How many times have you been stranded on a deserted island? Have you then had the opportunity to summarily dismiss some of your co-desertees thereby ensuring your own chances for survival? Didn’t think so.
How many of you single people have had the chance to pick your spouse from among twenty of the planet’s hottest (according to Hollywood standards) people, all claiming to be totally in love with you? Moreover, you get only twelve weeks to pick your mate for life?
Recently I have been watching a few of these shows. The first one I watched was last season’s The Bachelor, starring Jake Pavelka. I, along with millions of Americans watched in shock as he picked for his wife the house witch, Vienna. The other women in the house repeatedly warned Jake about Vienna’s machinations. Did he listen? No. Week after week he sent home the nice girls and the sweethearts. At the season finale, when he proposed to the full-of-guile Vienna, I said, “Now there’s a poo-bomb waiting to happen.”
Have you been watching Entertainment Tonight? Or The Bachelorette? Both shows can’t seem to get enough of the disaster that was the Jake-Vienna union. Vienna is manipulative. Jake is mean and domineering. Both hate each other after a few weeks of flying high on the wings of love.
Yet as I think about the show, I realize that we are not watching this program in real time. By the time we watch him get down on one knee and propose to Vienna, Jake already hates her in real life. So what are we really watching? Did the producers know this relationship was doomed and so showed Vienna in the worst possible light? That way it’s all Jake's fault for picking the woman he was warned against. “The show” clearly presented to all of us that he was making a mistake. Remember, these girls agree to have the cameras on them 24/7. How many of us wouldn’t look like a wench if a camera was there catching every move we make? What if every time I grew impatient with my son, it was broadcast on TV? What if every time I woke up with a headache and was a little cranky, it was there for America to view? What if those embarrassing moments were all that the network decided to show of me? What if Vienna and Jake’s relationship had succeeded instead? Would we only see the charming clips of Vienna, proving once again that the network has a winning show on its hands?
Now enter The Bachelorette. Ali, one of Jake’s rejects from last season, endeared herself to the viewers with her seemingly sweet and lively nature. Naturally, she was a shoo-in as this season’s new bachelorette. I have been glued to the TV every Monday night, wondering who Ali will send home next. As I get closer to seeing the finale, I realize that this show is appalling. The premise is that Ali will have twenty-five good-looking eligible young men to choose from. Each week, at least one, sometimes more, young man gets sent home as Ali realizes that he is not the one for her. Now as we settle in to the final weeks, something disturbing seems to be happening, something that I have a hard time pinning on Ali. Emotions are being played with.
Ali, as part of the show’s premise, expects all the men to be there for the right reason, i.e. her. They are expected to fall in love with her, so that she can more accurately judge who is there for her, and who is there for his own reasons (stardom, fame, etc.) Most of the last remaining contestants have admitted that they are in love with Ali. The problem? Ali seems to truly love them as well. The show sends her on home visits to meet the parents of the last four remaining men. Emotions run high as the parents meet the woman that their son is in love with. She appears to love their son in return. But news flash—this is a “reality” show so Ali will end up breaking the hearts of three of the men, along with the hearts of the parents who must then “be there” for their suffering son as he deals with rejection by the woman he loves.
We watch as each week the elimination process becomes more difficult for Ali. Her tears seen genuine as she sends home yet another young man that she has gotten close to. We watch as her pain is displayed for all the world to see. Last week we observed one of the three remaining men, Frank, break her heart as he tells her that he is more in love with his ex-girlfriend than he is with Ali.
One of the most disturbing parts of both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette shows involve what they call “the overnighters.” As the contestants get narrowed down to three, they are offered a chance to spend the night together. In the two shows I have watched, no one has yet refused. Is sleeping together then part of the decision making process? And how does Ali justify sleeping with three different men, three nights in a row? “Yay” for Frank when he left the show on the day of his “overnighter” with Ali. Apparently he was someone who knew how that would further play with emotions.
We are now into the final two weeks of the show. Shortly, Ali will choose one of the two men remaining, and break the heart of the other. Ali though, will not escape unscathed. Her hurt each time she rejects someone is obvious. And yet, we watch, unable to turn away from the heartbreak before us. The producers already know which man she has chosen. They already know whether this relationship seems to be working or not.
Ali is not the only one whose emotions are being played with. Ours are, as well. If she picks Roberto or Chris, we are bound to be happy for her either way. Both men have been portrayed as utter gentlemen, and maybe they are. If Ali is happy, we will be happy. Even though we only know what the producers want us to know about Ali, Roberto or Chris, we feel as if we know them intimately. Because we have felt that intimate connection, we will surely watch again next season. Right? Not me. I, for one, am tired of the game networks are playing with our emotions. They are priming us to enjoy our circuses.
Speaking of circuses, have you watched the TV show Wipeout? It is my eleven-year old’s favorite show. People get punched in the face, knocked off wobbly platforms into the mud, and swiped off their feet into a pool. Dramatic slow-motion footage is replayed ad nauseum so that we can watch the hilarity over and over as a person’s head is whipped backward or his back violently smacks a corner on his descent. Wow, that’s funny, huh? Sorry, producers, but I have yet to laugh. Maybe if you slo-mo it for me a few dozen times. Perhaps laughing at the physical misfortune of others started with America’s Funniest Home Videos, or maybe even as early as The Three Stooges.
Another circus is the new show Downfall where the contestant is dropped off the side of a building if he or she does not answer enough questions correctly. Sure, they’re attached to a bungee cord, but the premise is that they are “dispensed.” Gotten rid of. Adios.
These reality shows remind me, frighteningly I might add, of a book I recently read. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a futuristic novel set in a time when America has collapsed and a new government has taken over. As part of a tyrannical plot to keep the new colonies from rebelling, they hold a yearly game where teens are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of all. Sponsors pick which contestant they wish to throw their advertising dollars behind. Citizens are forced to watch the games on television and appear to enjoy them. The teen with the most dollars on his side is most likely to be the sole survivor. The novel clearly shows us how a society can so degenerate that death becomes entertainment.
Perhaps there is time; after all we currently only find Ali’s tears engaging and the Wipeout contestant’s whiplash amusing. What will happen though when a rejected suitor gets violent, or a Downfall player plummets to his death? Will we say enough is enough, or will it merely whet our thirst for our own Hunger Games?