Maybe you don’t watch The Bachelor, sure. And maybe I don’t search for a Dolby receiver on Craigslist from time to time when my boss isn’t looking. You watch The Bachelor, you know you do. And if the first two episodes of this season are any indication, things have gone awry somewhere. If you need to see how, all you have to do is tune in for the January 26th Sunday night special, to watch last year’s bachelor-turned-groom, Sean, marry his Seattle sweetheart, Catherine—there you will get a picture of what the Bachelor was, the light casting shadows on what it is now. And the problem, ladies and gentlemen? Two words. Juan. Pablo.
Sean was a Texan. He played college football on a scholarship in the Big 12. And his prodigious pectorals testified. His bio on Twitter, though, says nothing of it, in humility: “v-neck aficionado, hot dog enthusiast, words with friends extraordinaire, saved by Jesus.” Sean Lowe was a solid American dude. Within the first two weeks of that season he had leapt off a skyscraper, taken his shirt off for girl-on-girl beach volleyball, and broken the Guinness world record for longest kiss.
What’s more, Sean had the competitive acumen necessary to make the difficult decisions as the Bachelor. He wasn’t afraid of a show like this compromising his moral foundation—he knew there would be winners and losers, and he dealt with each round of roses as if there were always a right way to handle it. He was always a gentleman about it, but he didn’t sugarcoat the truth when he knew what it was. As the country song says, “that’s a life you can hang your hat on.”
Juan Pablo would probably not understand that musical reference because Juan Pablo is about as far from Texas as a Midtown Jewish deli. Juan Pablo is the first Latino contestant on the Bachelor—after last year’s lawsuits about there being no men of color on the show’s (17-season!) tenure—and it shows in more ways than the jazz fingers and the rave-wave hair do. No. Juan Pablo is “El Bachelorrrr” with r-roll and all, and he’s redefining what it means to be “the man” we all wish we were.
First of all, I must admit, I am no Sean Lowe when it comes to laws of American masculinity, either. (If you watched the blooper credits last year, I don’t think Sean Lowe is either—do you remember him having forty five minutes of clutch issues on the Jeep date?) I don’t have traps or lats or pecs, for one, but I also do not have solid answers, some hell bent passion for my life’s trajectory. Juan Pablo complicates this narrative further. He loves things like spontaneity and surprise, seems to value a surprise jet to a surprise location more than a known ending. His first “one-on-one” with Kat was this date on a jet, to Salt Lake City of all places, for a blacklit rave 5K. More than just being panic-attack inducing, I was struck when Juan Pablo, on the jet, says something like “Costume chaaaynge” and returns to the jet cabin in a two-piece windsuit, all-black with a neon heart over the chest. He then threw Kat’s outfit to her—all neon. What? Sean…?
Strike one in the compatibility department. We do not rave, Juan Pablo.
Then came Pope Juan Pablo of the Group Date, the Latino carer for the disenfranchised. He and the girls on his group date did a photo shoot…with dogs from the Los Angeles pound. This is classic Bachelor fodder—pretty people, fun cause—but Juan Pablo has numerous opportunities to hone in on whom he was failing to connect, whom he did not see a future, and he just has fun instead. One girl is ashamed to get naked for her photo shoot (I know), and instead opts for a floppy fire hydrant that fits like an eight-foot burrito, and she’s the one who gets a rose. Another chick is “totally freaking out” about what she has to wear for her photo shoot (nothing but a cardboard sign), to which Juan Pablo replies, “Do not worry. I’ll do it with you.” The compassion—ahh, the compassion—is revolting. Strike two, and maybe three. Play the game, John Paul.
And then there’s the Transfiguration, from foppish Latino disco-clubber to man of sincerity, which all happens in the drunken bathroom spell (which certainly looked “influenced”). Victoria is weeping in the stall like Moaning Myrtle, a certain and decisive nosedive, when in sneaks El Bachelor, to sit on the outside of her stall and wait patiently with her, while she yells for him to go. He then returns to the other women, gearing up for the gossip tornado that makes the Bachelor so good, and he calms the storm. He tells them to make sure she gets home safely, and says “poorrr Victória.” Strike three.
The Bachelor is The Bachelor because it produces the kind of decisive plotlines we need to still believe are there in real life. That certainly goes for love, and how we define it: that it follows a tangible arc, that it is perfect (when it is true), and that we can find that love by way of a “deep connection.” All three of these very believable love mythologies are both upheld—and violently debunked—by the nature of the show. You are forced into “deep connection” with a person on the show, which is really no connection at all, because it is formulaically laid before you.
The same is true of gender mythologies. The women in the show are certainly “ideas” of women rather than flesh-and-blood mortals. They may all represent different characteristics (Lucy is the “Free Spirit” of the bunch), but they are cardboard renditions of the same, 17-season backdrop philosophy of love. The same is true of The Bachelor himself. As DZ said last week, “the definition of what it means to “be a man” these days leaves virtually no space for those interested in being human.” It is especially true of the American male, who seems to be the prototype for The Bachelor. He is mixture Marlboro Man, Atticus Finch Family Man, and Johnny Unitas Sportsman.
This is not the say that Juan Pablo is the New Man. He is an ex-professional soccer player, for crying out loud, and the single-father references are spilt ad nauseum through each episode. But he is certainly toying with the man-mixture. And one element is certainly the male as counterpart/listener/friend. Maybe that’s always been a part of Atticus Finch, but it’s never really been a part of the show. And when you fiddle with the backdrop, the cardboard falls. What will become of El Bachelor, and our preceding mythologies? ABC will keep our mythologies where they ought to be—any challenge to it might also challenge their ratings—but I’m beginning to wonder (hope?) if Juan Pablo is the start of something new.