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In Which The Closets Are Completely Full

In The Nest


If the suburbs are dictated by anything it is process. Your whole life becomes a process: driving yourself home, picking up groceries, scheduling the DVR for Thursday night comedies. Dinner becomes a process. We do it now they way that we had done it when I was in high school. I set the table the same way I used to, using the same dishes. Every day is indistinguishable from the day before it, and even more frighteningly, the days are indistinguishable from when I was a much younger person and had the right to live here. And, of course, there is loneliness, which is the unfortunate side effect of living in the suburbs.

Most days, I am alone in our house. I say that it is our house, but really it is their house – my parents' house – and I live here rent-free.

I have started to use things I have not used in a long time: my Westmont Public Library card, the beat-up Volkswagen Passat I share with my siblings, things like grocery carts and garage door openers. And like an extended summer vacation, I spend long stretches of time in my bedroom, collecting things of my past. My bedroom is the only space that I truly feel belongs to me, and thus I have filled it with the objects of my childhood. In the chest of drawers I have crammed almost thirty spiral notebooks, filled with amateur short stories and torn at the edges, though I rarely open them or examine them. On one wall hangs a jewelry holder I bought last year, yet I have stuck jewelry on it that I have not worn in too long. They hang lifeless, my own Toy Story characters who resent my adulthood more than I do.

There are things, actual articles which matter here in a way they do not matter in the city. There is the ever important size of your house (“Yes, this room is 2,000 square feet! It was just so difficult to decorate.”), or the distance you live from Chicago celebrities (“You know that baseball player on the Cubs – yeah I live down the street from him!”), or the dollar amounts attached to your car (“I heard she got a BMW.”). These are conversations I used to have when I was a sixteen-year-old, a conversation that I may have even enjoyed at that time. Now they just remind me of my own perceived moral superiority.

My day is now filled with things much older people do with their time. The haunts I used to belong to in the city do not exist here. There are no coffee shops within walking distance; there are no new restaurants to explore. Instead, I have become acquainted with daytime television shows on the Food Network, for they play soundlessly as I hurriedly complete cover letters for job applications. And there are no people my age here left. The neighborhood used to be full of children when I was a child, and now it is full of middle-aged empty nesters. Or else, the twenty-somethings like me are hiding in their own parents’ homes, as ashamed of their return as I am.

But my parents are not ashamed of this difference they have with their neighbors. In their minds, I never should have left. It is not a Pakistani thing to leave home, especially if you are a woman. In some ways, they are right. If I had never left, I would never feel like leaving. And by coming back, I have set something right that was for so very long out of place. They had kept my bedroom the same way: my bookshelves line one wall, my closet full of clothes that I no longer fit into.

And even then, they are filled with the traditional Pakistani clothes, tailor-made for me in Pakistan. These are clothes that did not travel with me when I left for college, and did not accompany me on my eight-month stay in San Jose, California. They remind me too much of the questions we asked ourselves too often: Who would we have been had we never left?

Sometimes, I think I see those people, the alternate reality of my family. There are moments – when I am stepping out of the shower and looking into the foggy mirror, perhaps, or occasionally when I have reached the landing at the top of the stairs – where I know I have seen some figure waft past me. I freeze in my tracks, but I shouldn’t do that. Stopping and acknowledging only make it worse; you are letting them know you are aware of them. The only way to react is to let them know nothing is wrong with the situation in which they have put you.

This was not the first time I had seen something, nor am I the only one who has seen anything. In my family, we have each of us our own personal relationships with the beings in our home. One time, my sister saw a white shape in the basement from the corner of her eye – or rather, she saw its reflection in the large mirror on the wall. "It was a girl," she had said at the time, "A young girl." My brother had seen something similar while he was on the computer, and the white figure had been floating ominously near the underutilized treadmill. It had disappeared, leaving him unfocused and confused.

And of course, I have seen and heard these things for much longer than in recent years. Once, while visiting home from college, I heard the distinct sound of footsteps across our basement’s linoleum tile while I was doing my laundry. The rest of the basement had been dark, and I scanned the blankness with my eyes. I dared the thing to reveal itself to me; my words cracked in my throat. The fear was instantaneous, my mind traveled from sorting whites and colors to the worst possible thought: death. The water heater began to buzz, and I inched closer to it. If it was inside of it, I should not be afraid, I thought. But of course, nothing was there. Nothing was ever really there. With my heart beating violently, I returned to the laundry.

