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Posts Tagged ‘reality TV’

House of Cards, The Bachelor, and the Villainesses of TV

In reality TV, The Bachelor on March 9, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Melissa Sexton

On the surface, the two shows I have been watching this month don’t have much in common with each other. The Bachelor and House of Cards seem pitched to very different audiences and to engage in very different kinds of story-telling. House of Cards is a surprise innovation, the product of the new age of media that goes straight to viewers through Netflix’s online streaming platform. The Bachelor represents all the excesses of big studio television plus the excesses of reality television: expensive mansions, helicopter rides to exotic locations, and petty in-fighting highlighted by studio editing. House of Cards seems pitched to savvy viewers, male and female alike, with a longing for complex motivations and a streak of skepticism towards “the establishment.” The Bachelor, on the other hand, is a show unabashedly aimed at a certain imagined type of women. It simultaneously mocks and exults in drunk, emotional engagement, hosting live viewing parties and even crashing some viewing parties in LA.

Given all these differences, I would never have thought to draw any connections between these shows if not for the overlap in their airing: Season 19 of The Bachelor just wrapped up last week, while Season 3 of House of Cards was released [for real, this time] during the last week of February. And yet, watching these shows back to back, I noticed a striking similarity in how these narratives depict women. In both shows, women’s power is ultimately equated with emotional manipulation. But even when such manipulation gets the women what they want, the audience is encouraged to condemn these characters as villains. Such a morality tale is unsurprising in the world of The Bachelor. But in the shadowy, cruel world of House of Cards, Claire Underwood’s oscillation between a will to power and self-doubt is a striking contrast to the unrepentant manipulation of her husband Frank. Why, I asked myself, in such a dark world, is our central female character still under a kind of narrative pressure to be genuine – or, more particularly, why is she still pressured to be truly “nice” to the women who stand in the way of her goals?


This double-bind of female friendship and female competition is pretty much a staple of reality television programming. Think of all the cold, aspiring models, season after season, who announced their entrance into America’s Next Top Model by insisting, “I’m not here to make friends.” Long-time fans of the show can guess with some certainty that the editorial inclusion of such footage signals a young woman’s villainization; such ambition, even within a competition, inevitably suggests a woman who will become a “drama queen” or a “bitch” and find herself cut from the running. Read the rest of this entry »

Hello Again, The Bachelorette

In Television, Uncategorized on May 18, 2012 at 7:00 am

The Bachelorette is back but sadly not better than ever. Last week, we were told that this season is making Bachelorette history by featuring its first single mom, Emily Maynard. And the production moved ALL the way to North Carolina for Emily and her daughter Ricki. Also, in a new twist, the men all knew the Bachelorette would be Emily. History in the making! Okay, maybe not. But Girls Likes Giants still wants to chime on the new Bachelorette season, Emily, and the season premiere.

Sarah T:

The Bachelorette is back! On a scale of negative 3 million to 1, how invested are you in this season? The woman looking for love is a beautiful robot with the mannerisms of a game show hostess, and the show expects us to believe that the words “luxury brand consultant,” strung together, can reasonably be understood as a “job.” That is not a job, show! That is a made-up thing that people put on their business cards so they can pretend like they’re doing something with their lives besides paying too much money for hair products and belts and macaroons. WHERE I COME FROM PEOPLE DON’T HAVE THE LUXURY OF BELTS. (Technically false, but true in spirit. I own four belts. 2/4 are inherited from my mom, one I bought in high school, and one I got at H&M three years ago.) Read the rest of this entry »

Food Network Star, Branding, and Ethnic Entrapment

In Food, race, reality TV, Television on May 16, 2012 at 8:38 am

Chelsea H.

I love the Food Network, and I watch a lot of their shows. I use their website for recipes and for inspiration, and I am hooked on many of their brands of “reality” TV. I can’t get enough of “Chopped,” I am a devoted fan of both The Next Food Network Star and The Next Iron Chef, and recently Taylor and I watched Worst Cooks in America together. In the past year or two, I have been delighted to see new types of food show up on the Food Network website (i.e. more than grilled sandwiches, Italian specialties, and Emeril’s mix of Cajun/French/Louisiana fare). I am excited to try these new styles of food: Mexican food, Indian food, even some gluten free options. Things I’ve never made before but have eaten with utter gusto in restaurants.

