[Previously: Phoebe wrote about The Big Bad Bentley & The Bachelorette]
I watched my first-ever episode of The Bachelorette at Phoebe’s house earlier this summer. Having never seen the show or its Bachelor brethren before, I was having a hard time getting my television-bearings. It is a testament to Phoebe’s graciousness that she did not go insane in response to my questions. “Is that the host?” I’d ask every time a guy appeared onscreen. I couldn’t tell the host apart from the other dudes; they all have the same teeth. “Do the guys really like Ashley or are they just in it to win it? What if she doesn’t like any of them? What if two of the guys fall in love with each other? What if the host falls in love with the contestant? What’s a rose do? How do they pick the Bachelorette? Do any couples really stay together? War, what is it good for?” Phoebe is a good friend, is what I’m saying, and also, as has been noted by everyone who has ever seen the show ever, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette take place in a bizarre alternate universe that bears no resemblance to what dating is like for normal people.
First of all, there’s no texting, because apparently no one is allowed to have a phone, so people communicate via calling cards on silver platters like in a Henry James novel. Ninety-five percent of dates end with fountains and fireworks and paper lanterns and other things that serve as metaphors for love’s bursting/floating feeling. While out on the town in foreign countries, Ashley and the fellow of the day often stop random strangers on the street and ask them for dating advice, which is a strange way to be a tourist. (“Excuse me, you look wise, how do you get through the rough patches to create a Lasting Love?” “Look lady, I’m just a person eating a sandwich.”) Also, all of the contestants this season appear to be white. I’m not sure if this has been the case in previous iterations of the show, but it’s problematic that the producers, with 30 slots to fill, chose a cast that lacks diversity.
Continuing on the lack-of-realism train, after one or two pleasant conversations and maybe a kiss, Ashley and the guys start throwing around words like “marriage” and “commitment,” which seems a little fast, as does the fact that some of the dates this season have included “pretending to get married” and “taking pretend-wedding photos.” Those are weird activity choices, and they are not fun for anybody unless you are Miss Piggy in The Muppets Take Manhattan. If you are Miss Piggy in said film, Hello! I love your work.
One thing that is realistic about The Bachelorette, however, is Ashley’s low self-esteem. She worries constantly that the guys on the show don’t really like her, or are there for the “wrong reasons” (free publicity for their family businesses/free 15 minutes of fame), or would have preferred a different Bachelorette. On dates, she needs a fair amount of reassurance that people are having fun. For some reason, the show arranged a roast for Ashley in which she would get affectionately ribbed by her potential suitors: a crazy idea, because her skin is approximately as thick as an onion peel, and also because the affectionate part seemed to get forgotten pretty fast. Unsurprisingly, Ashley did not have a good time.
Ashley’s poor sense of self-worth also seems to have led her to go for Bentley, a dude she had even been warned about in advance by someone going by the improbably Bond-girl-esque name of Michelle Money. (Ashley and Bentley and the host refer to Michelle Money all the time, as if we are supposed to know who she is. Was she on a previous season? Do they just like saying her name? If that’s the reason, I can’t blame them.) I think what happened is that Ashley knew, deep-down, that Bentley was bad news and she said to herself, I deserve to be with guys who are bad news and who will never treat me well, so she decided she really liked him. Ashley! Come back to the light. There are cookies here, and people who are not named after cars.
I say that Ashley’s low-self esteem is realistic not because I think she ought to have low self-esteem; rather, it’s realistic because she represents low self-esteem so well. Lots of awesome people have low self-esteem despite having many great things going for them. Ashley is pretty, fun, a good dancer, and occasionally just goofy enough to make me think she’s got a whole lot of secret quirkiness bottled up. And yet she is convinced that other people—particularly guys—don’t like her, or don’t like her enough.
I think that’s ultimately what’s so compelling about The Bachelorette this season. Ashley’s trying to find a husband (boyfriend? It seems like the proposal at the end should just be a proposal to date each other in real life), while I’m rooting for her to find some confidence. And a husband/boyfriend/person to date too, if that’s what she wants, but it seems like that will probably be easier–and involve fewer tears–once she’s more comfortable in her own skin. I know the show isn’t supposed to be about self-discovery, but a Kelly Taylor “I choose me” moment would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Then again, it would also be awesome if Ashley wore a disguise and went to spy on the other contestants, and if The Mask returned, and if they all had to solve a mystery together. I think I wish The Bachelorette was Scooby Doo. But as for Ashley: I think she’s fine just the way she is, and I hope she ends up believing it as well.