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The Bachelor has been a show about white people finding love -- it was never built to handle racism

  • "It was never meant to be revolutionary; instead, it’s a well-produced, better-vetted take on the modern-day reality show. And it works," says Rachel Charlene Lewis. "White people like to watch other white people fall in love, especially in a universe that doesn’t make them face anything messier, like sexism or racism or the discrimination inherent in a world where everyone is happy, rich, skinny, and white. For better or worse, The Bachelor has perfected this utopia for the sort of white person who might ask why we can’t all just get along. This messaging, which was once unspoken, has only become louder in recent years as the franchise attempts to face its race problem. In venturing to remedy critiques that the show is racist — which have exploded during the latest season, starring Black, biracial lead Matt James — The Bachelor has instead only made its own stumblings more audible." The Rachael Kirkconnell controversy, says Lewis, "resulted in an explosion of years’ worth of racial tension that brought to life one simple fact: Maybe The Bachelor wasn’t a show that just accidentally didn’t think about Black people for 20 years. Maybe it was one that really and truly never wanted anything to do with Black people in the first place....No matter what the spinoff, The Bachelor has a specific narrative: Give audiences someone relatively easy to root for and give them a little bit of drama (but nothing too real), and keep those views on the up and up. It’s a show where life, and love, are easy. Meet a bunch of strangers, find your one and only, and live your happiest life. Anything too 'complicated' doesn’t fit into the Bachelor universe, and the inherent racism of our largest pop-culture franchises is nothing if not complicated. But, ultimately, love isn’t easy, interracial love even less so; nor is race, or racism, or the profound history of anti-Blackness in this country. Pop-culture franchises like The Bachelor may want to be able to skim the surface on race, but it’s impossible to merely skim something that warps everything it touches. As such, the series has become a prime example of what happens when a product shaped by the white gaze tries to give itself an 'update' without truly reckoning with its roots."


    • The Bachelor less Christian, and thus less moralistic, is one of several ways to fix the franchise: "This show is basically Sunday school softcore porn," says Alex Zaragoza. "For years The Bachelor has leaned heavier and heavier into Christian values, some more evangelical than others. Many past leads and contestants are devout in the faith, including Sean Lowe, Madison Prewitt, Hannah Brown, Colton Underwood, Tayshia Adams, and Jake Pavelka, which created a season where their virginity and conservatism took center stage, often to cringe effect. James led the women in prayer on the first night without considering that maybe some people wouldn’t be comfortable with that, but no one batted an eyelash. Likely because Christianity is the tacit standard of the show. While people of all faiths can and should be welcome on The Bachelor, the show has become increasingly moralistic, focused on purity culture, and reflective of the values of Christianity, setting a tone that can be exclusionary and right-leaning. As a result, anyone, but in particular women contestants, who don’t uphold those values are regularly slut shamed within an inch of their life. While Hannah Brown and Rachel Lindsay shared the importance of their faith with their suitors while still discussing (or engaging in) sex, politics, and their other beliefs in a non-judgemental way, some contestants and leads have been more rigid. That doesn’t leave much room for others, and it idealizes a specific set of ideals as the standard of love and romance, and it doesn’t always end well. It’s okay to be Christian, and for that to be the basis of your romantic interactions if that’s what you choose, but contestants and leads have sometimes crumbled under the pressure to fulfill those expectations. That Christian baseline also becomes a problem with regards to the racist overtones of the series, and how contestants who aren’t Christian or base their morality or choices in Christian values are treated."
    • Unreal co-creator and former Bachelor producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro says The Bachelor franchise has a bigger problem than Chris Harrison: “I don’t think it was just about this one season or this one girl at all,” she says. “I think it feels like a top-down problem in the franchise, and I’m glad people are starting to talk about it.”

    TOPICS: The Bachelor, ABC, Chris Harrison, Matt James, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, Reality TV