“Some Magnetic, Beautiful Nonsense": Suzannah Showler on The Bachelor and the Heart of American Identity

February 5, 2018
Block O

During the winter of 2013 in Toronto, Suzannah Showler sifts through streaming channels for a less-than-intellectually-stimulating TV show as her feverish mind and flu-stricken body recoup. That TV show? The Bachelor. that fairy-tale game show embedded with jealousy, scandal, playfulness and, most important, love. 

Little did Showler know that this first bedridden exposure to America’s favorite romantic reality show would be the first of, quite literally, hundreds of hours of her life that she would subsequently spend trying to understand it.

Showler, now an MFA student and 2017-18 Presidential Fellow at The Ohio State University, has turned her fascination with The Bachelor and its spin-offs into a career, spending the past three years writing about reality shows for Buzzfeed, Slate, Los Angeles Review of Books and more. And now, she gives an in-depth critique at the show in her latest book, Most Dramatic Ever: The Bachelorwhich was released last month.

“I first wrote about The Bachelor in January 2015, just a few months after I started at Ohio State. I had some grand unified theories I wanted to get off my chest, so I sort of impulsively cold-pitched the LA Review of Books and wound up writing an essay for them about the then-current season (that would be Chris Soules's season, aka the "Prince Farming" Bachelor),” recalls Showler.

I'll venture that America has a more interesting relationship to the imaginary than just about anywhere else.”
–Suzannah Showler

Most Dramatic Ever, without doubt, touches on questions of modern dating and romance. In the end, however, Showler said the part of her analysis that she was the most hung up on was how The Bachelor is really all about America. “The show has this contradiction baked into its structure that makes it totally incoherent if you think about it for even two seconds: it's a gameshow, and, thus, something anyone could theoretically win by working/playing hard. But it's also a marriage plot, and so the final true-love ending is presented as being fated. The show is structured to let the audience experience that contradiction as momentarily smooth and frictionless, to feel a respite from the incongruity,” explains Showler. “My theory is that this is appealing because it replicates a similarly incoherent relationship between labor and fate at the heart of American identity: America tells you that if you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and work for it, you will achieve the exceptionalism that, by virtue of your very Americanness, was always already yours. That's some magnetic, beautiful nonsense. I'll venture that America has a more interesting relationship to the imaginary than just about anywhere else.”

Showler notes that not being native to the United States has influenced her perspective of this pop-culture staple, in turn making her so compelled by the show. “I'm a US citizen, but I've never stopped being foreign. And one earnest thing I'll say is that I never would have written this book had I not come to Ohio, to Columbus, to Ohio State. The place I was writing from left its prints all over the book, and I'm grateful for it,” states Showler.

Most Dramatic Ever is Showler’s first nonfiction book. Her first two books were poetry collections, Thing Is (McClelland & Stewart 2017) and Failure to Thrive (ECW 2014). She addresses how being a poet who writes about The Bachelor on the side might seem random, but through her writing she has found substantial commonalities between the two areas. “My last book of poems, Thing Is (which came out in March of last year and which I wrote while at Ohio State) turned to thought experiments, and metaphysics, and a surprising number of dirty jokes as ways of romping around with those obsessions. And then, next, I went to town on The Bachelor, which is all about storytelling, the engineering of subjective experience, how we interpret reality or truth. It's all the same fascinations, just applied to a slightly different-seeming thing,” says Showler.

By Madalynn Conkle