One of the weirder things about being so progressively feminist is how much I love The Bachelor. For the under-initiated, this is a first generation (now in its 17th season) reality TV show on ABC that features a hunky Bachelor trying to decide between 25 hand-picked, lovely young women who incredibly all fall in love with The Bachelor on the first night of the show. There are old-fashioned dates, lots of gratuitous makeouts with basically every contestant, and a ceremony featuring roses at the end of each show that confirms it’s all as white and heteronormative as TV gets.
If I’m being honest, The Bachelor isn’t the only trash media I intake on a fairly regular basis. I love almost every rom com ever created. This reverence is seconded only by my extensive adoration of Sex and the City now that it’s on daily reruns on cable TV. I can practically quote entire shows at this point. And the made-for-TV program I’ve watched most of in my life is none other than BBC’s Pride and Prejudice—5.5 hours of Jane Austin goodness (note to my Curmudgeon co-blogger: I guess a girl can like profanity and Jane at the same time).
If I were a well-rounded media consumer, I probably wouldn’t give this debasing dalliance a second thought. As it goes, I rarely watch TV and spend too many of my internet hours reading tumblr feeds (and tumblr feeds and tumblr feeds and tumblr feeds), revisiting my Bachelor fascination, or scouting out weird Mormon DIY blogs. It’s the furthest I could possibly get from BBC news or reading about indigenous women undergarment knitters.
A friend has a theory he calls “nostalgic escapism” – a way to label the longing for a place you used to live and the incessant imagining that life would somehow be better, even now, if you were there rather than here. You know, escaping to something or someone you used to love, even if that love was only realized once you left… and may or may not be as fantastic as you imagine if you really did go back.
It isn’t any great thought to posit that the media we consume is a form of escape. I spend a lot of time during the day thinking about a lot of bad things, seeing a lot of bad things, and trying to fix a world that at times feels completely backward. When I’m on recess—whether a five minute interwebs break or an hour on the couch after work—the last thing I want to do is review more bad things with Mr. MacNeil or Mr. Lehrer. Why, when I can watch a hunky guy fall in love with 25 lovely women all at once? I guess that’s why most Americans get their news from Colbert and the Daily Show and weird cat videos are the most watched thing on YouTube—we all need an escape.
What I’d like to unpack a bit more is why I want to escape to something that I have no nostalgia for—and are shows, no less, that feature relationships and power dynamics I denigrate during real life. Even my non-feminist lady friends (writing these words reminds me of another post for another time) think The Bachelor is trash and don’t understand the appeal of Carrie Bradshaw. I guess they watch cool shows like Modern Family.
Let’s skip any dime store psychology that says, deep down, I really do want to play out the archaic, creepy scenes I love watching to unwind. Or maybe that I’ve overcomplicated relationships in my own life so much that textbook gender roles take my mind off of this self-made quagmire.
Neither answer works for me. Instead, I think it has more to do with Feminist Ryan Gosling. Have you seen this one yet? Images of cutey Ryan G. overlaid with feminist quotes like “if I had a hammer, I’d smash the patriarch,” complete with a catchy “hey girl” meme. Feminist Ryan Gosling serves as a good reminder that life rolls out in shades of color. It says, “hey girl, it’s okay to like the things you like, even if the combination seems a little unintuitive or even contradictory.” Just like you can learn important feminist lessons while enjoying a laugh at the oddness of the internet, you can get your daily news from Jon Stewart and still have important ideas about the world. Or be a good feminist (!) and have fun with the paradoxes involved in watching trashy reality TV.
I’ll leave you with this: the concept of nostalgic escapism, at least in the sense of how we consume media, isn’t really applicable. Even if you try to escape, the content trudges ahead. I’m not saying reality TV is a progressive’s dream, but it’s no longer 90’s—we’ve come a long way from Pedro Zamora breaking all sorts of barriers. Nowadays, you’re hiding from real news and Samantha Bee nails it on military brohesion. Try to find that kind of smarts on any local news show. As RyGo might say, hey girl, we can’t ever go back, but let’s move forward together.
The Pleasant Progressive