Very soon, The Bachelor will return to our screens. Maybe you’ll watch it. I know I will, despite my strong and well-evidenced conviction that it is the televisual equivalent of a woodlouse. But then, I am a man who makes a living, at least partially, from watching terrible TV and making jokes about it. Very few of the hundreds of thousands of people who will join me in watching The Bachelor fall into the same category.
Which brings me to one of the greatest mysteries of our time, right up there with the Zodiac Killer and the political career of Jacqui Lambie. The thing that nobody can give a reasonable explanation for: why is The Bachelor still a thing? The only puzzle that matches it for impenetrability is: why is The Bachelorette still a thing?
After all these years of these shows strutting across the stage of Australian culture – and numerous other cultures around the world – during which the viewing public has been able to see exactly what they are and how they operate, somehow, they’re still around. And good on them for sticking it out, kudos and all that. But I just want to know…how?
It would be different if it were clear that people only ever watch The Bachelor ironically. If the only comments people ever made on it were jokes about the fire hazard posed by all the candles and the hilariously transparent charade still indulged in that the Bachelor plans all the dates himself. If people tuned in solely to make Gogglebox-y wisecracks about the primary motivation of everyone on the show being to score a slot on FM radio.
But this, as far as I can see, is not the case. Follow the hashtag #TheBachelorAU and sure, you’ll see a few gags. But you’ll also see voluminous commentary on who the Bachelor “should” choose, and which of the Bachelorettes is “right” for him, and what various contestants “deserve”. Sometimes people write whole articles about this stuff.
And that makes no sense at all, because we’ve all seen The Bachelor. We know it’s all artifice and hypocrisy. We know it has about as much to do with romance as The Footy Show had to do with astrophysics. We know that the show promotes true love the way McDonald’s promotes healthy eating. We know that the very concept of one man dating two dozen women at once (or vice versa on The Bachelorette) isn’t just unromantic, but aggressively anti-romantic. We know that the cast is made up almost entirely of self-promoting grifters, and that the “almost” is only in there because ever series manages to scoop up one or two dangerously unhinged stalkers to throw in the mix.
But as a society, we continue to support the endeavour, applaud the people involved, and cling like Kate Winslet to a floating door to the idea that when we watch the cynical annihilation of everything good and pure in human relationships, we’re actually watching a towering monument to romantic love.
And that’s all absolutely cool. I just…I just want to know why.