion of what romance is, and therefore with yours.
It has also helped usher us into the era of purpose-driven dating, where-is-this-going conversations at the first meeting, in-depth deliberations over the changing of a Facebook status, romantic evenings out that do not include Applebee’s. If you’ve considered wearing a fashiony scarf recently, well, you’ve made my case.”
Has the cheesy, dumb, frequently sexist, often patriarchal tropes on the show that fill and sell hours on television and pages in tabloid magazines have done more than just generate Nielsen ratings? I don’t doubt it. But what has it done?
Later, Brodesser-Akner writes this:
“If the Bachelor franchise has had one major influence on American culture, says Harrison, it’s that it has created a space in which men and women could have an honest conversation about relationships, including their own. They watch the show together and allow the behavior on-screen to become a subject in their own relationship. “It’s a passive-aggressive way to really talk about your own feelings of, like, ‘I really don’t like what he’s doing’ or ‘I really like the way he does that.’ That’s what this show does,” Harrison asserts. “It literally just gives everyone a chance to sit around and talk.”
[…] Now, I should leave room for the possibility that this is a self-selecting process—that a bunch of men who choose to live together and date the same woman might be a specific breed. But I contend that the show’s massive influence has unlocked the beta (and gamma and delta) lurking inside the modern American alpha male and inspired it to flourish.”
I’ve often focused on The Bachelor‘s disturbing message that men always really have the power in relationships. That’s not because the show is produced and hosted by men, though there’s that, but because that’s the entire message of The Bachelor but also of The Bachelorette, which still leaves it up to the men to propose, and the only thing missing from those scenes is the woman’s father standing nearby with the dowry.
But Brodesser-Akner and Chris Harrison’s points are compelling. And yes, I just typed those words about Chris Harrison, knowing he’s the same guy who justified the horrifying, crass exploitation of a man’s death for ratings–because he’s pointing out that the show gives men and women permission to ignore gender roles and be open about relationships with each other, even if that is, as he says, somewhat passive aggressive, or couched in the judgement of others.
Maybe it’s a little progress in the right direction. From The Bachelor.