I like reality television. I know that plenty of other people like reality television too, but I usually seem to find myself graduate student circles where avowing that you like reality television often results in someone snorting and saying “Oh, god! I got rid of my TV years ago. You really should too. I just am such a better person now that I don’t have a TV.” I used to hem and haw and feel bad about myself during these conversations. I don’t actually have a TV myself and just watch television shows and movies on the Internet. Which I always assumed counted as watching television. Which it technically does, if you are actually being honest with yourself and your God. I’ve since discovered that most of those people who snort and feel smug because they don’t own a television are doing the exact same thing I’m doing. That is to say, the last person who gave me a hard time about TV recently told me that he spent the entire weekend watching back-to-back episodes of Lost. I now realize that all this time I’ve imagined my peers carefully studying their Heidegger in the original German or translating texts from Aramaic, most of them have are actually watching just as much shit on the boobtube as I have been. It’s kind of like those vegetarians who give you a really hard time about eating meat, then practically have an orgasm over how delicious the refried beans are at your local greasy spoon Mexican restaurant. That’s because they are made with lard, jackass. And watching TV shows on your computer still counts as watching TV.
Sorry, that one has been sitting on my chest for a long time.
We’ve been following a lot of reality shows lately, as the weather has been consistently grody and our warm weather evening itinerary of strolling around and exclaiming “Can you believe we live here?!” while eating gelato doesn’t really work in the rain. After some (weak) protestations, B has definitely gotten the taste for some reality shows, Top Chef in particular. I’m starting to suspect that he is really getting in to this particular genre of sloth. Back before we got together, he was one of those people who would go out of his way to explain that back in the States he owned a TV, but it wasn’t connected to the cable, so he only used it to watch DVDs of movies and television shows. To which I say again: IT STILL COUNTS.
On the weekly schedule lately has been The Bachelor Season Fifteen: The Man Without Qualities. I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, but once I get started watching a reality show, I’m going to finish it even if it turns out to be the worst piece of junk ever produced, in the same way that it bothers me to read just one book by an author or to just read part of a magazine. Brad Womack, the current Bachelor, is a truly delightful specimen of unproductive American feel-good cognitive therapy culture. He is the first second time bachelor, as he shocked millions of fans by proposing to neither of the two finalists at the end of his first season. Apparently it was impossible to comprehend that one would be unable to find their soul mate from a prepackaged trough of thirty fame-hungry broads, or that someone wouldn’t at least be willing to go through the motions of having done so. But season two of The Man Without Qualities quickly informs us that his failure wasn’t because of those beautiful singular snowflake women! No! It was because Brad himself couldn’t open up, couldn’t put himself out there, couldn’t make himself vulnerable to being loved by another person. We are told this by Brad’s therapist, who apparently said “Professional ethics, smoshessional ethics! Bring on the cameras!” I think my favorite part of this season are these horrendously staged “therapy sessions,” where Brad invents problems that will make him seem likable and is told to go back and work harder on his listening skills. And then we get to witness as Brad practices those very listening skills, which for him involves a lot of nodding and saying “right” when the woman pauses to take a breath. “Right” is better than “yes” in the listening skills context, because “right” means that Brad not only has paid attention, but he is hungry for more listening! Bring on the tears! After a long, exhausting listening session, Brad thanks the woman for putting herself “out there” into the nebulous space of “sharing feelings.” It’s usually the ones that have most graphically “shared themselves” that end up going home at the end of the episode, because Brad “isn’t looking for drama.” But apparently this carrot/stick dynamic is largely lost on the women.
The season has been predictably formulaic, with genuinely crazy women sticking around for far longer than you might expect in an effort to produce amusing television, though not of course to the point of hometown visits. Because no matter what, ABC is a family values kind of network, and by the time families are involved we are in serious matrimonial territory. The incidence per episode of Brad saying “I’m here to find my wife!” increases exponentially. This shloppy seriousness also includes asking four different fathers for permission for their four different daughter’s hand in marriage. Which, let’s just say it: barf. The only saving grace of the hometown episode came when Brad met Chantal O’s father, who is basically Brad’s all-grown-up doppleganger. And, I suspect, an extremely successful car salesman. (I just Googled this and he was actually a professional athlete turned successful car dealer. I’m on fire.) Chantal O’s father showed Brad a giant sculpture of a man carving himself out of a sculpture and explained that it was a metaphor for being a self-made man. Then Brad talked about how he came from nothing, and Chantal O’s father talked about HE came from nothing, and then Brad talked about his deadbeat dad, and then Chantal O’s father talked about HIS deadbeat dad, and then they sat in silence, blinking at one another in recognition of how uncanny it all was.
The real game-buster of this season, however, is the fact that there is a genuine ringer on the show. Emily is a petite Southern blonde with a young daughter and some made-up job that involves event planning and a children’s hospital. The only great love of her life (and Ricky-Bobby’s daddy) was a Nascar-racing dreamboat that died in a tragic plane crash before Emily even knew she was pregnant. You can’t write this stuff, unless of course, somebody at The Bachelor did, in which case, bravo young writer! You’ll go far in this sad world! Emily is so sweet and beautiful and tragic that nobody can compete with her, and Brad has now begun breaking the rules and telling her in advance of the rose ceremony that she is going on to the next round. Emily has already won this game, and the other women seem to know it and are just battling it out for second place and the possibility of their own season of The Bachelorette, which regrettably none of them are likely to get.
B didn’t quite yet understand the various formulas of the show at the beginning, and so I was able to win several weeks of the “whose going home tonight” pool that we lay out at the beginning of every episode with my veteran understanding of the producers’ system. Last week, however, B furrowed his brow then said “I think that the funeral director is going home tonight. She fits perfectly into the category ‘normal enough until they get to the hometown and then WOAH WHAT A WEIRDO!’” My heart swelled with pride.