Hometown dates always provoke lots of emotions... and revelations about identity in America. (Image Credit: Instagram/bachelorabc)
The Bachelor Hometowns: Identity Lessons in Hoxie, Dallas, Miami and Montreal
Don't be ashamed to watch The Bachelor.
Why do so many of us only admit to watching The Bachelor by adding that we are ashamed to do so?
There's something dangerous in the idea that some television shows are categorically better than other television shows. More moral? Less shameful? Is there really a TV show that is sacrosanct? That embarrassment couldn't touch?
A show so universally revered that no one would make fun of you if they found out you were into it? (Because I will fully make fun of you right now if you say The Wire.)
No show avoids The Bachelor's supposed pitfalls.
Is there a show, critically acclaimed or not, that does not deliver the same beats as The Bachelor? (Or, what we think of as "trash?")
Here are the ingredients of most plots on television:
Romance and ridicule. Conflict and cliffhangers.
It's all drama. Triggers. Betrayals. Hunks. Heroines. Hearts breaking.
Depending on who you ask, there are just a few stories that get told over and over again in slightly different ways. Just like all these endless seasons of The Bachelor.
Reality television is seductive because it seems to lend structure to otherwise chaotic lives. We love the notion that you can plot your own damn life. (Go ahead, try. Did it work?)
We also want to pretend that we can plot out the life story of our nation.
Lately, that's been a total bust. This is such the wrong ending. America totally gave the rose to the wrong guy.
Now we get a new Bachelorette! (Love u Rachel!) We hop back in the saddle and try to get it right the next time. Over and over and over.
Our current cultural moment is not only in a crisis around the Constitution, but around reality itself. What we need is a lot more reality television so we can work through these crises. Practice. Get it right.
Do not be ashamed to watch The Bachelor. Watch it with pride. Then talk about it constantly.
Sure, this whole thing seems to be about Nick's love affairs. But we are all romancing reality itself. Figuring out how to deal with it. Or as Corinne's mom finally advises, "Don't forget it's fantasy also."
Time for the Mythic "Hometowns" or The Interrogation Games
Your hometown is not just some rando locale where you grew up. It's your entire identity, basically. It's the setting for your self-made reality: "This is who I am," chirps Raven. That's why Nick just goes with "Milwaukee" instead of saying godforsaken "Waukesha" when the cops grill him about where he's from. Because Nick is someplace you've never heard of.
Reality Lesson #1 – Hoxie, Arkansas.
It is so perfect when the cops show up (staged or not) to fake-harass Nick for trespassing on a grain bin.
Because what's a grain bin? It's a sacred Holder of Secrets. The gigantic structure is made from metallic ribbing screwed into a circular shape with an external staircase that must be climbed whenever someone in this town has a "meaningful conversation." The legendary grain bins are so holy that they are under constant police surveillance in Hoxie, Arkansas, population 2,000 something. Even if each town member donated one dollar, they would still not have enough money to buy Nick an outfit like the one Corinne is about to buy him (read on for that). That is how small this town is.
Behold the fabled Grain Bin, Holder of Secrets!
Aside from Meaningful Conversations, the best things to do in Hoxie are Frog-digs and "muddin.'"
This storybook land is from whence Raven hails. She shows up on a baby Hummer, flings Nick aboard, and then rumbles through marsh and puddle-swamps. Soon the two splash, "mud," strip down and straddle.
This would be immeasurably sexy if we weren't wondering about all those frogs? Like, are they in that water? Are tadpoles wiggling in that same water where they frolic? What's a frog-dig? This isn't a frog-dig, is it Raven?
Like so much in Hoxie, this secret is never revealed.
Time to meet the parents.
Raven's Dad recently had a scan and is now "cancer-free."
Inarguably good news, and this probably happened — regardless of accusations that everything on reality TV is staged.
But now Dad's cancer is Raven's WHOLE STORY. Soft guitar strumming invades as Raven takes in the news. Once her tears start en force, piano comes in with added flourish. Close-ups reveal Nick's reddened visage, signally emotional investment. Dad hugs Raven. Tears stream down Mom's face.
Everything on earth is good in Hoxie. Even being faked out by Raven's cop bro. It's all good. Dad can walk Raven down the aisle.
Nick: Choose Raven. Save her from the frogs and secrets of this small town.
Reality Lesson #2 – Dallas, Texas.
Dallas is so western that cows with big gigantic horns graze right underneath the concrete freeway. This is the Wild West, folks.
Here's what we know: this Rachel Hometown Date is a big extended preview for next season because the love between these two is already dead. And it doesn't even matter.
It's almost like a big set-up to answer the awkward question: what does Rachel's family think of white guys. Because usually: there are a ton of white guys stepping out of limos at the first cocktail party.
You can feel Nick's total relief when the Federal Judge Dad who he had planned to call "Sir" cannot be at this meet-n'-greet for "work reasons." Hopefully, Sir wasn't just off-screen refusing to be on this damn show (like I would do) because now his daughter is The Bachelorette (whoo-hoo!) and we must meet him at some point.
Most white people aren't used to being the only white face around. Here is what Nick's face looks like in a predominantly black church congregation:
Awkward. And awesome. Because it's showing that awkwardness is actually positive. Because these are the kinds of spaces and issues that interracial couples have to navigate. And maybe it shouldn't only be interracial couples crossing all these barriers?
Here is what is so awesome about the Rachel Hometown: not only do they talk about race, but they talk about religion. That's so major because religion gets into everything in our culture.
Separation of church and state — yeah, right. Church and state have their entwined fingerprints all over love and dating. We have to face that.
And finally, it's out in the open.
