I love the Bachelor. I don’t know what I prefer, the drama or trying to imagine how these women or men were wound up to actually react that way. The excellent UnReal which centred on a fictional Bachelor called Everlasting, created by Gertrude Sarah Shapiro, an ex-handler on the reality show, and depicted how a high-pressure environment provides the perfect storm for diverse forms of manipulation, psychological abuse and gaslighting. In effect, this perfect storm is one of the main ingredients of reality TV. Put twenty people with in a constrained space, have them only be able to communicate with each other, and systematically deny or ridicule any attempt to break the rules of the show, and you’ll get some mental breakdowns.
Replace the Bachelor with Oxford, and I do not think my analysis is unfair. Not only does Oxford thrive on smaller insular environments, but it also demands to be able to fit in a certain mould to be socially successful, and emotionally and psychologically balanced. And much like the Bachelor, one must be able espouse the values that Oxford upholds, which I found to come back to excellence and tradition. I do not want to say that these values are bad, but when you find Oxford traditions only worthy of an eye-roll rather than your time, and that ideas of excellence are class and race-biased, then you are more likely than not to feel cause for concern. This creates a particular kind of anxiety and stress that I would like to develop; that of not belonging.
The point of the Bachelor and Oxford is that the rules of the game, the power structures do not get questioned, because this is the way that things are. We are offered a monolithical system where either you fit in, or you get ridiculed. The Bachelor has a long-standing tradition of heavily editing contestants for entertainment value, while I find myself in the nifty position of often being depicted as annoying, antagonizing, aggressive, abrasive, and first and foremost, bitchy, because what better way to dismiss a gay man’s opinion?
Much like in the Bachelor, a refrain I find myself hearing often is “I signed up for this.” These words are said about almost every Bachelor contestant. When these women suffer from psychological abuse akin to torture, people brush it off as “signing up for this.” As a response, I will leave it to Shapiro, who expressed her views on this issue: “For a layperson to understand what that’s going to be like is really impossible.” This is also what I find myself thinking every day at Oxford. I could never have imagined what it would be like here. The immense academic potential. Having people tell me that they were sick of being told they were bad for being white. Being at my friend Heather’s kitchen, drunk off Espresso Martinis and realizing that I had found a friend for life. Being told that there is respect to be had for the homophobic French march La Manif Pour Tous because they have convictions…
My relationship with Oxford is complex and deeply flawed, and I think that less people are willing to admit this, and more willing to suppress it in the interest of self-preservation. I will freely admit that I could make more of an effort. I could be less overtly political whenever I get the chance. I could attend my College Ball, instead of going back to my hometown of Paris. I could try and appreciate it. But what I will not admit is that I signed up for this knowing what it would be like. What happens at Oxford is so different from what I could ever have predicted. Neither I nor Bachelor contestants knew what we signed up for.
There is a silver lining. The typical Bachelor contestant has a questionable job (my personal favourite being “Chicken enthusiast”), looks like a model, wants a family and love and is fully committed to the idea of a domesticated life. This is not to ridicule these values, but rather to say that these are people who fit into a mould dictated by the show and successfully tap into certain expectations. Enter Sharleen.
Sharleen competed in Juan Pablo’s season, and immediately stood out. An opera singer, poised, elegant and smarter than the average contestant, since her favourite book was not The Bible but Kafka on The Shore. Sharleen proved herself to be clever, fun and altogether too good for the show from the viewer’s standpoint, not hers.
Sharleen was different from another more recent contestant. Sharleen kept being Sharleen, and let more typical Bachelor girls like Clare be Clare. It’s probably not Clare’s fault that she fits into certain standards of femininity, and more the fault of institutionalized pressures on women, much like certain types of conservatism in Oxford are to be understood in the light that not everybody was exposed to people that are different from them, something which stems from a classist society rather than individual moral fault.
It’s tempting to watch the Bachelor to mock the women; it’s tempting to hang out with people that are too different from you, since in the end you do enjoy piping out outraged views, because deep down, like everybody else here, you know that you are right! Let it go. Lean on the ones you love. Let go of people who are clearly not bad people, but not for you. I don’t let go of things easily, but I have of some things here. So you can do it too.
Sharleen came out of the show without compromising her values, her personality, or her ambitions. And this, belonging or not, is what we should all strive for in Oxford. So if you fit in, good for you! But if you feel like this belonging is a product not of your personality, but rather that you want to please people, or you’re afraid that you’ll be judged or ostracized, remember that when you leave Oxford, Oxford will be done with you, just like the Bachelor. Nobody remembers the Kaylas and MacKenzies that came and went. And if these girls had nothing more than an ability to please, then I wish them the best. But honestly, I’d rather be Sharleen.
You did not sign up for this, so if you are anxious because you do not belong, it is not your fault. Watch the Bachelor. You might come out with a life lesson or two.