Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Guilty Pleasure - Amy Kaufman

Summary: The first definitive, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes cultural history of the Bachelor franchise, America's favorite guilty pleasure

For fifteen years and thirty-five seasons, the Bachelor franchise has been a mainstay in American TV viewers' lives. Since it premiered in 2002, the show's popularity and relevance has only grown--more than eight million viewers tuned in to see the conclusion of the most recent season of The Bachelor.

The iconic reality television show's reach and influence into the cultural zeitgeist is undeniable. Bestselling writers and famous actors live tweet about it. Die-hard fans--dubbed "Bachelor Nation"--come together every week during each season to participate in fantasy leagues and viewing parties. 

Bachelor Nation is the first behind-the-scenes, unauthorized look into the reality television phenomenon. Los Angeles Times journalist Amy Kaufman is a proud member of Bachelor Nation and has a long history with the franchise--ABC even banned her from attending show events after her coverage of the program got a little too real for its liking. She has interviewed dozens of producers, contestants, and celebrity fans to give readers never-before-told details of the show's inner workings: what it's like to be trapped in the mansion "bubble"; dark, juicy tales of producer manipulation; and revelations about the alcohol-fueled debauchery that occurs long before the fantasy suite. 

Kaufman also explores what our fascination means, culturally: what the show says about the way we view so-called ideal suitors, our subconscious yearning for fairy-tale romance, and how this enduring television show has shaped society's feelings about love, marriage, and feminism by appealing to a marriage plot that's as old as Jane Austen. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: So here’s the deal (and I feel like I need to make this statement right at the top lest I embarrass myself by even posting this review at all) I’m not one of those hardcore Bachelor Nation people. Sure, I’ve seen some recent episodes, but as far as one of those people who knows every single bachelor or bachelorette since the beginning of time? No. Or one of those people who attends (let alone hosts) a viewing party? No. Or even one of those people who watch every episode live? Nope. So you may be thinking that I’m not the best person to write about this book, right? Now hey. I wouldn’t go that far. I love reading about culture and cultural phenomena, and this book was the perfect insight as to why All the People in the Whole Land just can’t get enough of this very obviously fake rendition of not-so-modern love.

The book starts off with a history of reality dating shows (none of which I’ve seen), and goes through all the precursors to The Bachelor and Bachelor-adjacent shows. It’s so interesting, really, because it seems that everyone thought this would always be a bad idea, and yet here it is—the most popular reality television show ever. And it basically has a cult following. Everybody watches it, even if they don’t admit it (or so Kaufman tells us). Also, I loved that she has short celebrity sections at the beginning of each chapter where various celebrities tell why they love the show and how embarrassing it is and yet they just can’t look away. In fact, many fans seem to love to hate The Bachelor as much as the love to love The Bachelor.
               
One of the things that drew me to this book was how it addresses the cultural phenomenon of the series. It’s just everywhere. The show itself has three different shows a year, at least, and so fans are never left very long without an upcoming show. In addition, they have interesting ways of keeping people hooked—they use contestants from previous seasons to be the lead in their next season, which creates continuity. Or they’ll just use someone completely new (I don’t know how long it’s been since they’ve done this. Again, I’m not as familiar with the series as die-hard fans). Or they’ll bring someone from the past to surprise the viewers and refresh the goings-on. Apparently that is what happened with this past season of The Bachelor. Despite all of these somewhat tepid mix-ups, the series is actually very formulaic, and I loved that Kaufman had so much insight into the background and editing and production of the show. Her access to the people in the industry because of who she is and what she does as a living really made for an interesting read. I think it also helped bring to light some things that readers would not have seen if it weren’t for her access and research. She talked to a ton of Bachelors/Bachelorettes as well, and many of them have written books about their experiences as well (I have not read any of them, but there are a ton), which she has read. I felt like she was pretty much an aficionado and that made it super interesting.

One of the things I had hoped would happen was that we would learn some juicy details behind the scenes. I was certainly not disappointed! Although I rarely knew what Bachelors or Bachelorettes she was talking about (especially in older seasons) I loved hearing what really goes on in the production and what happens to the contestants during and after the show. Spoiler: it’s as big of a train wreck as you might expect. I mean, yeah, they all go on there to get Instagram followers and live their dream of hawking crap on social media, but there’s more about that as well.

The book itself has a fun tone—it’s well-written, it’s funny, it’s honest, it’s eye-opening. I actually really enjoyed it. I do wish that more juicy secrets had been told, because if you’re reading this kind of thing, why not?  I do think those were probably in the books the contestants wrote, whereas this was a book about the show itself—the culture, the hype, the psychology behind why it’s so popular, and the inner workings. Don’t get me wrong—plenty of juiciness abounds! Even if you’re not a huge die-hard Bachelor fan, I think you’ll enjoy it, especially if you‘re like me and you’re just fascinated about why reality TV is as popular as it is.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of sex in this book, but it’s not seriously raunchy.

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