But then I started looking at who was making these foods, and I noticed something that bothers me: the way the network seems, in the cases of non-white and non-black chefs, to match the ethnicity of food with the ethnicity of the host preparing it. This tickled me with significance on and off, and I’d almost forgotten about it, in fact, until Melissa’s post on the problems with ANTM’s representations of racial/ethnic identity (given the approaching end of my graduate studies and impending dissertation defense, this post has been in production for a while now…). Like ANTM’s racial stereotyping, the Food Network seems to be pigeon-holing its “ethnic” stars.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sympathy for the Supervillain: A Post-Bachelor Wrap

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2012 at 8:20 am

Guest Contributor Sarah H.

Before I begin, it might be good for you to know: I am a sap. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a well-educated, well-rounded, well-read woman. But I’m also a hopeless romantic who self-medicates during these long single times with guilty pleasure television like The Bachelor.

But I’m not dumb, I swear. I’m a smart person and I’m freakin’ awesome. (See Sarah T’s recent GLG post “Defending Deschanel” for a more thorough defense of the kind of person I am. I get the Jess comparison a lot.) Rather, I’m just a woman who has grown up with an evolving mental picture of a perfect mate. I want what the Bachelorettes want. I want to fall in love and find that fairy tale. That’s why I watch this stuff. And to be fair, I’m not the only one in this boat. After all, both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are pretty popular.

Now, on with the show. (spoilers abound!)

I’ve liked Ben since Ashley’s season. He’s down to earth, a little off-kilter and he makes wine, which is a total win for a wino gal like me. He’s more relatable than ken doll, jock-brained Brad (Seriously, though. Don’t you think Brad probably has a pink plastic Mattel mound down there?). He’s kind of a normal guy. I believe, under the right circumstances, with my own makeup and wardrobe team, I might even be able to lure him into a conversation.

Throughout this season, I saw him act with a fairly level head. I saw him ejecting ladies in a rational and, I thought, healthy way. He got rid of the crazies, flakes, and fakes. He waded through the boring girls and kept a fairly solid final five including one larger-than-life personality that I, at first, thought was around for production value only.

Courtney simply overshadowed every other lady in the running. I watched each episode this season and have a hard time recalling the names or faces of the other 24 women fighting for our hero’s affections. For the last 8 weeks or so, since the first claws came out, she has been the entire selling point for the season. She was the topic of commercials and online banter and debate, not to mention half of the evening on the “Before the Rose” feature. What would have happened to ratings had Courtney not made it to the end of this competition? Ben’s locks weren’t enough to secure viewers alone.

Ben + Courtney "After the Rose"

What was it exactly that had people so excited about this woman? She wasn’t a villain in the Cruella de Vil sense. The crux of her evil really comes down to a trait Ben’s sister praised in her: she doesn’t “sugar coat”—that is, she isn’t careful. This saccharine series has a premise of finding true love; it’s full of Minnesota-nice, homegrown girls. They are normal girls who deal with conflict in the normal way: through passive aggressiveness. Courtney isn’t passive in any way. That’s her supervillain power. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up

In race, Weekly Round-Up on January 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

Just a few links from around the interwebs …

Sady Doyle on the gifts insomnia bears:

TV and its eerie raceless world, from Salon:

Feminist Philosophers on “Push Girls,” a new reality TV show about four young women who use wheelchairs:

And this is the show Feminist Philosophers are talking about:

Mrs. and Manners: Social Policing in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

In Real Housewives on November 5, 2011 at 6:36 am

Sarah Todd

On The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, there are no heroes. Kyle, Kim, Camille, Taylor, Lisa, and Adrienne each have their individual strong points: Kim is hilarious on the phone, Lisa endearingly forces her punk-rock son to help her with hair extensions, Adrienne hosts excellent spa day parties (so many frozen yogurt toppings)! But they have all been rude, conceited, greedy, or flat-out mean too many times to count. Yet despite—or rather, because of—the cast’s constant breaches of etiquette, RHOBH is a show about manners. Read the rest of this entry »

Guilty Pleasure

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2011 at 8:11 am

Chelsea H.


