Wednesday, June 24, 2015

An Open Letter to the Producers of The Bachelorette, Season 41(?):

I get that you want viewers. I get that you are pandering to the lowest common denominator, to people who want to zone out in front of the TV or are watching it while doing something else, so only half paying attention. I get that you still believe we're a society who can't handle a series where we see anything but the most hetero-normative representations of people: white goes with white, female goes with male. Perhaps you feel it is still too early in American history to have a bisexual male bachelor or a black female bachelorette or perhaps you're leaving that to the more progressive cable channels. You want to the show to be palatable to the prime time viewing audience, which may consist largely of Christian white women or Catholic white women or Southern-born conservative white women. I trust you know your demographics and so are pandering to your viewing audience.

Okay, I take that back. I don't trust that you know what you're doing or that you have any research from Nielsen indicating that the viewing public is so narrow minded and unprepared to accept difference that you can only succeed by offering the same helicopter rides, waterfall make-out sessions and tears on a beach at sunset. I do trust that you think the American viewing public is stupid and that they're not ready for anything other than the most predictable tropes you've relied on since the first episode aired. And I get that your job is to make money and not to be the social consciousness of a country that's still struggling with issues of race and gender and social class.

But here are a couple of small ways that I think you could improve the show without really taking any significant risks:

1. When the show is taking place in another country, consider ways you could reveal interesting, unknown things about that country instead of, like, the first three things a third grader would name when asked to describe Spain. Pretend you're a combination of National Geographic and The Discovery Channel and let us see something unexpected and lovely, instead of something that reinforces the same tired things we know. For example, instead of a bull fight in Madrid, how about seeking out some of the statues there, or the graffiti-like art on the Justicia or having them romp around the Botanical Forest in their bikinis if necessary (for more ideas, go here: http://www.timeout.com/madrid/things-to-do/secret-madrid)? Instead of showing us the Ireland we know from a box of Lucky Charms (rainbows and clovers), have them make out in the hall of Trinity College or the Winding Stair bookshop or after a staged reading at the Milk and Cookies exchange. Or you could totally make fun of an Irish tradition while still exploiting it by having the bachelorette lie in a coffin while people toast to her with Guinness steins over her prone body.

2. The best part of the show is the out-takes at the end, because that's when then people seem most human and less like automaton models. Give us more of that. Are they only allowed to display emotions that you can write on an index card in Magic marker like, happy (cue laughing), sad (cue tears), drunk (cue falling down)? Can you show the complicated moments, like how weird it is to be making-out on TV or how boring it is to kind of sit around doing nothing for six hours in a row while they film various staged interviews. What if you let the seams of the process show more, so that sometimes, people are annoyed or are sitting in a make-up chair for twenty minutes talking about dumb, funny shit. In this way, you could also have interesting people capable of more than one character trait that you could also write on an index card: bitchy girl (cue lying to someone's face), dumb jock (cue lifting weights), conniving player (cue cast member saying "Not here for the right reasons"). We can handle it. We like it. It does not confuse us that someone is both oddly superficial and then scared to death in the same breath. We're human too.

3. Let the show fail by not forcing every scene to reinforce a racial or gender stereotype of some kind (women as needing to be desired, men needing to be strong and in control). For the bachelor episodes, what if half of the women on the show, when asked how they feel about the bachelor, said he was a dud, said that they were totally not falling in love with him, said that they wanted someone smarter, someone who makes them laugh, someone who doesn't want to have kids and would rather travel more. And what if, for the bachelorette episodes, the men said that they were scared of seeming scared, confesses they have a fear of heights, or don't really feel like playing soccer? Or what if anyone on the show said something that wasn't a phrase we've heard 100 times before. Maybe instead of saying, "I want to find my soul mate and I think Ben P. is him," the woman could say something like, "I want to find my soul mate, but I don't think that actually exists and I don't want to get divorced and remarried three times like my parents did."

4. Don't punish contestants for promiscuity. Hey, it was ya'lls idea to put them into this situation and see how it plays out in the fantasy suite or in the Atlantic Ocean at night or in a ski lodge or a barn or wherever they are. Can a woman on the show go ahead and have sex without being made out to be a drunken slut who regrets her decision immediately? Can the men admit to being confused, to liking more than one woman at a time, particularly when surrounded by 15 of them wearing string bikinis in a hot tub? Can we not have any more virgins who are saving it for marriage, particularly if they are women, aged twenty-six or older?

5. Complicate your cast members identities. Give us a Muslim, a transgender man, a female priest, a woman whose job is not a dental hygienist, nurse, elementary school teacher, or dance instructor. A man whose job is not entrepreneur, plastic surgeon, dentist, or lumberjack. A person of non-obvious ethnicity, a person who has a different body type, a different experience, a different perspective. There must be tons of interesting people out there, or maybe none of those interesting people send in their head shots to be on a reality TV show. Fine, find your own people then.

6. Let the woman propose when she's the bachelorette instead of being proposed to. You have this whole series where it's the woman doing the choosing of the men, and then you end it up with her standing waiting to see if the guy ultimately picks her to marry him. F that. She should go looking for the ring, he should be waiting nervously at the altar, or rather than just flipping it, why don't you lower the stakes and see if one of them chooses the other to go for a three month trip around the world? No one believes the proposal anyway and it never lasts. See, with a trip around the world, you could then have a whole other reality show to see if they can make it by living for one month in Africa, one month in Antarctica and one month in Texas.

Trust us more, your viewing public. We grew up with the very first few seasons of The Real World where the people were strange and straight and gay and bisexual and of ambiguous ethnicity and we liked it. We can handle it twenty five years later.

Just a final thought: whomever came up with that Irish wake idea should probably take a vacation.

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