The problem with this season of 'The Bachelorette'
Most season premiers of The Bachelorette open with footage of the eponymous bachelorette running on a picturesque beach or strolling wistfully through an All-American town. The journey about to unfold on her season is usually built on the premise that she is getting over the heartbreak of being dumped by the previous season’s bachelor. But this season of The Bachelorette was different: It opened on 28-year-old Becca Kufrin crying in bed. That opening scene is proving to be a harbinger of things to come this season: namely, the show’s inability to allow Becca to be more than a product of her heartbreak.
To understand how and why this season of The Bachelorette began this way, it’s crucial to know how the previous season ended. Last season’s finale ended with then-bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. choosing to spend his happily-ever-after with Kufrin. Then the show prolonged its usual runtime to air one of the more shocking and brutal ends to a season of reality television: 35 minutes of unedited, split-screen footage of Arie revealing to Becca that he still had feelings for Lauren Bunham, who he had just chosen as his runner-up to Becca. Arie then said he would be leaving Becca to pursue a relationship with Lauren. Through this gripping, nauseating, and devastating breakup, the show effectively sacrificed a woman’s emotional well-being — on national television, no less — to create an enthralling moment for their audience and build the foundation for the next season of their show. Of course, it’s relatively well known that this kind of emotional exploitation is not an uncommon occurrence on The Bachelor. In order for reality television to appear authentic and engage its audience, the “reality” that is broadcast to viewers is often manufactured to a certain degree. This manufacturing is primarily conducted by producers, who commonly intervene with the contestants on the show to spur drama, foreshadow significant moments, and edit conversations and even causal glances to create theatrics that engage viewers.
By giving Becca her own season, and a crop of new guys to choose from, the show could have paid her some penance for this treatment. It would even have been more acceptable if Becca’s breakup had served as a point of catharsis from which the show could move on. Instead the devastation of Becca’s heartbreak is further exploited as the show’s central theme. The show has continued to make allusions to Arie and Becca’s breakup in every episode as well as in teaser promos for the rest of the season.
For example, in every season’s opening episode, each suitor chooses how to make a lasting first impression when they exit the limo and meet the woman they’re trying to woo. One man brought out a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Arie to demonstrate that the bachelorette’s ex should see how well the girl he let get away was doing. Multiple men mentioned Arie’s cowardice in their limited, first interaction with Becca. One suitor even chose to comically propose to Becca because there’s no faster way to the heart of a woman whose previous fiancé left her than to make light of a proposal.
The most glaring example of how Becca’s heartbreak was excavated for content, however, came in the season’s second episode: The show’s producers constructed an entire date that served to remind viewers of Becca’s on-camera breakup. Becca and her date, each adorned in navy jumpsuits and toting sledge hammers, took turns wildly swinging at standard wedding props, like wedding cakes and champagne flutes. This destruction climaxed when Becca smashed a replica of the couch she was sitting on when Ari dumped her, as well as faux monitors and equipment representative of what was used to film her breakup.
Closure is one thing, but concocting an entire series based on the constant reminder — and, in the aforementioned case, physical destruction — of one’s past partner directly places this past relationship, and inherent to that, her past partner, as the cornerstone of Becca’s journey to find love is disempowering to Becca as a multidimensional person. This narrative choice highlights the greater societal issue of our tendency to tie women’s identities to the men with whom they’ve had relationships. Becca, like any woman with past partners, should be given the opportunity to move forward free from association with her past loves, free from the pity and judgment that has been following her around all season.
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