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Articles published in the Richland County Bar Association's Richbar News

The Final Rose

January 2, 2014Richbar News Articles

Florida State trails Auburn 31-27 in college football’s BCS Championship game.  13 seconds left on the clock.  FSU’s Heisman-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, has just engineered a six play, 78 yard drive to the Auburn two.  Now he takes the snap.  He drops back, whips around, leaps, and hits receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone!  Touchdown!!  Benjamin hangs on as the Auburn defense tries furiously to strip the ball from him, and FSU hangs on to win the last — and possibly the most thrilling – title game in BCS history.

Unfortunately, I’m blissfully unaware that this is occurring.  I’ve forgotten the game was even on.  Because (ashamed as I am to admit it) I’m watching The Bachelor on ABC.

For those of you who don’t know what The Bachelor is, here’s the premise:  a single “bachelor” who (despite stunning good looks, great job, six pack abs, and the complete absence of any chest hair) somehow cannot find that “special someone” to complete his life.  So ABC invites 25 women to the “Bachelor Mansion” in the California hills.  Alone or in groups, the Bachelor takes the women out on “dates.”  At the end of each episode there is a “Rose Ceremony” where the Bachelor hands out red roses to the ladies he wants to keep.  Didn’t get a rose?  Sorry.  Pack your suitcase.  Extra points for crying into the camera.

Much of The Bachelor is horribly contrived.  Back home, the “Bachelor” probably does not live in a mansion.  His daily driver is not a Bentley Flying Spur convertible.  His real life dates probably involve skydiving only sometimes.  The 25 women living in the mansion probably don’t consume 8 liters of Carlo Rossi Paisano per day at home, or cry uncontrollably on the bathroom floor for four hours.

ABC’s formula is to pack a lot of people into the same place, make them all compete for the same thing, and add a lot of alcohol to fuel the fire.  (You know — like law school).  Then they cut and edit the whole mess to create heroes, villains, and storylines.  (You know — like litigation).

The success rate of this formula in achieving the shows stated purpose?  17 seasons of The Bachelor have produced exactly one marriage.  That’s less than a 6% success rate.  How bad is that?  You could join e-harmony, post a profile picture of yourself wearing an eyepatch and cape while holding a trident, use an email address ending in “correctional.gov,” and still have a better chance of success.

But still, it’s great television, and here’s why: The Bachelor never loses site of the three things that power human behavior:  Hope, Change, and Fear.

Think of these three things as the “battery” that provides the motive energy for almost all of what we do.  At the positive terminal is Hope;  at the negative Fear.  Change is the current that circulates between the two as, dozens of times each day, we take stock of the ever-changing flow of events to determine what they mean for our future.  We hopefully embrace (and try to make) changes that will lead to a better life.  Meanwhile our doubts and fear of sudden change (like something bad happening to a loved one) are broadcast on another,  lower channel.  Sometimes that low frequency channel gets a power boost at night, like an old AM radio station, and keeps us awake.

It’s just how we’re wired.  It’s also why we love stories of transformation. Tragic downfalls, from Icarus and Oedipus to the E-True Hollywood Story. And we love stories of transcendence even more – from the FSU Seminoles to the girl who gets the “final rose” on The Bachelor.   

But it’s exactly because we are so moved by Hope, Change and Fear, that others can use it to influence us.  Have you noticed how many Weight Watchers ads run on television at New Year’s Resolution time?  And how every chain store in America is running a sale on fitness equipment?   What about politics?  Has there ever been a more effective and simpler marketing message than Obama’s 2008 “Hope and Change” campaign?  Even when America got a lot less “change” than advertised, there was enough juice left in that battery to power through another election.

So that’s the downside of our Hopes, Fears, and desire for Change.  Because they’re subjective, they can be used as easily to manipulate as they can to entertain.  With its 11% success rate, The Bachelor proves they’re a bad way to choose a spouse.  Unfortunately, our track record of electing politicians in the age of marketing has been little better.

College football at least, realizes this.  Next year, the subjective, voting-and-computer ranking BCS will be replaced by the “College Football Playoff.” Now, teams will play a bracket-style tournament to determine the true National Champion.  It’s a change for the better that many feared would never come.  That gives hope that one day we’ll start electing politicians based on what they’ve objectively accomplished, instead of how well they’re marketed (or maybe they can just face off in the Thunderdome).

Until then, happy new year, everyone.  Hope it’s a great one.

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