As a follow-up (of sorts) to Phoebe’s lovely discussion of communal TV watching yesterday, I’d like to offer this, sent to me by a friend (thanks, S!):

As someone who felt relief in finding compadres with whom to watch my  “shameful” shows (ANTM, Project Runway), and someone who occasionally changes the channel lest her husband see which brand of reality she is watching while alone (What Not To Wear, Bad Girls Club), I can see his point.  Previous to finding my small show communities, if my little predilections were revealed in public somehow, I explained them by claiming to watch for aesthetic values (the photoshoots in ANTM, the couture in Project Runway, the food in Top Chef).

But I’m not sure I agree with his thoughts on why we actually watch reality tv: “We say we watch them because it’s like a “train wreck,” or because they “make us feel better about ourselves,” but really we’re perpetually intrigued by, and obsessed with, the lurid toxicity of fame, which is reality television’s only true subject.”


Update: Patti Stanger is “Toxic” on Drop Dead Diva 

In gender, Lifetime on August 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Last night I turned on the television (okay so actually it was the DVR, as I watched Leverage pre Drop Dead Diva) and lo and behold there was Patti Stanger on one of my favorite shows, Drop Dead Diva. Given that last week I wrote about Patti and her matchmaking for millionaires and that I have also recently written on Drop Dead Diva (DDD), I thought an update was in order after I watched my TV worlds collide.

Patti Stanger as Marcie on Drop Dead Diva

On DDD there have been a parade of famous female guests, from Rosie O’Donnell and Paula Abdul in Season 1, to Wanda Sykes in Season 2, and last week Kathy Griffin (which was hilarious). Thus, I suppose Patti’s appearance should not come as such a shock to the system, but for some reason (to be fleshed out shortly) it did. On DDD last night’s “Toxic” episode, Patti played Marcie LaRose, a rather snarky mean girl and Terri’s (Margaret Cho) high school and present day nemesis. Marcie is very much a Patti Stanger type character and we meet her as she asserts to a crowd of single ladies that women should not just give it away. Otherwise, you’ll never get married or so she says.

The major action comes in the midst of Marcie’s lunchtime talk (which Terri’s mother has insisted she and Jane (Brooke Elliot) attend), when Terri and Jane get in a bit of a verbal brawl. Marcie shouts at Terri, Jane defends Terri, Marcie sues Terri for “defamation, per se.” That is, Marcie sues her for slandering her chastity, a suit Marcie ultimately loses at the hands of Kim, Jane’s rival and another firm attorney.

For me the most interesting thing about this episode is that for a show like Drop Dead Diva that most certainly passes the Bechdel Test, and is also, on its best days, about smart, capable, and driven women, Patti Stanger seems an odd fit. So in a show where episodes rarely seem off, this one did and I think it was because of Patti Stanger’s ethic does not quite fit on DDD. For example, Patti is all about women losing weight to get the guy (as indicated by her recent break-up and subsequent weight loss), where DDD seems definitively anti-this line of thought. Instead DDD insists on many different kinds of beauty and that there is no one size fits all way of looking or model for dating. So as the script tried to make fun of Marcie (Patti Stanger) and did paint her as unsympathetic (for example, she ultimately loses her lawsuit against Terri), it also seemed to tread lightly around her.

Patti Stanger on DDD seemed to me like putting a square peg into a round hole: awkward, forceful, and mostly strange. If the show made too much fun of Marcie/Patti and their requisite but similar businesses, then DDD might risk offending the real Millionaire Matchmaker. But if DDD didn’t present some problem with her character on the show, then DDD would have also have felt even odd. So the show toed the middle line and it was weird.

However, the name of the episode is “Toxic,” which at once refers to a case involving toxic dirt and a school (the other storyline from last night), so could be read as having nothing to do with Patti Stanger. But here is where I think the show is quite smart: I choose to read the episode’s title as reflecting the show’s take on Patti (perhaps I’m projecting a little bit). By pairing a toxic dirt story-line and the danger it poses to a group of people, with a story-line about Patti Stanger as a mean girl signals to me a parallel between the two. Thus, the saving grace of last night’s episode and my take away from “Toxic,” is that the show subtly signals that Patti and her dating philosophies are indeed toxic and harmful, just like the bad toxic dirt.