Now, I see these shapes and figures again. When I cross the hallway that is the threshold into our kitchen, I swear I see a flash of the same face, hear the same sound of footsteps. They enjoy waiting where you least expect them. They wait for my mother, the last out of the house, to leave for work. The door closes behind her, and there it is again – a face pale and shadowed! And just as soon as it is there, it is gone.

What has begun to frighten me most is that they never wait for the night; their contentment on waiting for my loneliness, ignoring daylight, makes them unsolvable. And where could they come from? Our house was built in 1987, which is by coincidence the same year I was born. The house has no more years on this Earth than I have, so how could it possess a history larger than me? These figures should belong in an older, more secluded place. Not here in a subdivision that was built during Chicago’s suburban boom. Of course, I understand now that they came into the place with us. And I have realized that I must become accustomed to them in the way that I have become accustomed to the rest of the suburban life.

The truth is we are predisposed to see these sightings. We were raised on jinn stories – demon stories. On visits to Pakistan when we were young, we would spend time on the farm in which my father grew up. And on the roof of the barn, we sat with our cousins, a lively gang of pre-teens, to hear the ghost stories from our older cousins. It was at times like these nights where my sister and I did not feel like Americans intruding on Pakistani tradition, where we insisted everyone speak Urdu and not English for our own sakes. In the time that we spent in Karachi, a large city, we stood out instantly at foreigners. My own broken Urdu was so obviously American, my accent made me pronounce things with difficulty. Here, in quite literally the middle of nowhere, I had learned to forget my failings as a Pakistani, and gave way to the breathy language of scary stories.

We began before night fell, but usually at sunset, anticipating the darkness with an unnatural pleasure. The oldest cousins told the scariest stories, and so we quietly let them begin, with a strange sort of glee that one has when it is known that there is a benign danger ahead. The stories were of people we knew, sometimes even farmers and relatives we had met with just that day. There was the story about the child who had been left out on the haunted swing alone, only to become deformed by a jinn. And then the story of missing jewels, where a witch, paid-off surely, held a séance to recover them. And then the endless stories of figures and shapes appearing before gravestones or underneath the neem trees at night. This last one, about the neem trees, was a favorite of my maternal grandfather’s, who utilized it as a way to scare his children from sneaking out of the house at night. And inevitably, it would be mentioned by someone that to say the word jinn aloud at all is a risk – they will float in the circle, invisible, to hover and listen to you. At this, we would all raise our heads to look into the darkness, hoping and not hoping to see something above us.

These stories are more potent to hear in rural Pakistan, for when night falls there are no lights around you for miles. You are enclosed in an endless shadow, except for the stars. There are millions of stars.

I left somewhere I used to belong to, and every day this weighs on my shoulders. At 3, I boarded a plane with my parents and left for the suburbs of a city where I was destined to be an outsider. My life up until college had been full of the depressed understanding that I would not be considered beautiful, funny, outgoing, or popular. After I had made the resolution to move to the city (for we always have called Chicago “the city”), I had been insistent on finding a place where I could come into my own. I am a late bloomer, I had told myself on maybe millions of occasions. And now I have returned to the suburbs, worse for wear surely, but not yet broken. The suburbs were not built to repair a person. And here again, I must comfort my own mind, coddling myself as a mother might a very spoiled child.

Sometimes I wonder if the ghosts I have seen are the images of myself I should know. The person I should have been, one who would never even have accepted the job that I had to leave. And because I am an immigrant, I am full of people I should have been instead of who I am now. Every choice and decision is an action with an equal and opposite action – an opposite me in an opposite life. And these are truly what jinns are: beings in a different dimension of our planet, attempting to figure out all of the things we must figure out here.

It seems that I should live as though I have fractured my pride, without an income and without a true home. And instead of scrambling, I have taken my time accepting my fate. I have become the real suburbanite. Take the cage door and swing it shut on myself. Here, there is no one to lock the door, but we do it anyway.

Hafsa Arain is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living outside of Chicago. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photos by Ayub Arain.

