Reflections on The Bachelor

The Bachelor, cast (Washington Post)

Our kids were misbehaving last night, so they got sent to bed early. It probably was not the best use of our time but since my wife and I had extra, we decided to flip the on TV. Among a few other things, we watched twenty minutes of The Bachelor. I had heard about The Bachelor, but it wasn’t quite what I had imagined… it was far worse.

On last night’s episode, the protagonist and Iowa farmer Chris Soules, had already narrowed the women down from thirty to just three. Now he was to take each on a final date in the country of Bali. Pretty exotic, right? And with these last dates came the famous overnighters in the Fantasy Suites, of course fitted with votive candles, four-poster beds, and bathtubs filled with rose petals.

At first, for me, there was a humor to it all. I couldn’t take it seriously. As Whitney talked with Chris on a massive sailboat on the Indian Ocean, and the camera repeatedly offered close-ups of Chris as he listened to her drone on and on about her sister’s reservations about their potential marriage, I provided my own commentary for what Chris might have been thinking.

But the more I watched, the more painful it became. I kept thinking to myself, how is it that this show is tolerated by women? It’s so offensive to them!

I felt this all the more because just before The Bachelor, we caught a few minutes of an Oscar recap show, and several times we saw a clip of Patricia Arquette passionately appealing for wage equality for women, to which the crowd—especially a few prominent women—enthusiastically applauded. I understood Ms. Arquette to be making the point that women should be honored and treated fairly. I’m not a huge fan of the celebrity soapbox, but to me this sounded like a noble enough talking point, and apparently the audience thought so as well.

Why do I bring this up? Generally speaking there are healthy, although sometimes overdone, voices in culture rightly challenging all of us to treat women with dignity. Which is why, I say again, I can hardly believe a show like The Bachelor—a show that denigrates women and turns their beauty and sexuality into a competition—is tolerated.

But then I realized something: The Bachelor is not tolerated, it’s loved. Case in point: if you count all the various renditions, the show is in its nineteenth season.

As television shows do, before each commercial break, The Bachelor kept showing upcoming scenes hoping that viewers would keep watching. The particular teaser that was on repeat last night was a short clip of Becca, the third woman, explaining to Chris as they were about to enter the Fantasy Suite that she was a virgin.

I was done. I couldn’t take it.

It’s common to hear people speak as though we in the modern world have the moral high ground on those in the past, particularly those in what we might call “primitive” cultures. I’m thinking especially of our tendency to learn about strange, cultic sex practices in ancient cultures and think that we have improved morally. But when I watch The Bachelor and consider its popularity, I say no way. It would seem to me that we can be every bit as far from God’s design as those of the past. Our culture, like those of other eras, has a schizophrenic view of sex: we both over and under value it. We say sex has tremendous meaning, even an ultimate meaning for our lives. And at the same time we say it is meaningless—something cheap and casual.

But it’s not that I’m so upset with culture at large; that’s not where my confusion is mostly directed. What I cannot understand is the show’s popularity among Christian women.

Perhaps, however, some of my sisters in Christ will object: Benjamin, you can’t possibly tell the quality of a show by just watching twenty minutes.

Maybe. But what if you saw me in a public place, say a Starbucks, reading the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, which just so happens to be the swimsuit issue with its typically provocative and demeaning pictures. Would it be appropriate for someone to say to me, as a Christian man, that what I was doing was wrong? Or couldn’t I object and say, But you’re only judging by a quick glance and that’s not fair; there are some good articles in this.

Here’s the deal: sometimes you don’t need all the context. Sometimes it’s the whole context that lulls us to sleep. Sex is a gift from God. And as such, we ought not to overvalue it as though it were a god, but neither should we undervalue it either. After nineteen seasons, I’m glad I’ve only seen twenty minutes. And thankful they’ll be, God willing, my last.

[Image: Craig Sjodin/ABC, from The Washington Post]