Some read detective novels for escape, but I’ve never cared for them. Some gamble, some drink, some look at porn online.
My vice is a bit different: every now and then I follow a reality TV show. I’ve written about some of these before (nope, I’m not going to provide the links), and now I have another reality TV confession to make.
Never the Kardashians; but the one I watch isn’t much less trashy. Maybe it’s even worse: I’ve taken to watching this year’s group of young and beautiful and in some cases quite empty-headed singles, cavorting about on a Mexican beach and falling in and out of love and lust and angst.
“Bachelor in Paradise.” Yes. My degradation is complete.
Why? Why do I do it? Maybe it’s the perfect escape from Trump and Hillary, maybe it’s my substitute for a soap opera, which it much resembles. But it struck me recently not only how silly and manipulative the show is, and how much I enjoy it nevertheless (or maybe for that reason), but also how certain moments in it remind me of the eternal verities of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
You may laugh. Indeed, you might do well to laugh. “Neo,” you may say, “are you kidding me? Don’t you just want to put a veneer of culture on this terrible piece of trash so that you can feel better about your nasty habit of watching it?”
Well, maybe. But I’m actually quite serious about the connection. The play—one of my favorites—is about the intensity and yet the absurdity of unrequited love, and in the play there’s a magical flower that makes everything right and has the lovers all happy and coupled up at the end. In “Bachelor,” the resolution is not that simple, although there have been very real marriages that come of meetings on the program.
And by the way, this is the first time I’ve ever watched it. This season’s “Bachelor in Paradise” features a woman named Ashley who has been in love (for a year, because this is her second time on the show) with a man named Jared. Hopelessly in love, that is. Where once he led her on a little bit, now he’s trying desperately to head her off. But Ashley’s having none of it.
Rather much like the characters Helena and Demetrius in “Dream.” So I started to think that what the TV show really needs is Puck with his little squeeze of flower power. What ABC wouldn’t give for a squirt of that!
If you’re still with me here, I’ll illustrate what I’m talking about with a short clip from “Paradise” and one from “Dream.” First, let me point out that each lovers’ roundelay takes place in a sort of fantasy world, where the young lovers are taken away from their usual environments but then become subject to manipulations by powerful beings (in the case of “Paradise” it’s the producers and host Chris Harrison; with “Dream” it’s Oberon and Puck). The dance of love becomes very intense quite quickly.
Here we have Ashley and Jared talking. It ain’t Shakespeare, more’s the pity. But the sentiment is the same, although I wonder whether either of them has ever seen “Dream”:
And here’s a rather unconventional 1968 production of “Dream,” with quite a cast from the Royal Shakespeare Academy, including Diana Rigg here as the spurned Helena chasing after Demetrius (later on, the Titania is the young Judi Dench and Helen Mirren is Hermia, but in this scene the guy looking on intermittently is Oberon). Demetrius is a good sight meaner than Jared:
Perhaps the most famous line in the entire play is uttered by Puck on watching (and orchestrating) some of the ins and outs, backs and forths, of love: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Puck feels above it all because he’s not human. But for the rest of us (and that includes me) there’s no reason to feel so superior.