Why we should be careful about watching shows like The Bachelor ‘ironically’


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John Semley wrote a searing meditation in Salon last Sunday on the TV show Entourage, delving deeply into the show’s vodka-and-red-bull flavoured misogynist excess and middle-brow storytelling. Semley concluded that, despite its “Hollywood bro-porn” aesthetic, he enjoyed it. Or rather, he enjoyed himself watching it.

He’s not alone. As Semley pointed out, hate-watching makes a performance out of bad taste. To this, I’d like to say: Bro, you played yourself.

Promo: Bachelor 2017: Jennifer’s red carpet arrival

‘I’m definitely not your average female.’

I’m a feminist and I loved Entourage. I loved it for its wild, fantastical parties, infinity pool sex, turbocharged masculinity and bikini-clad babes.

I loved Ari Gold most of all – his beer-can crushing machismo, his white-hot rage, his tight suits.

I loved the meta element, where stars often played themselves. And before it collapsed, (as every TV series eventually does) Entourage provided excellent commentary on the toxicity of Tinseltown.

It’s not fashionable to say this. Because Entourage is now viewed as a movable feast of misogyny. But it’s only called sexist now because it feels dumb. Don’t get me wrong, it was sexist. But it was hardly operating in a vacuum.

Let’s look at another HBO show that aired at the same time: The Sopranos. With the exception of two or three main characters, women were treated as disposable objects. People have accused Entourage of indulging in vacuous male fantasy, but isn’t the greatest male fantasy the one involving absolute power, or the Mob? Indeed, what greater male fantasy is there than existing without consequences in the Wild West? And yet, almost nobody is calling out Westworld – yet.

We have to be mindful of giving a pass to certain pieces of pop culture because we believe them to be fashionable. We like to say that the creators are “knowing” or producing their show “with a wink”, but that’s no different to the old excuse about going to a strip bar “ironically”. The body’s central nervous system does not understand irony.

Which brings me to The Bachelor. A huge part of its appeal is that we enjoy watching ourselves watch it, as Semley did with Entourage. Just like George Costanza used to love going to see bad movies because he could make comments in the theatre and get laughs.

But clearly a tipping point has been reached. How else to explain why so many of us young, woke, media types appear to have zero problem with so many women being at the mercy of one obnoxious man, so long as we can tweet about it?

If this is not casting women as disposable, then I’m not sure what is. Worse is the idea that, because these women are clueless or bitchy or crazy, they’re allowed to be treated like garbage. Women, huh? Bringing it on themselves since 900 BC.

How many times have we railed against the trope of “women being their own worst enemies”? And yet this is exactly what The Bachelor sets up for us week in, week out. It’s fine, though, because we know it’s bad.

But here’s the thing about bad taste: it doesn’t stay at bad taste.

In her famous essay, Notes on Camp, Susan Sontag wrote that “camp sees everything in quotation marks”. We reconfigure the obscene so that we may process it. Semley claimed that in re-watching Entourage he became the architect of its meaning. But contrary to whatever Barthesian theory we want to put forward, the fact remains we are swimming in plain old misogynistic narratives so repulsive we have to recap them in order to distance ourselves. And before you know it, what was gross then becomes camp, which then becomes normalised.

And so, we have arrived at a place where The Bachelor is now a measuring stick of racial equality. At least this is what seemed to happen when Channel Ten released details about the contestants for this season’s show.

“They’re all white!” came the outcry. “What happened to diversity!?” One headline, There is Something Very Very Wrong With the Women in The Bachelor, was deliberately ironic. You get it, don’t you? Because you expect to read that the women are idiots! But now we have a real problem on our hands!

The demand grew so loud, The Bachelor himself was questioned. So, let’s make this clear: a repellent show about a man who disposes of 22 women – the majority of which we are programmed to hate – was called to account for his taste?

The entire premise of the show is craven and demeaning – to both the women and The Bachelor. But, because we are performance watching it, we’ve forgotten this, and now want it to meet our woke standards.

I’m not saying we can’t performance watch terrible things. I just admitted to watching Entourage and loving it. But we should be careful about how we process it, lest we start demanding that something teeming with malevolence against women become a light for the nations.

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