"See Birds" - Balam Acab (mp3)

"Master of None" - Beach House (mp3)

"A Town Called Obsolete" - Andreya Triana (mp3)


In Which We Consider The Art Of Cruelty

Armed With a Pin


As I was reading Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning a young woman was murdered by a stranger. When this happens, it is unnerving. It passes because we have to let it. But this was a friend of friend's, in a house that is down the street from mine, just after she got home from a New Year’s Eve party. Someone had followed her home, and stabbed her while her friend was in the bathroom. On the same block a woman was knocked down in the street twice, maybe by the same man, before and after she called the police to report the initial attack. A third woman was in her bedroom, in her bed, while a few friends slept on couches and on the ground in her apartment when someone, maybe the same man, came in and strangled her until she passed out. I think he also undressed her, but it's unclear. On the same block my friends were celebrating 2011 or 2012 together, and coming and going. It does not make sense. No part of it is all right. One awful side effect is that the rest of us are now mortal too, terrified by the uncontrollable and random cruelty that comes for us out of the dark when we do not think it can touch us. I wasn’t even there, I don’t really even know what happened, and I still couldn't sleep without falling into brutal dreams.

A year ago I was sitting in a sunny yard in Los Angeles when I first heard Maggie Nelson read from The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning. She shared a section on the writing of Paul Bowles' wife, Jane. I held my breath as she described Bowles' creepy deftness at revealing the bitter, dishonest underbelly of truisms. Her examination of Bowles’s story “Plain Pleasures” centers on two very reserved middle-aged people (Mrs. Perry and Mr. Drake) who are neighbors on an attempted date. The story results in their evident failure to connect, Mrs. Perry’s subsequent drunkenness, which leads her to drop her borrowed pearls in her gravy and proclaim that she is no one’s mashed-potato masher before she escapes the scene. The tale ends as she awakens the next day with the revelation of the possibility of rape, her unwitting aloneness, and what may be a failure of hope. This sounds like a sad ending, but more interesting to Nelson is that Bowles doesn’t actually ask us to read sadness into this, or feel badly about any of it.

jane and paul bowles When Mrs. Perry wakes up naked, alone, unaware of what happened the night before, she is happy: the "blacked-out lacuna at the story’s navel is one of literature’s most understated slivers of cruelty. But cruelty to whom? Indeed, one of the more remarkable things about Bowles’s stories is that more often than not they leave the reader not knowing how to feel." It’s not just wickedness but multivalence. "It isn’t so much that Bowles is out to tell us that the world is a cruel and cold place, and isn’t it a pity. Like many artists of cruelty, she is no philosopher. She is roaming a world of balloons, armed with a pin." Nelson is pointing out what we are eager to avoid, articulating the cruelty inherent in the mundane, the multivalent. The unremitting debunking of niceness in the world that interesting art performs.

But cruelty can spring from love too, and these two things are little more than opposite sides of a single coin. She discusses a line from William Carlos Williams, "The business of love is cruelty, / which, / by our wills, / we transform / to live together", which has long captivated her curiousity:

I don’t particularly agree with its temporal proposition — that the business of love begins as a form of cruelty, which can be subsequently (heroically?) altered, until we all get along. I do, however, like its calm admission of the coexistence of love and cruelty — its acknowledgement that they can exist within one another, rather than at opposite ends of the spectrum, or locked in an oppositional embrace. That there might be an alchemical, rather than a conflictual relationship between them. That the possibility of transformation is always alive, always ours.

Maggie Nelson is not exploring foreign turf, she is a cruelty artist herself. One of the most unnerving books I have read is her 2005 book Jane: A Murder, a memoir (in prose, poetry, and found text) that she wrote to explore the life, rape, and murder of her mother’s sister.


There was an argument going on, one with subtle terms.

Can anyone like blood the way one likes the mountains or the sea?

Two slugs turn the light of the mind into dull meat.

Answer me.

For pain comes not just in witnessing or bearing cruel acts, but when "frivolousness" is cut away, leaving nothing but the inevitable vulnerability of mortality to hang from the meat hook. In a chapter called "A Situation of Meat" Nelson expands on the deep horror implicit the fact that "the spectre of our eventual 'becoming object' — of our (live flesh) one day turning into (dead) meat — is a shadow that "accompanies us throughout our lives."

maggie nelson

The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning is not just a book about what happened or how to respond, it’s about how we address and interpret cruelty in art, how we look at that art, and where such spectatorship leaves us. This is also a book about looking for a response to questions of what it is to be cruel, to kill, what it is to die, on the one hand, and on the other of how to keep going regardless of the answer (which doesn’t always feel less awful). It is poetry, but also about something very real.

