“Everyone deserves love.” Perhaps. But if you’ve ever watched The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, where the shows’ modelesque cast members blurt this slogan season after season, you’ll quickly realize that you’re only deserving of love if you can reach practically unattainable beauty standards. Where in the world (maybe Los Angeles withstanding) is one surrounded by near physical perfection at every turn? And where else does “love” boil down to not much more than superficial conversation and golden tans on rock-hard abs? If The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are supposed to show us the ideals of romance, we would be better off looking elsewhere.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently wrote a thoughtful piece on romance and The Bachelor/The Bachelorette for The Hollywood Reporter. In it, he writes:
So, what’s so wrong with a little harmless entertainment of watching people scramble for “love” like ravenous crabs on a washed up seal corpse? In the short term, nothing. Just good, clean fun. But the long-term effects of their choices — from the types of people selected to be on the show to the promotion of a subversive, childish concept of love — is like smoking or listening to Kenny G: it can have serious consequences.
Abdul-Jabbar argues that the show’s lack of diversity (both intellectual and racial) sets the stage for unrealistic expectations among people who are searching for true love. Because if you have ever really loved someone, you know that it comes down to a lot more than perfect haircuts, breast implants, and unbearably shallow conversation. The show, he says, “may set the bar for falling in love so low that only divorce attorneys and Ashley Madison subscribers can endorse it. Oh, the humanity if this becomes the template for true love.”
Here he elaborates:
But equally harmful as the cartoonish physical and mental restrictions has been the romanticizing of love as a mystical process that creates unrealistic expectations. Worse, they encourage an urgency to falling in love or else being kicked off the show and labeled a loser in society, unworthy of love. This can send a message that those not in a relationship need to hurry up and find someone — anyone — or else face an unforgiving expiration date of love worthiness.
Maybe shining a spotlight on this reality show is unfair. It’s just television, right? It’s simply entertainment. But we live in a world that idealizes the images that surround us. We see young girls trying to attain the beauty standards of the models they see in advertisements by developing dangerous eating habits and unhealthy body images. Younger generations are turning to their idols in television and film to learn how to go about their lives. “Entertainment” quickly becomes something with a lot more weight to it.
Abdul-Jabbar sums it up well:
The Bachelor/Bachelorette shows could be an informative social mirror that exposes the basic cracks in how Americans glamorize romance and as such could be part of the cure. A cautionary tale for the pitfalls of fantacizing romance rather than balancing heart and brain in choosing a partner…And when we think about where our children learn about the realities of romance, it becomes even more important to question what may influence their behavior in choosing a partner.