Graphic by Kristen Morse / Gavel Media // Photo courtesy of bc.edu

The Bachelor, Nick Viall, and the Epidemic of Awkwardness

Awkwardness is every millennial’s greatest unspoken fear, and this is no more evident than on Boston College’s campus. Every time we walk outside our dorms, there is the immediate threat of walking past a person we kinda know, but aren't close to and we are unsure whether or not to acknowledge them.

Everyone can relate to the experience of a retreat where you will inevitably take part in ice breakers during which you apprehensively share your name, major, hometown, etc. for 30 seconds only to forget the majority of the people you met on retreat by the time you return to campus.

We fear awkwardness so much that we’d rather avoid it altogether than risk confronting it.

One thing a lot of millennials love, however, is The Bachelor, and the current 21st season is as drama-packed and outrageous as ever. Nick Viall, a 36 year old yuppie from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the bachelor. Many students, including myself, spend Monday nights tuning into ABC with the hope that Nick finally sends the reality television scripted “villain,” 24-year-old Corinne's fake a** back home back to Miami.

But what I never loved—or understood—about The Bachelor franchise is that Nick Viall seems to be a huge fan favorite. He was originally a contestant on The Bachelorette for the 10th and 11th seasons, ending up as a heartbroken runner-up for both. He was then brought back for the 3rd season of Bachelor in Paradise, where he, again, failed in his “search for love,” and was eliminated from paradise. Yet, despite being either very egregious, rude, awkward, or a combination of all three, Nick was somehow loved enough by fans that he was chosen to be America’s current bachelor.

Nick is no less awkward in The Bachelor than he was in previous seasons. Having his “one-on-one date” Danielle M. meet his ex while they toured his hometown shows insight into how little a grasp Nick has on dating etiquette. Somehow, these seemingly well-adjusted female contestants put up with his moronic shenanigans, and we as viewers become invested in his quest for love as well, for some unknown reason.

Professor Kerry Cronin, a professor of philosophy and theology at BC, suggests that Nick Viall’s awkwardness boosts, rather than detracts, from his popularity. “It’s obvious that hookups dominate dating in this generation,” says Cronin. “And that stems from this generation’s allergy to awkwardness. Unlike past generations, you guys haven’t developed coping mechanisms for awkwardness, so you don’t know how to deal with asking people on casual dates, or having crushes on people.” So many millennials guiltily watch The Bachelor because it “offers a script that 'shows' how dating and courtship is 'supposed' to happen.”  

Better yet, since Nick Viall is so awkward, we simultaneously relate to him and feel repulsed by him. “Nick, with all his awkwardness and his flaws, acts as a real-life guideline for 'dating,' even though The Bachelor is an extremely warped version of what casual dating really is,” says Cronin.

Cronin is infamous for her “dating assignment,” in which she offers extra credit to students who ask another on an off-campus date and write a reflection on their time.

“I give this assignment because you’ve become passive in dating culture. The Bachelor is an example of how we use voyeurism to experience things and build our personal ethics.”

Cronin mentions Augustine’s Confessions, an autobiography on the early philosopher. “In his Confessions, Augustine talks about how he used to be obsessed with the theater in his youth. The theater allowed him to experience the intense emotions and experiences of the actors without actually having to deal with them himself.”

Even though ancient theater and The Bachelor have as much artistically in common with each other as Gone with the Wind and an Adam Sandler movie, we, much like Augustine, use it as a medium through which we can experience the mysteries of dating. We put ourselves in Nick’s shoes—awkward, misguided, Nick—and have apparently "real" human interactions through a TV screen. We put up a pretense of love, vulnerability, and honesty through our immensely relatable protagonist. However, because of this “passive dating,” we will never be able to get over that dreaded awkwardness when making an actual, vulnerable connection in real life.

Dating can only become a widely accepted part of our culture if we start confronting our awkwardness and communicating with one another despite our discomfort with vulnerability. So perhaps instead of tuning into The Bachelor at 8pm next Monday, leave the comfort of your dorm room and have a face-to-face conversation instead.

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