I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of The Bachelor but I must have imbibed it somewhere along the way. Because every time a rose appeared on the stage of the Mechanics Institute in The Bachelor S17 E5, every time the music stated the exact magnitude of the drama, every time The Bachelor asked ‘can I steal you’ or a girl turned to the camera to call another girl ‘fake’, I recognised it. This world is simultaneously alien and deeply familiar.
It is July, 2018. I am in Australia. On the other side of the world The Bachelor is between seasons and Bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jnr. is engaged to Lauren Burnham, the runner up of Season 22. As they plan their wedding, a motley crew of contestants in Melbourne stare into the audience. They are here for love. They are here for a rose. They are here to win and they are “not about to be bypassed by some other lady making a better connection with him.”
Watching them, this video pops into my mind: David Bowie and Mick Jagger, Dancing in the Street with all the music stripped away. The sound of breathy lip syncing and the shuffling of their feet make their once explicable actions (they are shooting a music video) ridiculous, hollow, painful; two grown men writhing, sexlessly in the night.
Katrina Cornwell and Morgan Rose’s production sits in the silence, the waiting and the weirdness of love as game show and lovers as candidates. In this version of The Bachelor, the images that burn aren’t the kisses – performed on loop like terrible gifs, two beings lip at each other, too little and too much – it is the contestants waiting in silence.
It reminds me of images of American high school dances: the girls not chosen, the rejects, sit in a row along the side of the gymnasium. But this is worse than that: Each time Sean leaves (‘can I steal you away?’), The Others are made non-people by his absence. We feel how disinterested a TV camera would be in their silent, uncomfortable wait. Without the presence of the man they are competing for, these women will be left on the cutting room floor. But in this production they are centred. The Bachelor told through the female gaze is all about the waiting, the silence and the unasked questions:
Why him? We see nothing to recommend Sean as a human being. In fact, this production makes him and everyone around him barely human. The stage is full of half-people: more role than reality.
Why her? For the duration of the show, I forget that there will in fact be a winner of this season of The Bachelor. (Catherine. It was Catherine. She sat on his lap.) There was no way in which to distinguish the competitors on that stage and no reason for him to chose one over the other.
It reminded me of a brief stint on OkCupid: each time I went home I would think to myself, “yes.. I could see him again.. Or, never again.”
“Habitualisation devours work, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war… and art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. “ Viktor Shklovski
After 22 seasons, The Bachelor is part of our DNA. That’s why I recognised the music, the straight-to-cameras, the yearning. Our habitualisation to its tropes has made it seem like a reasonable form of entertainment and made us accept that, when someone says ‘this is the man/woman you’ll be competing for’, we’ll be ready: we will not be bypassed by some other lady/man/lovesick human building a better connection than us. This production makes us all David Bowies and Mick Jaggers dancing in silence.
Last night, frying zucchinis, I had a moment of shock. Shock that there was a man cooking beside me and that, of all the people in the world we could have cooked zucchini with, we had chosen each other.
Later. We went to bed and read our books beside each other. Later – this morning – I wrote these words when I was meant to be drawing a naked woman but my astonishment at love outweighed my desire to get my money’s worth from my Sunday life drawing class.
I think of Sean and Catherine. What a power imbalance they started their relationship with! Six months of being told ‘I could chose someone else.’ Could you ever cook zucchinis with the man who put you through that? What is a relationship like when the competition has been so obvious? When you have been lined up again and again with a group of ever-diminishing women, knowing that this man may be about to send you away from him, can you read a book next to him in bed?
She is in this relationship because she auditioned, fought hard and won. He is in this relationship because he was the one she fought for. So maybe that’s the difference: in the real world you both audition. You both fight hard and maybe, if everything lines up you both win.
And I think of the moments we’ve all been left on the cutting room floor. I mean, at least Lindsey, Ashlee, Desiree, Lesley, Tierra, Daniella, Selma, Robin and Jackie got to milk a goat, see Glacier National Park and drink champagne along the way. At least they got to look in the camera and say ‘I’m angry’, ‘I’m shocked’, ‘that bitch’, ‘This hurts so bad’. In life we lose in silence.
All photos by Sarah Walker.
I am friends with Katrina Cornwell and Morgan Rose but don’t worry: I would have written self-indulgently about cooking zucchini and competitive love even if I had never met them.