Dear Co-it-all,

I have watched The Bachelor for a long time, but lately being a fan of the franchise has become an even bigger time commitment. Bachelors In Paradise started last week, which is two hours every Monday and then an additional hour on Tuesdays. My boyfriend gets annoyed at my TV hogging and my sister recently told me that devoting so much time to such a trashy, worthless show is a “disgusting” way to spend my time. I told her to shut up, but now I wonder if I should feel guilty. Give it to me straight: Am I gross for watching The Bachelor?   

First let me apologize—I would have gotten to your question sooner, but I had three hours of PVRd Bachelors In Paradise to catch up on. Ha! Hopefully it makes you feel better to have someone in your corner. On the other hand, it’s possible it makes you think that I am an intellectual equivalent of a Swiffer duster and therefor not qualified to offer advice. But let’s go with the former, since—if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the years of Bach devotion—it’s the value of an open heart.

I do hear what you’re saying re. the X-treme time suck. I feel like when the series first started it wasn’t a full two hours. And they definitely didn’t have Bachelors In Paradise, though it’s kind of hard to complain on that front since BIP is all of the best parts of The Bach with way more drinking and drama and reasons to believe that the human race is a bunch of sex-crazed scum bags.

To give your sister her due: The Bachelor is a kind of gross for a lot of reasons—it is totally sexist (and no, the introduction of The Bachelorette didn’t change that), preposterously vapid, and can be wildly exploitive—sometimes with people who are very clearly lacking in emotional stability.

For even more insight into the no-ethics-required attitude that fuels our favourite franchise, check out Unreal, which is a scripted drama (on Lifetime) about the behind the scenes antics of a reality dating show. And here’s the best part—it is written by a woman who used to be a producer on The Bachelor. Ever wonder how seemingly normal men and women are driven to behave like complete imbeciles in front of the camera? Let’s just say the real villains of reality TV are behind the cameras, which maybe sounds like I’m arguing your for sister’s side, but I’m not.

Because, as much as The Bachelor gives us a chance to pick apart perfect strangers from the comfort of our couch, it also allows us to pick apart the world we live in: our values, mores, prejudices, etc. Like when Kaitlyn had sex with Nick (before they were even in a fantasy suite!!!), and got attacked and slut shamed on social media. How horrible was that? And how demonstrative of a double standard?

Lainey Lui, who writes the amazing Lainey Gossip blog gave a Ted Talk a few years back about why gossip can be a powerful mirror, and why hating on gossip is itself a pretty sexist act. I won’t spoil it for you since it is totally worth a watch, but basically she points out that nobody gives guys (and girls who love sports) a hard time when they spend hours obsessing over why this player didn’t show up at practice or whether this coach is going to make that trade. Devoting hours to sports is somehow deemed a superior time investment…

Mind you, Lui wasn’t actually talking about The Bachelor (I’m pretty sure she hates the show), but her point absolutely applies here. The Bachelor is not dragging our society into the gutter—it’s mirroring where we’re at. (Don’t hate the player, etc.)

And if you don’t want to take it from me, take it from The Atlantic. The brainy monthly mag that generally covers politics and the global food crisis gave us this interesting analysis on the show’s handling of Chad. Side note: the next time your smarty pants sister comes over, be sure to begin a sentence with, “I was reading the most fascinating think piece on Bachelors In Paradise in The Atlantic…

You may also want to point out to sis that you are also not alone in being a smart, progressive, multi-faceted individual who happens to enjoy trashy television. Ellen Degeneres, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Aniston, Jimmy Kimmel and Sean fricking Penn are all fans. Sean Penn who flies to Haiti right after the earthquake also appreciates the delicious suspense of a rose ceremony. And why the heck shouldn’t he?

Not sure if you caught Renee Zellwegger’s essay in The Huffington Post this week. If you missed it, she basically railed against a society that would rather discuss whether or not she has had plastic surgery than whether our planet will survive global warming or peace in the middle east.

I agree with Zellwegger 100% in her assessment that women are unfairly targeted, but she lost me with the whole, “don’t we have more important things to discuss?” thing.

Because of course we do… but sometimes we would rather tune out the heartbreaking headlines rip open a bag of Cheetos and settle down into two hours of glorious inanity.

Because unlike Chad, The Bachelor (and The Bachelorette and Bachelors in Paradise) is not “all you’ve got”. It’s just something kind of silly that you really enjoy. Nobody’s brain is going to rot because of a few hours of frivolity. Now, let’s talk get back to what’s really important…

…like is Jared really going to hook up with one of the twins????