Interlude: BIG SEXY

In gender, girl culture on August 27, 2011 at 8:25 am

Chelsea H.

I must confess, I haven’t seen this show yet.  In fact, no one has, because it doesn’t premiere until Tuesday.  I’ve only seen promos.  But I want to think about the messages this promo conveys, because I am both in support of and resistant to its potential impact.

What I like: These women love their bodies!  They have learned to resist, or ignore, or laugh at, the judgments American society makes about larger bodies, especially for women.  They, I would bet, would laugh just as hard at the idea of low-calorie brownies as I did in my last post.  They consider themselves beautiful and sexy and worthy of fulfilling relationships, or just flings, and that is wonderful.  Good for them for loving themselves and having a strong support group to hang with.  Their lives look like a lot of fun, and I think their decision to take on the problematic, thin-obsessed fashion industry in New York is a brave, and needed, attempt.

What I don’t like: I want to say this cautiously, because my intention is not to offend.  I don’t think judgment based on body size is good, I don’t believe in cookie-cutter shapes, and “normative” is a word that shouldn’t even exist because pretty much no one is.  However, I can’t avoid, and nor should anyone watching, that this is a reality show, and therefore these women are on display.  Maybe they want to be – maybe part of their aim is to bring attention through showing themselves – but there is the same kind of potential for objectification that occurs with every reality show: they are on TV, being watched and judged by people who they can’t see, can’t know, can’t respond to, and probably can’t even imagine. What does that do to the message they are sending?  Does it glamorize their lifestyle, and does it do that in a healthy or unhealthy way?  Does it make them desirable and admirable, or does it make them products of voyeurism?  I can’t decide.  Judging only from the promo, there seems to be a equal promise of girl-power, body-image-busting positivity, but I wonder: is that too good to be true?

So the question is, and I put it to you gals: is this a promise of empowerment, or is it just a new direction of objectified sexuality?  Is Big Sexy positive or not?  Would you watch it?  Why?  Why not?

Goodbye Patti Stanger & the Millionaire’s Club, I’m Not Sure I’ll Miss You

In gender on August 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Recently, I have been watching a little too much Millionaire Matchmaker. I was not sure there that there was such a thing, but now I firmly believe there might be. My reason for watching in the first place is that the show makes me feel better about myself. It is sort of like watching a bad car crash, where you know you shouldn’t look but you can’t turn away. Seriously, the people who come to Patti, the Matchmaker Maven with what seems to be a poorly calculatedly success rate are oft quite crazy (so she says she is in the 90% success rate, and I beg to differ). However, more recently I have realized it might be time to turn away, and here’s why: watching Patti Stanger is like watching a feminist back peddling bicycle crash over and over again. And that stops being fun at some point.

Patti is a modern day New Jersey yenta and matchmaker to millionaires, and she asserts herself often by throwing around little smatterings of Yiddish here and there. For example, in a recent episode she found a nice millionaire Jewish boy a young shiksa (ie a gentile woman), despite his expressed desires to date a Jewish girl. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a little Yiddish with my television, but her use of it oddly irks me. Perhaps it is because it feels like she is trying to channel the Fiddler on the Roof matchmaker, and seriously Patti’s got nothing on her. Or maybe it is just because she plays to and reinforces the Jewish princess stereotype a little too much for my comfort. But, moving on.

But not only does she mobilize Jewish stereotypes in her performance of Patti, she also is just plain sexist. On Millionaire Matchmaker, despite being a powerful and successful woman herself, she asserts that women must perform highly gendered and stereotypical roles in order to win a mate. We even see her philosophies written onto her own body; for example, recently separated from her fiancé, she is now back on the market after what looks like some serious dieting and a little itty bit of plastic surgery (I think something was lifted). She’ll be the first to tell you that if you want to date a millionaire or anyone I imagine, per Patti’s rules, you must be hot, in shape (ie skinny), educated, and all that jazz. As it turns out, she holds men up to similar standards but she is much more likely to critique a woman’s body or wardrobe (although most of the dates she finds are in fact women for millionaire men).

