On Sunday, "The Bachelorette" Emily Maynard will make her choice between contestants Arie Luyendyk, Jr., a race car driver from Arizona, and Jef Holm, an entrepreneur from Utah. If you, like me, have tuned in for the season, you know it's been a dramatic ride across the world to what promises to be an operatic conclusion. There will be roses, tears, and, I'm sure, a lot of close-ups on some gigantic diamond rings. Emily will look longingly into the distance and sigh about "the right choice". I know that this will happen because every Bachelor/Bachelorette has gone through this final sequence - there really is no other way to end this fairy tale.
And that's what the show is, a modern fairy tale, televised instead of read, edited together instead of animated or written. The Bachelor/ette picks up right where movies like Tangled and The Little Mermaid leave off in our collective culture. All little girls and boys eventually grow up but that doesn't mean they outgrow the magic of fairy tale romance. For organizations like The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC, it certainly doesn't mean that we still can't be sold this sort of love story. For generations raised on the Disney Princess narratives, The Bachelor/ette brings us a familiar narrative – beautiful (read: conventionally attractive, able-bodied, mostly white, heterosexual) people are whisked to exotic locations (sparsely populated with approachable, easily-digestible versions of the natives) with the sound of stringed instruments filling the night air.
While fairy tales were originally meant to entertain, they've become a rich source to understand a culture - what is important, what is considered good, what is considered beautiful. If The Bachelor/ette is our fairy tale, then we can look to it to understand all of these things about ourselves. And what has the latest season told us about the way we love?
1. You can't have sex with a mom.
Little Ricki, Emily's daughter, was swept under the rug when Emily’s relationships started heating up and yet Emily still had to turn down the “overnight dates” because of the “implications” for her daughter.
2. You can “win” love.
The contestants are in a constant state of competition. The reward is more of Emily’s time and attention. The guy that performs the best will get to propose.
3. Ladies are ladies, men are men.
It’s almost not even worth mentioning that some silly gender roles are reinforced here. Emily won’t propose to the winner, she gives out lapel pins instead of roses, so on, so on.
4. You can judge others.
This is probably the biggest lesson of all. During the season, we’ve been invited to scrutinize people’s motives and choices (Is Ryan a jerk?). Right now, people are rooting for their favorites to win. A week from now, people will be debating if Emily made “the right choice”. We are being asked to weigh in on real people, not animated figures or storybook characters.
What does that say about us and the way we love?