I have a confession: I watched this most recent season of “The Bachelor.” I have a gut-wrenching instinct to apologize for this because, “as a feminist,” I should be ashamed of watching something so terrible, right?
Too bad, “as a feminist,” I’m also learning how not to apologize for doing something people think I shouldn’t do. Too bad shame isn’t useful and learning to resist it is an invaluable part of my feminist journey to be a whole and happy human being. So here’s to empowered engagement with all of the horrible things patriarchy, capitalism, and oppression throw at us! I watched the whole season of “The Bachelor” and I’ve got a thing or two to say about it.
If you’ve heard anything about Season 18 of the show, you’ve probably heard all the talk about the bachelor himself, Juan Pablo Galavis, being a total jackass. Unfortunately, there’s a pretty good chance this is true. There are, for example, the homophobic remarks, the slut-shaming, and the other generally offensive things he’s decided to say to women.
But that’s not what I want to write about. While all of the above is totally gross and horrible, we have to take in to account that Galavis was the star of a reality television show, meaning, what we saw of him may not actually be a reflection of reality. It is also absolutely necessary to ask ourselves what it means for Galavis to be the first Latino bachelor to star on the show. Whether conscious of it or not, how did racial stereotypes of Latin American men as “macho womanizers” seep into the producers’ editing of the show? Despite being blonde and blue-eyed in true all-American fashion, Galavis’ Venezuelan accent marks him as “foreign,” as not/un-American, and it would be naive to think that this didn’t mediate the way he was perceived by both producers and audiences.
There may be a variety of reasons that the producers of “The Bachelor” had an interest in making Galavis the bad guy. However, the reason that stood out so starkly in the show’s final episode was that Galavis refused to buy into the premise of the show the way everyone expected him to.
On the show’s final episode, all the contestants get back together to discuss the highs and lows of the season. Galavis entered the stage to a chorus of booing. The show’s “winner,” Nikki, didn’t get the same negative reaction but that’s because, apparently, we’re all just supposed to feel bad for her. We’re supposed to feel bad not because she ended up with a (potentially) slimy guy like Galavis, but because Galavis didn’t ask her to marry him. To the outright horror of the shows producers and “Bachelor” fans far and wide, Galavis ended the season by telling Nikki that he didn’t want to propose because he wasn’t 100% sure he loved her. HOLD. THE. PHONE. HOW DARE HE??!??!?!?
Oh… wait… wait no. No, that’s actually a totally reasonable thing to say. Unless you’re the star of a show dedicated to making happily married folk out of conventionally attractive white people who’ve spent 2 months going on lavish and unrealistic dates involving 25 other people, of course.
The major issue here, was that Nikki had told Juan Pablo that she was in love with him several months earlier. “The Bachelor”’s host, Chris Harrison, was visibly distressed by this shocking turn of events. He spent the better part of his interview with the couple trying to coerce Juan Pablo into confessing his eternal affections. At one point, Harrison admitted, “I don’t know what I’m looking at.”
I don’t know what I’m looking at.In Chris Harrison’s world, any relationship that isn’t on a fast track to heteronormative monogamous marriage is a relationship with no name.
I’m not naive. It’s not like I’ve ever expected anything radical or progressive from a reality show that buys into so many toxic notions of masculinity, femininity, marriage, family, and love that I wouldn’t know where to begin to catalogue them all. But I guess I just thought they’d try to do a better job of hiding it. I guess I expected them to spout propaganda about the inclusivity of “The Bachelor,” to claim that it tells the stories of real lives and real relationships. I honestly didn’t expect Harrison to be so glaringly obvious about the fact that it’s all a contrived fantasy.
Because, really, which one of these resonates more with real life: falling in love and getting married after knowing someone for 2 months or falling in love in different and complicated ways and having to navigate the rocky terrain of human to human connection in an imperfect and messy way? I don’t know about you, but I’m voting for the second option. In the words of the Vancouver Sun’s Misty Harris,
“[the reason] why, days later, tongues are still clucking over the hit show’s controversial conclusion: not because ABC’s prince turned out to be a toad, but rather because that toad publicly, petulantly refused to jump at producers’ command – and pulled back the curtain on one of TV’s longest running games of make-believe as a result.”
Harrison outlines his rationale for allowing the show to be the exclusive fantasy it is in an interview about the potential for there to be a gay bachelor, or a bachelor who didn’t conform to normative standards of attractiveness. His response was this:
“Look, if you’ve been making pizzas for 12 years and you’ve made millions of dollars and everybody loves your pizzas and someone comes and says, ‘Hey, you should make hamburgers.’ Why? I have a great business model, and I don’t know if hamburgers are going to sell.”
THIS JUST IN: STRAIGHT PEOPLE ARE PIZZA. QUEER PEOPLE ARE HAMBURGERS. Whahaaaat?? Couldn’t we imagine it more in terms of the current “Bachelor” being cheese pizza and different adaptations of the premise being ham and pineapple, or pepperoni, or deluxe, or REALLY ANYTHING ELSE BECAUSE WE’RE ALL JUST REALLY SICK OF ONLY GETTING CHEESE PIZZA ALL THE TIME. Harrison continued to say, “is it our job to break barriers, or is it a business? That’s not for me to answer.”
Ahhhh. Well now we’ve reached the bottom of a deep well and capitalism is not about to throw a rope down and help us out. It’s okay to be unethical, or to ignore ethical considerations, when business is at stake. But, why isn’t it Harrison’s job to answer that question? Why can’t we hold him accountable to the ethical considerations regarding “The Bachelor” franchise? What might happen if we dared to imagine that we have a right to expect more representativeness from our media?