Patti before weight loss (on the left) and after (on the right)

But for Patti it isn’t all about the body, it is also about maintaining 1950s gender roles and norms. Thus, among her precepts are men must pay for and plan the date. If the woman tries to take control of the date or the planning, she is scolded and sometimes kicked out of Patti’s club (aside: people getting kicked out might be the best of part of the show). It is in Patti’s book, a capital offense for a woman to plan and therefore not let a man be a man. Hey gents, did you know that manliness is defined by your date planning abilities? If we ladies do it, then our relationship is most certainly over before it has even begun. Or at least, that seems to be what Patti is suggesting. When discussing men in the dating world, Patti recommends they become hunters and fishers, which I think winds up making the ladies prey. Problem. So ladies, no planning for you, instead dawn your favorite demure outfit and makeup and wait, and wait, and then wait some more.

These strange, old, and seemingly anti-feminist notions also function along heterosexual lines. That is, every relationship for Patti is seemingly framed as hetero one. And while Patti matches men with men, it seems that she has yet to match two women and often says crazy things about both gay men and lesbians. For more on this topic, check out these two links which detail Patti’s downright discrimination and ignorance: this one and this one.

Perhaps one of the strangest parts of the show is that she backs these crazy theories about women, men, sex, romance, etc. with fake science. For example, she often talks about the chemicals that overwhelm your brain during love or sex and throws out numbers and things like cerebral cortex. However, I feel quite certain, despite not being a chemistry or biology major (okay so I was an English major), that she is wrong and does not make any sense. Any doctors out there, that can confirm?

All that said and done, Patti does have a few pieces of good advice. For example, she doesn’t let her clients drink more than two drinks on any given date (or they can share a bottle of wine) and they are told not to mix and mingle their alcohols. Not bad advice, if I do say so myself. Another seemingly decent rule for dating, per Patti, is no sex without monogamy. Fair enough. It sounds like something my mother once said, plus it is also safe, so that’s good. However, sometimes she points in her mouth when she says this stuff, which makes the advice less great and more awkward. But that about covers the good advice, and seemingly might be advice one gets from their friends, parents, or therapist, rather than needing to pay Patti Stanger for it.

When I only watched one episode every now and then these egregious issues were not always so apparent. However, due to recent overexposure I think the fun and allure of Millionaire Matchmaker has gone. I am tired of watching while dating is reduced to a formula that says I should be submissive and happy about it. Goodbye Patti and your millionaires, I can’t say yet whether I will miss you or not. For now, I think I shall fill my reality TV quota with some Kardashian ladies and some Housewives. But, I shall leave you with this gem:

Ramona’s Tears and the Emotional Labor of the RHONY

In Real Housewives on August 12, 2011 at 1:08 am

Chelsea Bullock

I’ve been watching The Real Housewives of New York City for the past few seasons and I love it. However, every season, without fail, the finale reunion episode(s) make me question why*.

Watch this clip and come back.

See what I mean?

These women, as evidenced by the screaming, fit-throwing, and blatant contempt for one another are not–by the strictest of definitions–nice. I’ve tried to find some redeeming value in that not-niceness but have yet to come up with any convincing points. It seems more likely that there’s something else at work that makes these women sympathetic.

As seen in the clip and in these photographs, they perfectly embody a glossy, privileged, I-never-learned-how-to-blow-dry-my-own-hair lifestyle. As with most of the Real Housewives shows, these women’s New York is unlikely to be recognized by 98.9% of New Yorkers.

Three of the seven are married (another is in a serious dating relationship), all seven have at least one child, and all seven are involved in multiple business ventures. Nailing down what those ventures are and exactly what their personal involvement entails is impossible, but the performance and spectacle is what matters here.

But I’m getting distracted.

How does the show work to generate affect(ion) for a bunch of wholly unlikeable women?

I think the answer lies somewhere in between the pleasure that can be found in excess–melodramatic, emotional, material, etc.–and appreciation for their interpersonal struggles and triumphs. While these “housewives” aren’t taking on the burden of performing traditional domestic roles, they are still constantly and painfully negotiating relationships with one another, their spouses or romantic interests, their children, and their employees. It is important that the show is making this emotional labor visible and valued.

It is also important to be clear: These relational negotiations aren’t necessarily anything like real life nor are they meant to be.

