Remember that scene in Gladiator, in which Russell Crowe, dressed in his Maximus best, yells: "Are you not entertained?"
That's basically The Bachelorette.
The reality dating show pits 25-30 men against one another in the reality TV area for a fight to the death. Sorry, I mistyped that. In a fight to win the heart of a woman and ideally build a happy home somewhere in middle America.
Catch my drift?
The Bachelorette combines two of America's favorite pastimes: Romance and sports. It's a titillating combination — love inspires all those tingly-fuzzy feelings, and sports activate our mammalian instinct to murder, kill, and win. Together, the warm fuzzies and the drive to win at all cost make for a very silly pair. In contrast to its sister show The Bachelor, The Bachelorette is made even sillier by, well, its men Instead of watching 25 ladies descend on one man — an act that's more commonplace than you'd think; have you ever been to a bar in New York? — we're watching burly men vie for the title of "sappiest gushiest love monster." (Note: The gushiest guy doesn't always win the affection of their leading lady. Regardless, he wins the game.)
Let me summarize the proceedings of the two shows for you:
A pack of 25 women don their fanciest frocks and leap into life in a Calabasas mansion. The little happy harem is just that: A harem of potential ladyloves. The maybe future wives engage in competitions such as who can jump the highest hurdle, who can play the best game of volleyball, and who can put on a better cabaret show. Future wives at first form a sisterhood, giggling by the pool and cheers-ing their glasses of vino. Like crawfish in a pot of water, though, the pressure intensifies and those crawfish go scrambling for purchase, clambering over one another to escape that pot. (I'm from New Orleans. It's crawfish season. Bear with me.) The ladyloves eventually bare their talons and turn on one another. They spread rumors. They complain to their Bachelor about each other. They confront each other at pool parties. The ish gets nasty, and sometimes, it's genuinely sad.
Then, it's up to Mr. Bachelor to step in and calm everyone down. (See: The volleyball disaster of 2017. Nick Viall emerged from that competition unconvinced that he would marry any of his ladies.)
At the end of this harrowing journey, the Bachelor waves a wand and selects his lady. Poof! The guy who reigned king over 25 women for 10 weeks must suddenly take a knee and propose. The competition is over, and at the end of it is... a guy. It's a little anticlimactic, especially considering the fact that last season's prize was a former software sales rep with a penchant for muttering.
Ultimately, the ladies of The Bachelor are competing to be a wife, something that doesn't sit very well in 2017.
Okay: 25 of America's beefiest, toothiest men gather in the same house in Calabasas. They each parade out of limousines like little proud princes, here to claim their prize. Except the prize isn't so easy. These guys have to compete for this woman's heart. Like the ladies, they shack up in their mansion and proceed to try their hardest at falling in love. They engage in competitions like football, firefighting, and love-professing, all in an effort to win one woman's heart. Instead of doing manly things like playing golf or talking about chargrilled oysters, the men have to do the romance and fall in love. Some of them write bad poetry. Others give out spontaneous flowers or sing lovesongs. All that beef is suddenly directed at romance, and it's a goddamn delight.
In Summary: The Bachelorette is way more fun than The Bachelor.
The competition on The Bachelorette is fun. Men like to play suitor. Any romantic comedy can tell you that. What is Lloyd Dobler doing outside of Diane's house except venturing into the love arena? And sure, he looks silly, but that's the point. Men like to compete. Love makes us look like fools. Add the two together, and you get a bunch of fellows competing to look more foolish. Oh, and they're enjoying it.
There are points, of course, when the all the funny goodness goes awry. Sometimes, contestants on The Bachelorette get so competitive that they aim their aggression at their leading lady. You've heard the term "negging" — that happens. During season 11, a contestant named Ian Thomson declared that he "knew Kaitlyn [Bristowe] wasn't interested" and proceeded to slut-shame Bristowe.
"I came here expecting to meet the girl who had her heart broken," Thomson told her. "Not the girl who wanted to get her field plowed...I feel like you're here to make out with a bunch of dudes on TV."
This one's for the man readers in the back: This technique doesn't work. Let it go. Thomson was swiftly escorted from the premises, and good for Bristowe for doing so. Similarly, on Jojo Fletcher's season, the villainous contestant Chad Johnson actively negged Fletcher — he was also rejected, but has since gone on to other Bachelor franchise shows. This type of behavior is probably more common in the wild — toxic masculinity and all that — but on The Bachelorette, that will not fly. Love is serious business, folks, at least according to the producers.
It doesn't escape me that the humor of The Bachelorette relies on our strict concept of masculinity. Men compete to look more foolish and grow increasingly lovelorn. In a world where men don't exactly wax poetic about lady loves on television much, this is silly. When the men trot out their dances moves on Ellen, a part of the humor stems from the fact that men are engaging in an activity typically owned by women (the strip tease). To boot, the men on the show tend to be muscle-bound meatheads — wrestlers, football players, luxury real estate agents and the like. I'd wager they're not terribly familiar with gender fluidity.
Still, something about it feels triumphant: The contestants on The Bachelorette are forced to apply their game day rhetoric to true love. And then they enjoy it. When Rachel Lindsay makes her debut as the first Black Bachelorette Monday night, men will go to extreme lengths just to be noticed. There may be helicopters. There may be a capella quartets. There may be all-too-early declarations of love. It's a blast, and I love every minute of it. All's funny in love and war, right?
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