Monday, March 8, 2010

A Reading List for The Bachelor

Poor, stupid Jake Pavelka.

He certainly was in a brilliant position to begin with. A massive and enthusiastic harem; a moral carte-blanche from the American viewing public for the duration of the season; and the counterbalancing, conventionally reassuring knowledge that at the end of the lengthy tunnel of license (or, as repeatedly called it, his “awesome journey”) a loving wife would be waiting for him.

But then, after months of painstaking culls, what a terrible circumstance! After much sham-polygamy and faux-polyamory, he was confronted with a truly impossible decision. With Tenley and Vienna he had an almost perfect manifestation of the well-known “angel/whore dichotomy.” And, dichotomies being what they are, Jake—his carte-blanche suddenly turned a forbidding, unsexy, either/or shade of red—could not have both.

Why did he find himself in this tricky situation? Was it that the producers wanted an exciting finale, and told him to choose the most diametrically opposed contenders imaginable? Was it because, having spent the duration of the show doing whatever he wanted, he began to believe he could have his whore and angel too?

No. Jake Pavelka found himself in this difficult predicament because he had not read enough books, and as a result possessed a naïve understanding of human behaviour.

In a heart-rending and blubbery monologue, he told Tenley (I find I like her better when I call her “Tinsley”), “You’re incredible. You’re perfect. You’re so good. I’ve never met anyone like you. But I put you on a pedestal, and when I’m with you it all feels a bit forced.” Things didn’t feel natural with the angel. But with the whore Jake felt he could be himself. As a result he decided to marry her.

If only you had read Proust, you benighted pilot! From him you would have learned that there are no angels and no whores in this world—that there is no “self” at all, in fact, but rather a complex agglomeration of selves: numerous angels and whores of various degrees within each of us, which roles we perform as the occasion suits—what Proust calls “les moi en moi.” (You might have learned this for any number of other novels as well. Anna Karenina springs to mind as an example of a novel in which a too-constricted sense of the range of personal identities leads to catastrophic consequences.)

You ought also to have read Milton’s Paradise Lost. Satan, who would surely appeal to you on many other grounds—for you were, temporarily, “beyond good and evil”—has the following sagacious advice for you. In the very first book of Milton’s epic, Satan says to his followers,
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. 
The pedestal on which you tragically placed Tenley, in other words, was your own creation. To quote Milton’s disciple Blake, the “manacle” in which you found yourself caught was in fact “mind forg’d.” Tenley was no simple angel, as anyone not distractedly slobbering over the revolting Vienna would no doubt have noticed. She was even much prettier than the other—which is why she was so confused when you told her you found her physically unattractive. But you, Jake Pavelka—you poorly-read simpleton and cliché-loving oaf—misread the situation as a stereotypical dichotomy of the crudest sort. And picked the wrong side of it to boot!

And people say that literature is useless!

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