Here's something weird and also real: Rachel's older sister Constance is married to a Nick Doppleganger. Like, if Nick weren't all genetically muscled and styled up he would be Constance's husband once the grays come in. Look, I'm not saying all white guys look the same, but . . . Nick's pocket kerchief matches the dark patterned checks in the sister's husband's shirt, and I guess beards and navy blazers are trending.
This husband guy even talks in that lilting Nick shtick. It's so weird. Then Constance says, "Y'all look like us." Which is what everyone in the audience is thinking.
But the main thing Constance points out "is this climate that we're in." And all the racism coming out.
Racism is out all over the place. There is just no way for race (and that includes whiteness) to not to be a big deal.
Nick skews way too colorblind. Which doesn't really work even though it sounds good and "well-intentioned." The ol' I-don’t'-see-skin-I-just-see-you thing.
Nothing wrong with seeing black skin. Skin is what we think we're talking about, but we're talking about identity. White people need practice acknowledging that they don't know what black identity means (which is gonna be different for every individual.) But it's never something that you should claim that you don't see — as if it doesn't matter. When it does.
I will not and do not speak for people of color (I'm white.) But Rachel's black. That will be for her to define and express. Not for her white audience to declare and explain.
Nick: You can't choose Rachel, she's already gone.
Reality Lesson #3 – Miami, Florida.
Oh God, Corinne. Our latest delusional Angel of Shopping and Nightmares.
Has there ever been a more enthusiastic capitalist ever?
"Get a salesperson," advises Corinne. "Make that person your person."
You mean like your servant person? Like Raquel? (More on her in a sec.)
All this holy shopping seems glorious. But it's so dismal. Luxury does hold its promises, but $800 sweats, even if they do feature an ombre greyscale, are dullsville. I hope these sweatpants come with a weekend away and a spa treatment.
So Corinne bought Nick a $3,423 boring outfit. We've all been advised to get high-quality staples that we can fall back on year in and year out. Now Nick has a gray sweater/black pants ensemble that he can rely on until the skinny jeans phase ends for hipster men.
If he hadn't worn these dang clothes all over the place, he could have returned them for the cash and bought a really nice washer/dryer set or a used car or several plane tickets or something.
Finally, the Famous Raquel.
What is sadder than an insanely expensive sweater the color of a rain cloud?
Raquel cleaning up the dinner plates.
Raquel seems very sweet. She's elderly and a non-native English speaker.
That's not worth mentioning except for: why do rich whites appear so often to like hiring seeming immigrants as domestic workers, as nannies?
It must have something to do with that "get your own person" thing. It's not just the joy of the things you can buy, but the people you can boss around. That's part of it. And let's face it: historically, white people want brown skinned people or others who are obviously different for that kind of work.
Raquel is billed as a "part of the family," but she's also their servant. What's the big deal? I mean, it's her job, right? Serve this family these famous olives.
But the emotional labor!
If she was getting paid as much as she deserves to fill Corinne's bottomless need for love then she wouldn't have to work as the maid. One of capitalism's many conundrums. The high prices of things.
Meanwhile, Corinne's Dad practically castrates Nick when he asks about his potential for "bread-winning." Obviously, Nick has a televised shelf-life that quickly expires post-Dancing With the Stars. He should have said, "President" and then plotted for Corinne's loaded fam to start up a Super PAC for him. What else is there to do with money in Florida?
Nick: Choose Corinne. You'll be set with Single Malt Scotch forev.
Reality Lesson #4 – Montreal, Canada.
You have to admit that Canada keeps looking better and better. Even with all that rain.
So the question is, what does Nick, a White Human Male looking for Love, prefer? Mall sprees with Corinne? Or art projects with Vanessa's Students?
You guys: Vanessa's students.
Did you see what was beautiful? Not in that sentimental way where the mentally disabled character is used as some kind of literary device. Not that crap.
No, I mean in the way that Vanessa's students, whatever their non-specified special needs, seemed so honest. So beyond this show's framing. Yes, the producers handed the throng a bunch of roses, but the main thing that came through was their genuine excitement and love for Vanessa. And their curiosity about this boyfriend guy.
It was a sincerely moving surprise on a show that yearns for sincerity and mostly misses.
And it didn't seem exploitative — not because producers took particular care, but this sequence could only gain sincerity from its contrast to Corinne and Miami.
And in contrast to Nick's undeniable little performances of love. Vanessa's possible actual real love for him seems real right next to it. And seeing her in her element helped.
Then things got so much better, with more Nick interrogations from Mom and Dad — in separate spaces. Which you know is exhausting for Nick. Finish one fam and then head to one more. No relief.
Vanessa's mom wants to know what all parents want to know:
Why do you like Vanessa?
Nick starts to go off about how hot she was when she slunk out of the limo like a glittered minx.
Vanessa's mom rolls her eyes. Stop it! Is there something besides her looks, Nick?
Nick has to fall back on his list of personality traits. But Vanessa's mom wants her daughter to find her "equal." There is doubt that Nick is that. He speaks cool cat, tear drop, and hipsteratti, but Vanessa speaks English, French and Italian.
No one in Canada is convinced that Nick is very awesome. Which is a great time to go visit Vanessa's dad.
The Dad is HARSH. As he should be because how do you give your blessing to some American flâneur on a TV show who is also asking three other dads for their daughter's hand in marriage?
Can you have my blessing?
No, dude, you cannot.
This scene gets a smooth edit and the dad finally agrees, but then as they walk to the car, Vanessa talks about how the convo got LOUD and she almost got worried.
Why didn't we get to see or hear the LOUDNESS?
What happened? There is so much in reality that we can never know.
Nick: Choose Vanessa. Honestly, Canada seems like a good bet considering these times we're in. And Vanessa seems real. Are we right about that? How can we ever know?
Which reality will Nick choose?