In The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, Nelson is clear that cruelty is a frightening focal point, unflinching regardless of our gaze. Naturally the author herself is dubious of contributing to its grip on us. In her introduction she cites the Buddha on the importance of avoiding the topic, and even Lionel Trilling, who says, "It is possible that the contemplation of cruelty will not make us humane but cruel; that the reiteration of the badness of our spiritual condition will make us consent to it." Regardless, we struggle with cruelty, flirt with it and worry over it.

This focus is not cynical. Rather, it stems from my belief in the paradoxical yet sage statement once made by the poet Fanny Howe, that "the point of art is to show people that life is worth living by showing that it isn't…"

The result, in this volume, is an attempt to get at the root of the action, the use or purpose or value of cruelty in art, whether such cruelty stays at a healthy remove or seeps out of its frame to touch us too closely. The ultimate goal is to make distinctions between what is worthwhile and not, to address but not resolve its problematic nature.


The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning takes the form of a most delicately constructed house of horrors that we enter through Antonin Artaud’s "theatre of cruelty" in the 1930s and takes us through performances and expressions and violent acts of cruelty of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. From the Texas Virtual Border Patrol Watch Program, which allows viewers to observe border checkpoints and report sightings of “illegal” people or activities, and the dissociation from reality such a creepy program encourages; to reality television in the form of Fear Factor and To Catch a Predator; discussions of spectatorship and the possibility of cruelty in art as catharsis; to Sontag and Arendt on the banality of evil and the effects of its depiction; horror films and objectification of victims to sacrificial or pornographic acts of violence reenacted in performance art; a careful if not exhaustive collection of the ways in which we have, as a civilization, recently hurt and been hurt by one another. And the roles we, when engaged in such cruel art, play as witnesses and victims.

Nelson is clear that the acting of observing cruelty should be and is a two-way street. Most important is that we really should not disparage the act of thinking about what we are seeing, reflecting, even meditating on it before we attempt to pass judgment and move on. But this is really hard. For example, a major focus of the book is that women are more often victims than aggressors, as Nelson knows well. And of course there is a great popular demand for glamorized cruelty against them (us). In Jane: A Murder she quotes Edgar Allan Poe:

’Of all the melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?’ Death — was the obvious reply. ‘And when,’ I said, ‘is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?’ From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also, is obvious — ‘When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’

She takes the case of a 2007 film Captivity, which stars Elisha Cuthbert as an extensively tortured “heroine” whose physical and mental defeat that looks a lot like torture-porn. This is not just readily available but an overwhelmingly popular trope of mid-aughts media. A counterbalance to the real life terrorism enacted at by the United States. At Abu Ghraib, for example.

When I saw Cuthbert’s face I saw not just the airbrushed image of another blonde actress pretending to be held in captivity and tortured and potentially terminated, but the nameless bodies of all the real brown people being held in captivity and tortured and potentially terminated, and this huge sexed-up, Aryan, crying face standing in the way…

On the other hand though she documents the efficacy of feminist efforts at staking a space for women in the arena. She cites Karen Finley, a performance artist whose work has often served as a protest against objectification and victimization of the body, and Marina Abramovic, as two of the most well-known and powerful actors in this field. But most striking was her description of performance artist Ana Mendieta’s work. I am so glad that as I read I could not find any more than a few still photographs of Rape Scene (1972) and Rape Piece (1973), in which she recreates the scenes of violent crimes (rape, obviously, and murder) and poses, naked in both cases, smeared with blood, for her friends to discover her.

Or 1973's People Looking at Blood, Moffitt, in which she pours chunky blood on the sidewalk and photographs people as they walk past it. Nelson has sought out and described films made of the performances, picking apart the discomfort they evoke in those who stumble across them, the deep unease she, a most sensitive observer above all else, experiences herself.

Distance or distinction of art from reality is very hard to maintain when we see a video of a performance of a violent act, or a television show in which a “criminal predator” is captured in the commission of a simulated act of cruelty. It seems very real. It might be easier when we read, when we have to turn each page to get more, and when we maintain control over all of our senses but sight. In creating a multi-scene theatre of cruelty for her reader and allowing so many works of cruel art to speak through her as a medium, in providing a window we are compelled to fog with our breath, Nelson affords us the opportunity to really look closely through her. She also encourages us to maintain autonomy:

The freedom is important. It allows for a dance; it allows you to see yourself dancing in reaction. There’s information there. Your choice to keep going can itself become a cause of puzzlement. Or, if you choose to abandon ship, you can then ponder the classic question, did I fail the work, or did it fail me? When, or what, was the tipping point, and why?

