A few nights ago, I was watching lapvision. That’s a portmanteau of “television” and “laptop” that I just invented to refer to the way I mostly consume shows: in bed, under the covers, past 10 p.m., with my personal computing device tilted to a glare-less angle.
I don’t have consistent show-watching habits. Southern Protestantism has impressed me with the kind of river-runs-deep guilt that makes me use most of my spare time to try and better myself. Watching Hulu or Netflix or Amazon Prime always make me feel like I’m losing good hours that I should be spending in sober reflection.
There is no way to reflect soberly on The Bachelorette — the most recent reality show that I’ve watched instead of reading an Emerson essay, or whatever my forefathers would have wanted — and yet, I will try here, because The Bachelorette is important.
I began watching the show because a friend told me to watch it. I was suspicious. A decade ago, I binge-watched the series’ more popular progenitor, The Bachelor, a show in which a crowd of 20 or so eligible women compete for the proposal of an acceptably rich and hot man. The Bachelor is like a long advertisement for how getting your teeth whitened and owning a hair-straightening iron can score you a diamond. It’s good enough, but elementary, considering that the Kardashians are on their 11th season, and we now have reality shows like Naked and Afraid (exactly what it sounds like).
But The Bachelorette is nothing like The Bachelor because, while the patriarchy has basically readied us to watch women competing for a man while maintaining the guise of friendship, it is profoundly weird to watch 20 men coexist in competition for a single woman. If you watched The Bachelorette without sound, you might surmise that it is a show about how many shirtless dudes you can fit on a single sectional couch without a fight breaking out.
Another difference: The script of The Bachelorette is far worse than that of The Bachelor. It’s made for a different era. Instead of coherent monologues, what the contestants say is basically sub-lingual, a mash-up of single-syllable names and meme-able catchphrases. The series anti-hero, a meathead named Chad, repeats things like “I’m not that bad of a guy” and uses the word “wussies” an improbable amount of times. At one point, while negotiating a conflict, Chad delivers this string of linguistic meaninglessness:
“Sup? Alright. Chris wants me to kind of explain, generally, some of the issues we’ve had in the house. Generally, I’m not here to start issues with any of you guys. I mean, like, you’re a good guy, I’m sure, probably. I don’t have an issue with you . . . I hope no one else has any issues. I hope the rest of this time here can be pretty cool, generally.”
The script of The Bachelorette is nothing if not a prime example of how reality television has changed our language for good, replacing nuance with non-
sense, bolsterisms, and bullyisms (“Great!” “Generally!” “Wussies!” “Winners!” “Fired!”) designed for quick-cut editing. Smart producers know that the audience is something like me: listless and ADD, texting the most laughable moments in the episode to groups of similarly distracted friends.
To quote Michael Jackson: We are the world. And Chad is not a single meathead, but a full-blown archetype.
People laugh at Donald Trump’s use of dumb phraseology — his ability to take any topic and personalize it simply by saying something like, “Pickles. Pickles are great! I have the best pickles.” The sharpest critique of Trump’s language thus far is video, available on YouTube, called “Trump Has No Chill at the 9th GOP Debate.” It mashes up footage of Jeb Bush looking sad and Trump repeating “Jeb is a MESS” with the random interjections of an airhorn. No one can finish their sentences, except, of course, Trump, who basically says: “Generally, I’m not here to start issues with any of you guys” before starting lots of issues.
Trump, like the producers of The Bachelorette, knows that we get our information in 15-second increments. He knows that everyone likes a good reality-TV bully, and that the only thing you can do in a room with a bunch of shirtless men who are all competing for the same token — in this case the presidency — is to make a scene. As with reality TV, we are obsessed with figuring out what’s really real: Where does Trump, the character, meet Trump the man?
We can’t ignore what reality TV has done to reality. We shouldn’t. Now is the moment to stop pretending that we aren’t paying attention. We should watch shows like The Bachelorette very, very closely, and talk about them. We have to meet the Donalds and Chads of this world head-on, in the light of day, with complete sentences.