“The Bachelorette” treats professional success as sex appeal (but I still won’t stop watching)

After Juan Pablo's disastrous "Bachelor" season, "The Bachelorette" could try portraying Andi as a real human

Topics: the bachelorette, The Bachelor, ABC, andi, juan pablo,

"The Bachelorette" treats professional success as sex appeal (but I still won't stop watching)Andi the Bachelorette, livin' the dream (Credit: ABC)

I know all about Andi. I know she’s 26 years old. I know she’s 5 feet, 5 inches tall. I know she’s from Atlanta. I know her favorite sports are tennis and golf, and I know her favorite TV show is “Scandal.” (Hat tip: Her ABC “biography” page.) I know she likes to hunt and fish almost as much as she likes to shop. I know she has beautiful big brown eyes and, when she smiles, big dimples. I know she’s the assistant district attorney for Fulton County, Georgia, and I know that “The Bachelorette,” in which she stars beginning Monday night, will treat her profession mainly as an aspect of her sex appeal.

Already, in previews for the upcoming season, we’ve been treated to dramatizations of Andi Dorfman’s working life seemingly designed to inspire sadomasochistic fantasies. “All right, you ready?” we see her ask a colleague. She is wearing a business suit and heels and her hair is pulled back into a severe ponytail. The colleague says he’s ready. “Let’s hit it,” says Andi. Later, she is at a shooting range, wearing safety goggles and noise-canceling headphones and firing a serious-looking handgun. “I put the bad guys away,” we hear her say. She appears to be an excellent shot.

“The Bachelorette” treats its stars like an asshole treats his girlfriend. It implies that the things we think matter don’t. Religion doesn’t matter. Politics doesn’t matter. Social issues don’t matter. Beauty. Truth. Children matter but only as byproducts of coupling. The things that Andi knows matter — they don’t matter. Love stories matter, but not love itself, which requires human agency, which doesn’t matter. This is what “The Bachelor(ette)” is unashamed to tell us, just as notorious “Bachelor” Juan Pablo said to Andi last season when she was a contestant in the dubious game to win his heart. “I just never honestly felt like you were trying to get to know me,” she told him. “Do you have any idea what religion I practice, what my political views are? . . . What my, you know, social issues, things that matter. Do you have any idea how I want to raise my kids? Do you have any idea about any of that?” Juan Pablo had to admit that he didn’t. “I’ve never been with someone who’s asked me so little about myself,” she went on. She might have been addressing the “Bachelor” franchise itself.

It was one of the most revealing scenes in the twelve-year history of “The Bachelor.” Not revealing about the people involved, of course; Juan Pablo was too much of a mannequin for that. But revealing, still, about “The Bachelor” overall.

The season was approaching its dramatic conclusion. Of the 30 women who began the journey, only three remained. The Bachelor, Juan Pablo, and Andi, a potential wife, had just spent a night in the Fantasy Suite, where they were allowed for the first time to test whether their relationship could survive the absence of multiple TV cameras. The couple had already demonstrated an impressive talent for looking hot while making out beneath tropical waterfalls; the only question was whether that talent would translate to mutually satisfying conversation and sex.

Juan Pablo, for his part, couldn’t have been more pleased with how the night played out. “We freakin’ talked and laughed for hours,” he reported. “Hours,” he reiterated. “Like” — he shook his head as if in disbelief, then said one more time: “hours.” Clearly, the two of them had a connection. Juan Pablo definitely thought Andi could be the one. “I just like the way she is,” he said. “I just like it. And I’m happy.” Cut to Andi, who was clearly something other than happy. “The Fantasy Suite turned into a nightmare,” she deadpanned. “The whole night was just a disaster. I hope he did not think that went well.” Imagine the delight the show’s producers must have felt on being presented with such an obvious opportunity for dramatic irony.

By this point in the season, we had already learned to disapprove of Juan Pablo. He’d said some ugly if incoherent things about the possibility of a gay Bachelor. He had a patronizing habit of grooming women’s eyebrows and the hair above their ears as they spoke to him. He’d effectively shamed a contestant named Clare for participating in what seemed to be consensual sex. The show, meanwhile, had long given up on its attempt to present him as any sort of a catch. In fact — probably because the producers had little alternative — it had taken the unusual step of aggressively casting its star in a negative light. One episode ended with footage of Juan Pablo walking alone along a beach, intercut with shots of crabs and other shellfish scuttling into their hiding places. Minor-chord music underscored the point: Even invertebrates know enough to run from bad, scary Bachelors like Juan Pablo.

So it was impossible not to cheer Andi on as she went on to expose the extent of Juan Pablo’s narcissism. Here was a woman — rare on “The Bachelor” — who was not only smart and self-possessed and pretty, but unafraid to speak the truth. And here was a scene — equally rare — in which “The Bachelor” allowed the truth to be spoken. That this was allowed for dramatic effect doesn’t change the fact that it was allowed. We have to figure it was Andi’s performance in this scene that earned her a starring role on this summer’s “Bachelorette.”

On the surface, “The Bachelorette” seems different from “The Bachelor.” Instead of one man choosing between 30 women, one woman chooses between 30 men. There is an aura of feminist empowerment. But the Bachelorette, like the women on “The Bachelor” (not to mention the Bachelor himself) is portrayed as nothing more than a romantic object, which makes “The Bachelorette” as anti-feminist as “The Bachelor.” With Andi as the Bachelorette, the stakes are raised. What will happen to the role of feminist hero she was allowed to assume — due to last season’s special circumstances — on “The Bachelor”?

I like Andi. I want her to find a husband. And sources say she’s taking the process “extremely seriously.” She has reason to. Three out of nine previous Bachelorettes remain with the man they chose on their seasons. Trista and Ryan have been together 11 years. They have two actual human children — Max and Blakesly. Andi, who “felt real feelings” toward Juan Pablo, knows that love is as likely to develop on a television show as anywhere else. She is, she has promised, “all in.” Beyond her quest for a husband, though, it will be interesting to see if the show allows Andi to talk about “the things that matter.” If it doesn’t — and history tells us it won’t — I’ll be watching to see the extent to which she appears to accept the story “The Bachelorette” wants to tell about her, and whether she is able to somehow suggest more complicated, competing stories.

Because I don’t want Andi to end up like Juan Pablo, who recently said something sad and familiar. “I feel misunderstood,” he told People magazine. What you see on TV, it’s not me … I just want people to get to know me.” If I were sitting next to Juan Pablo, I’d nod in wholehearted understanding. Then I’d reach over and groom his eyebrows and run my fingers through the hair behind his ears.

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