One reason the art of cruelty is so captivating is that it is not a simple force, easy to control. It bleeds quite effusively back into life. But Nelson does not talk about the early death of Jane Bowles, from a combination of alcoholism and related health problems (including acute aphasia and visual impairment brought on by a stroke), or the fact that Ana Mendieta died at the age of 36 when she fell from her bedroom window after fighting with her husband, sculptor Carl Andre.

When I got back home I placed scissors, mace and a rape whistle around my bed. As if they might help. It took me months to read the whole book and until the very end I felt like I was pulling myself forward through it with my fingernails — but I couldn’t stop myself from reading. For me there was not another way out of the situation. There was no way to undo, go back, erase, un-know. Not that my reaction was correct or that I felt it to be. I couldn’t fall back on the anonymity of a big city and chance, and I had to do something with my fear. And Nelson did not leave me without hope.

Cruelty isn’t just an external artifact, document, or technique. It is something we each have to come to our own terms with in order to keep going. Refusing to shy away from it might help, refusing to be cowed. But this is more likely to beget more violence than anything else. In a more compassionate gesture, Nelson shares a suggestion from Roland Barthes. We might claim, in his words, that a third term he calls the Neutral proposes "a right to be silent — a possibility of being silent…the right not to listen… to not read the book." Or in hers, "It allows for a practice of gentle aversion: the right to reject the offered choices, to demur, to turn away, to turn one’s attention to rarer and better things." It is this, a more compelling alternative to not reduce, simplify, ignore, or reconcile, which in the end "deserves to be called sweetness." This is our weird, unnecessary, thankfully unremitting capacity for compassion, the near enemy of both cruelty and love. The thing we have to learn to live with is that we tend to confuse love with sweetness, but love itself is not sweet at all.

Barbara Galletly is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Austin. She last wrote in these pages about the world burning. She twitters here and tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Welcome 2 Hell" - Bad Meets Evil (mp3)

"The Reunion" - Bad Meets Evil (mp3)

"Fast Lane" - Bad Meets Evil (mp3)


In Which The Bachelor Is A Sight For Sore Eyes

Love Fool


The contestants on this season of The Bachelor would like to emphasize that they’re not used to being around this many women. “I’ve always had more boy friends,” says one bachelorette in an interview. “I’m not a girl, if that makes any sense,” says another to the current Bachelor, Ben Flajnik. “I appreciate that,” he says.

We recognize this as the female misogynist’s standard line. They complain of “drama,” of women being cruel and catty, when of course they are the ones who have abandoned the communal duty of women to be kind to one another. Reality television is rife with these self-hating women — since the goal is often to portray them as petty and irrational, it helps to cast those who already see their fellow women that way.

This is part of what sometimes makes The Bachelor such a sorry display. This season the contestants target one woman, Blakeley Shea, 34, as being a slut — even though she has done nothing more than kiss Ben, who makes out with nearly all of them every episode. They make fun of her large breasts and her job as a cocktail waitress. “She’s the kind of girl your boyfriend cheats on you with,” says one contestant. When Blakeley, a former college softball player, excels in the latest episode’s baseball game, one of them says, “Who knew strippers could play baseball?” This is the first problem. These women have no respect for women.

But of course, the contestants tearing each other apart is only one attraction in the circus that is The Bachelor, in which women make lovesick idiots of themselves for our entertainment. The first episode features a parade of gimmicks, as the twenty-five contestants try to gain the attention of the singularly not-all-that Ben Flajnik, 28, who is like a goofier-looking Josh Groban with Paul Rudd’s voice.

One woman rides in on a horse. One comes wearing a massive hat, another a beauty queen’s sash. One contestant actually brings her grandmother, and Ben worries he’ll have to make out with her too. Emily O'Brien, 27, a PhD student in epidemiology, writes Ben an amazing rap — "Love is like disease, always spreading," she flows. "You can get it from a friend, you can get it at a wedding." One contestant whose name is Amber Bacon makes Ben lick her hand. "Did you know that was actually Canadian bacon?” she says.

Thus begins the season-long spectacle of indignities the women endure for the chance to date Ben, apparently the last man on earth. Ben takes upwards of twelve of them at a time on absurd "group dates," like downhill skiing in bikinis through the streets of San Francisco — because he’s looking for someone who’s up for anything, obviously. The contestants are made to perform a play written by children who may actually have promising futures in the entertainment biz. “Do a sexy dance!” they bark at the women during their "auditions." "Run in slow motion!"