(a still from one of the reunion episodes: Ramona, Sonja, and Alex)

But the emotion these women seem to always be struggling with–how to communicate their feelings, how to maintain composure, how to tell when paranoia is valid, how to stay out of a fight, how to be a good friend, how to be angry without coming to blows or getting bleeped–is real.

Because these are actual living humans rather than fictional characters (though Lily Bart could give them all a real run for their money), it is fair for viewers to assume that these women have emotions. I am not making a claim that Ramona Singer’s tears at around 2:20 in this clip are any more real or authentic than Lily Bart’s final letter, i.e. that there is some kind of inherent truthiness to their emotions. What I am claiming is that Ramona Singer is a human and the affect of her actual being is impossible to deny. Just because Ramona’s tears cannot be assumed as an honest representation of sadness doesn’t mean they are without value. Instead, the tears can be seen as richer for their multivalent possibilities. Ramona could be crying because she’s frustrated with how she performed in her scenes that night, she’s feeling insecure about her outfit, her head hurts and she’s hungry, or for no reason at all other than she knew how very excerpt-able that moment would be for commercials and is excited by the possibility of maximizing her air time. Ramona’s “real” motivation is blessedly oblique. Her authenticity is unimportant. What matters is that there is a very real woman and she is crying.

I’m still not sure how to more deeply suss out this claim. For example: how is this different than saying that a filmic adaptation of a play is less affective and less authentic than the stage performance of the play? I’ve been thinking over it for days and this is still where I’m stuck. One of things that keeps returning to me is this consideration of a living, breathing, crying body. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels have been one of the great delights of my summer and yet I feel waaaaay less attached to the mostly likeable (novel-version) Sookie than I do to these women. I don’t think it is a matter of successful or unsuccessful character development (Sookie) as much as it is a conflation of character and actual sharing-the-same-atmosphere-as-me celebrity (Ramona). Theoretically, Ramona is accessible to me in the same ways she is accessible to her fellow cast-members, the underlings at her jewelry parties, her stylist, or the camera person for the day. Theoretically, she is always Ramona.

*I’m throwing out a lot of wobbly, nebulous ideas here–mostly to force myself to articulate some of the impulses and flutters living in my brain right now–and am 100% open to being totally, totally, completely wrong. Ask me questions. Tell me what you think.

Benevolent but Fierce: The Glamorous Ethics of Top Model

In gender, girl culture, race on July 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Melissa Sexton

I’m currently teaching a summer section of Writing 122, the second of two freshman composition classes required at my university.  Our discussion today centered around a great article by Steven Johnson called “Watching TV Makes You Smarter,” which argues that recent years have seen growing narrative complexity in fictional television shows.  Similarly, Johnson argues that even “bad TV” (think: reality shows) have gotten smarter, since reality shows are often more sophisticated and morally complex versions of game shows.  I expected this article to elicit tons of discussion from my students, but what I discovered was a surprising program snobbery.  My students were already doing what Johnson suggests: they were foregoing simpler reality television fare in favor of “multi-threaded drama” that features moral ambiguity, season-spanning plotlines, and complex structures: think Lost, The Wire, 24, The Sopranos.  When it came time to talk about reality TV, I was the only one that was willing to admit outright love.  For the good of the class, I exposed myself as a long-time ANTM fan.

My outing led to a number of interesting questions about narrative complexity and television morality.  If, as Johnson argues, our dramas are moving away from morally motivated yet formulaic sitcoms in favor of multithread, morally ambiguous, “realist” dramas, is reality television the last bastion of overt TV sermonizing?  If so, what is it that I, a fairly intelligent person despite my students’ censure, love so deeply about reality television?  And is it a redeemable love, I ask myself, taking ANTM as a case study.

Read the rest of this entry »

Choosing You: The Bachelorette

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2011 at 7:18 am

Sarah Todd

[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.

The Big Bad Bentley & The Bachelorette 

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

So tonight on The Bachelorette Ashley finally had the long overdue confrontation with Bentley. This is my first season of The Bachelorette and I am not a yell at the screen television viewer, and Bentley brought out my worst television behavior and I was sad to see his face again. Okay sometimes I yell at the screen when I watch Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars, but it is because I am so excited. However, Bentley. He is just so awful, perhaps even the most villainous of all villains (thanks for this way of putting it Sarah Todd). Granted the interwebs are now full of other Bentley haters, but I wanted to throw my hat (it’s cute and is newsboy style) in the blogging ring.

