"I'm sorry this hasn't been a fairy tale" : examining romance reality TV through The bachelor

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2011-05

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Romance reality programming has become a major player in the television field, with the most successful shows garnering huge ratings and massive audiences over the course of numerous seasons. But while the concept of finding love in a competitive environment on the national stage is new, romance reality TV programs seem to regenerate outdated stereotypes which work in a retrograde fashion to envisage love in traditional, pre-feminist heteronormative and patriarchal structures. Combining a background of literature on reality TV which gives insight to the manipulative tendencies of the industry; feminist scholarship on the acculturating and indoctrinating nature of classic fairy tales; and writings on the prevalence of postfeminist ideology that emphasizes self-surveillance/subjectification, the rhetoric of self-empowerment, and natural differences between the sexes, this thesis examines one of the most ubiquitous romance reality shows, The bachelor. Through the lens of nine tropes--beauty, passivity, marriage, victimization, vilification, romance rhetoric, gender roles, consumerism, and the male gaze--I analyze a full season of episodes, tallying the occurrences in each category. Using these tally numbers as general indicators and providing examples of each theme, I argue that the lessons conveyed to audiences by The bachelor and other romance reality programs bear a striking resemblance to classic fairy tales morals in which positive outcomes for heroines directly correlate to their perceived femininity, including conventionally feminine virtues like physical beauty, moral turpitude, and adherence to normative gender roles. The presence of postfeminism in the media contributes to making these outdated fairy tales themes seem congruent with female agency and empowerment by uncritically casting the failure to find love as a personal one. At the same time, men are placed in advantageous positions of authority and power, affirming the inevitability and desirability of patriarchal relationship arrangements.

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