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  • Writer's pictureSusannah Powers Stengel

BLACKchelor(ette) Nation

Can The Bachelor itself finally be “here for the right reasons”?


Spoilers For: A panoply of representational failures in love via reality television.

It’s time to find out. Without further ado. Like, right now. Because both upcoming seasons of ABC’s twin-headed-eighteen-year-spanning elimination-love-story super franchise will star black leads. Finally. I thought Chris Harrison would die first. The show has never before in its twenty-four seasons of The Bachelor starred a male lead of color. The Bachelorette has only been led by one woman of color in its fifteen seasons. Rachel Lindsay, a sharp and captivating black attorney from Texas, called the shots in 2017. While I adored her season, The Bachelor has benefitted time and time again from the optics of Rachel’s star power run. ABC’s meagre dumbshow of diversity ends now.

Rachel Lindsay has been holding down this fort too damn long.

With Matt James (the upcoming spring lead of season 25 of The Bachelor) and Tayshia Adams (the oh-so-upcoming fall lead of season 16 of The Bachelorette), we’ll see black love stories in the mainstream primetime. Where they have always belonged. Two consecutive seasons of black leadership, plus a viral online campaign to increase Bachelor producers of color, may give way to, I hope, a new sort of Bachelor Nation.

Image 2 Credit: ET Online (Details Below)

The executive producers’ message above is a start, but it’s not nearly enough. Acknowledging their responsibility without blatantly apologizing is the coward’s way of saying that they have been perpetrating micro and macro aggressions for their show’s entire thirty-nine installment run. These aggressions have fed and enabled a mythos of white romantic exceptionalism.

The Bachelor helped build the vitriol and inequities of our time. They sheltered their white viewership in a regressive echo chamber.

They told us in their casting and hiring whose love mattered. And whose love mattered? White, safe, Christian heteronormative love. Brad Womack’s love mattered a lot apparently. (For the uninitiated: Brad Womack is the milksop, indecisive Texan who led his own season twice, once in 2007 and again in 2011). The creators of The Bachelor also told us whose love didn’t matter. There was one black woman out of the fifty total contestants on Brad’s seasons. She was eliminated night one.

And yet I watch. With avid, sincere, ironic, disappointed, scintillated excitement, I hang on every rapid-fire online update. I engage with this show more actively than any other franchise in which I participate because it is an ever expanding vault of post-post modern folklore, a social media gossip chain of causal mutual action. The Bachelor is vitally co-created by and through the reactions of its viewing audience. And thus far, the “journey to love” has been a complacent, inadequate, often racist trek. WE CAN DO BETTER. SERIOUSLY I WANT TO WATCH US DOING BETTER.

For each offense in Bachelor Nation, there is a baby photo. For every rape scandal or discrimination lawsuit, a gorgeous wedding or a wild redemption dances across my feed. Will fans continue to love Hannah Brown even though she used the n word on Instagram Live? Quite likely. Will we continue to be stoked about Matt James as the future Bachelor even after seeing footage of him breaking quarantine at a rowdy house party? Probably. We ride the wave of scandal, ready to forgive all in a mist of roses, tiddies, and helicopters. We wince at feminist, cultural, racial failures, but the show never stops producing more. We’ll take all the bad if we can just get one more meme of John Paul Jones eating chicken nuggets or one more bended knee. Or will we? Will you accept this rose as is?

Put down your nuggets people, and develop a hunger to remedy the ills of seasons past. This isn’t just about hot tubs and fantasy suites. It’s about appeasement, evasion, reductive Frankenbiting, reduced screen time, and unfair casting practices. It’s about the racism of willful ignorance and omission. Casting, producing, and engaging diverse storytelling on The Bachelor is an unfurling, delicious, terrifying barometer by which to measure the worth of our future collective soul. Because the fight for the soul of the nation and the fight for a new Bachelor Nation are the same fight.

In order to make The Bachelor a show where experiences of color are vital, the viewership itself must become more diverse. I don't want to lose its older, mainly white viewership base, I want them to change their lenses and join the party--the postmodern colorful love party that is. Let's abandon our devotion to regurgitative, sexist, rubber stamp love and make way for a much broader viewing base in the process. (Hello expanded demographics, advertising deals, more money, and richer stories.) Let us rethink Chris Harrison. (Fight me in the comments.) Let’s experiment with the experiment. I’d love to see this show become a colorful site of conversation and change.

Can we tell BIPOC love stories made by BIPOC producers for a BIPOC BACHELOR NATION?

This nation doesn’t exist yet. We have to build it together. As a hopeless romantic with a heart full of hope and a head full of worst case scenarios, I say we better fucking try.

We have to allow The Bachelor’s history of virtue signalling and white privilege apologetics to evolve into a future of self-criticism, and even allow for the presence of productive shame. Shame catalyzes all sorts of little revolutions. The Bachelor has been a machine for the white status quo. But it doesn’t have to continue on that path. As the streets come alive with peaceful protest against police brutality and continued acts of police brutality, The Bachelor media megabeast has everything to prove in creating a BLM future. It’s beyond about time.

The Bachelorette Season 16 will premiere on Tuesday, October 13th on ABC and star both Clare Crowley and our second ever black bachelorette, Tayshia Adams as bachelorettes. Get ready for some memes and recaps and new reality televisual norms for empowering love in full color.

Photo Credits:

Fight me in the comments. Especially about Chris Harrison.

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