Why do we love reality TV so much?
Here’s one perspective. Academic jargon aside, I think there’s an interesting point here:
In season 11 of the ABC reality television program The Bachelor, bachelor Brad Womack refused to choose a mate, thus breaking the romantic contract that is the essence of this reality show. In doing so, Womack exposed the emptiness of the mythic romantic script, prompting both invested outrage and ironic detachment among viewers. An analysis of the contradictions upon which the show’s fantasy founders (thus encouraging an ironic response), alongside exploration of fan discussion board discourse, confirms the capacity of audiences to maintain simultaneous earnest investment and ironic reflexivity toward the program. This oscillation of stance signals a textual strategy that I label the irony bribe. The irony bribe corresponds to the paradoxical epistemology of reality television; viewers can regard the program as “real” and “not-real” and therefore worth viewing and worthless at the same time. A counterpoint to Fredric Jameson’s concept of the fantasy bribe, the irony bribe wins viewers to participation in an ideological discourse by tempting them not only with the fantasy, in this case, of mythic romance, but also with the pleasures of the reaction against taking the fantasy seriously. Viewers’ creative and critical responses to The Bachelor do not necessarily mitigate its ideological conservatism with regard to gender and romance; rather, they may naturalize its worldview, ironically, in the process of denaturalizing it.
Source: “The Irony Bribe and Reality Television: Investment and Detachment in The Bachelor” from Critical Studies in Media Communication
Maybe the best TV series ever.