There are many problems with Bentley. Firstly he is manipulative and a jerk. Secondly, I am pretty sure that me and everyone I know (girls who like boys at least) have all dated him, or rather his type. He is the guy that won’t give you a straight answer, that really just wants to have sex with you, that makes you chase him, and that leaves you with the “dot dot dot.” He does this because he isn’t man enough to tell you he is just not that into you. Clearly, this stuff makes me angry. It is because of men like Bentley that all my girlfriends in college felt compelled to read He’s Just Not That Into You and why, I imagine, that very book became a Hollywood film (it was a bad film I might add and I never read the book).

Bentley ... he is not even that hot. Ugh.

I’m really glad Ashley finally gave him the boot and even mentioned that he should have called rather than flown all the way around the world to tell her that their relationship had come to a “period.” Yet another punctuation mark. One among the many obnoxious things about Bentley is his need to use punctuation marks to describe what he is saying about Ashley. But the point is, that Ashley’s pursuit of him and her feelings for him, which we saw he did no reciprocate, have made great drama and great television. This final fact upsets me and is why I yelled at the television and cringed every time Bentley was on the screen or each time Ashley talked about him.

Bentley is the bad boy you like in middle school, the one that pushes you into the locker, and the one many romantic comedies tell women that as adults we can reform, refine, bring out his true nature, and make him the man we wish him to be. But also, those same tropes tell us that he wants to be this person, but can only learn how with the help of a good woman. Because ladies, that is our job. Ridiculous.

I can’t say how glad I am that Bentley is off The Bachelorette and now no more screaming at the television (at least this season). As the season heads towards its conclusion and an inevitable proposal, I’m just rooting for the cute and sweet J.P.

P.S. I am going to be pissed if Bentley comes back next week. Seriously.

Hey Ladies! The women of NBC’s The Voice

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2011 at 12:43 am

Phoebe Bronstein

The Voice is one of the many reality television shows I have just recently started watching. It started with Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Millionaire Matchmaker. Then I moved on to Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Sing Off, and currently The Voice, The Glee Project, and my favorite, The Bachelorette. Until about three months ago, I had never watched a full episode of any reality TV program, and now I can’t stop! And aside from The Bachelorette, most of the shows I am into now revolve around singing (though I cannot handle American Idol mostly because of the mean spirited judging/hazing). I loved The Sing Off, plus the University of Oregon men’s acapella group On the Rocks was on it for a while, and I do love my Ducks. And The Glee Project is pretty fun so far. I really only watch these shows for the singing.

For some reason, even though I don’t really like The Voice, I keep watching it—maybe because I am still waiting for summer premiers or more likely because I love Cee Lo Green. But since I can’t stop watching, what I’ve noticed recently is that The Voice has some of the most interesting racial and sexual politics on television. And perhaps the most liberal. Unlike American Idol, where the last four winners have been white men from the Midwest or South, on The Voice the final eight contestants were one of the most diverse casts I’ve seen on television: people of all shapes, sizes, styles, sexual preferences, and races.

Nakia and Frenchie Davis before leaving The Voice

The final four—Javier Colon, Beverley McClellan, Vicci Martinez, and my favorite Dia Frampton—are most certainly the best singers from the show, but they also reflect the diversity of the show. Three out of the final four are women, two of them are openly gay, and only one of them is white. And the best part is (for me at least) that “America” voted for all of them, and I think that is cool and exciting. For example, “America” voted for Bev the badass, beautiful, and bald rocker, and Bev is not a type we normally get to see on network television. In my last post, I wrote that it feels like there is only one option in the way of female role models on TV, but on The Voice there are so many different kinds of interesting, successful, and bad ass women.

Beverly McClellan does her thing on The Voice

So maybe I watch for Cee Lo (I do adore him), or maybe I watch for lack of something better, or perhaps I watch because The Voice presents options not available on regular network programming. At the end of the day, I would like to think it is the latter.

PS After writing this post I found out that both Cee Lo and Blake Shelton have gotten into trouble recently for homophobic tweets (both apologized profusely). However, I just think this adds a strange (and upsetting) twist some of the cool stuff I see happening on the show.