It’s not only that the dates are ludicrous; it’s the glow of positivity all the traumatizing activities on the show are washed in. On a one-on-one date, Ben and a woman propel into a deep ravine. "Relationships are all about trust," says Ben; "I'm 'falling' for Ben," says the obviously terrified woman. Later she says it was the best day of her life. Most harrowing, though, is when Ben makes Emily the epidemiologist climb to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge. "I'd rather do anything than climb up a bridge," Emily says before the date. After having a panic attack while teetering on a cable several hundred feet above the ocean, she is reflective. "A bridge takes two things that are separate and brings them together," she says. "And here Ben and I are, two different people from two different places, different backgrounds, and we’re coming together. On this bridge.”

The contestants have to constantly chatter about how lucky they are, how perfect Ben is, and how magical the experience on The Bachelor is. It’s necessary for addressing the show’s major problem: its desperate need for filler. The episodes contain not even close to the action needed to accommodate their two-hour timeslot — instead they rely on several redundant "Coming up on…" preview segments, the rose ceremonies that drag on and on, and useless host Chris Harrison who appears at the beginning and ending of every episode to reiterate the format of the show. They also linger for endless uncomfortable minutes on the sobbing faces of the rejected contestants who hiccup and wipe snot from their noses, wondering aloud what they did wrong, as their cycle of humiliation is complete.

But the women’s effusions don’t just help to fill out the eighty-five-minute episodes; it goes deeper than that. "I think Ben and I have a really special connection," the contestants all gush, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are filler. It is clear from the very beginning that a majority of them have zero chance of winning Ben’s heart — they must appear so invested in him in order to rescue the show from pointlessness. In fact, nine minutes into the first episode, when a woman appears and says, "Hi, I’m Courtney, and I’ve been modeling for the past ten years," it is clear the way the season will end.

"Courtney is like a statue made of marble,” Emily says. “It’s really beautiful, but it’s cold and hard on the inside." Courtney Robertson, 28, is this season’s frontrunner and its villain, which makes for a compelling combination. She is weird and easy to hate, scrunching her mouth, sipping her signature glass of read wine, and borrowing Charlie Sheen’s catchphrase "Winning!" to sinister effect. She is also the season’s most gifted shit talker. "I hope I’m a sight for sore eyes. Because after the date with Elyse his eyes are probably pretty sore,” she says in a creepy deadpan. The other frontrunner is Kacie Boguskie, 24, a sweet baton twirler from Tennessee. She and Courtney are predictably contrasting female archetypes — fawning and innocent versus beautiful and manipulative, Snow White versus the evil queen.

These two are bound to be the last women standing. Ben was dumped by Ashley Hebert on the last season of The Bachelorette after proposing to her, and there has been some pretty clear foreshadowing that he could walk away empty handed again. He will choose the evil Courtney over Kacie B. in the finale, and Courtney will refuse his proposal; Kacie B. has a lock on being the focus of the show's sister series The Bachelorette. Make no mistake: only the promise of this sad end, not some desire to take part in Ben’s “journey,” will keep us watching.

Of all The Bachelor’s offenses, I think the worst is its self-seriousness. The greatest sin in the world of she show is to be guarded — Ben talks constantly about being "open" and "available," always asks the women about their past romantic lives and rewards the ones who seem to reveal the most. What’s cruel about this is that it is a good idea to take your guard down when looking for love in the real world, but it is almost certainly a recipe for embarrassment and heartbreak on The Bachelor, where there is such a small chance of finding lasting romance, and such a large chance of looking really stupid.

At least Flavor of Love and the show’s other trashy cable cousins didn’t act as if they were helping their contestants to do anything other than be on TV; The Bachelor actually portrays itself as a beneficial, therapeutic, or even spiritual experience, which makes it the most cynical of them all. Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields once said that love songs were "very far away from anything to do with love," and that goes double for love TV shows. The Bachelor was never about love — it was created with the knowledge that heartbreak is hypnotic.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Missoula. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Agnes Varda.

"Too Late" - Anneke van Giersbergen (mp3)

"Slow Me Down" - Anneke van Giersbergen (mp3)

"My Boy" - Anneke van Giersbergen (mp3)