September 8, 2017

KYLIE’S ROOM | Paradise Lost: How the Bachelor Went from Fairytale to Nightmare

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I am not ashamed to admit it, but I am an avid Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise watcher, debriefer, and obsessor. For the last six months or so, my Monday and Tuesday nights have been dedicated to watching who gets the first impression rose, the ever-coveted one-on-one date, and finally the Neil Lane ring.  The franchise’s premise is a bit unorthodox; one person dates 25 people over the course of about 12 weeks in the hopes of getting engaged, then weeks later the Bachelor/Bachelorette rejects get shipped off to Mexico to find love in Paradise. It seems weird, but somehow it works. The Bachelor franchise offers viewers the fairytale experience without having to leave their couches. The show transports viewers to a mansion filled with beautiful women dressed in evening gowns, or handsome men in tuxedos. They get to experience extravagant dates at 5-star restaurants and jet off to Europe, all within the span of a two-hour episode. Viewers get to fall in love with the 25-person cast each season, watch the lead fall in love, and root for their favorites to be thrown on the spin off series. 

That being said, although the franchise brings fairy tale endings to the living rooms of viewers all across the country, the show itself is not without its problems. And although the show wants to depict nothing more than a simple story line, the past six months or so within the franchise have been fraught with scandal after scandal that have forced the show to address real life issues—issues that for fifteen years it has chosen to actively ignore. But in such a politically and racially polarizing time in America, instead of addressing issues of race and prejudice directly, the show has opted to exploit and perpetuate racial stereotypes—all in the name of good television.

An example that comes to mind is the confrontation between Kenny and Lee from the most recent season (13) of the Bachelorette.  In this instance, Lee, a white man, had invented stories about Kenny, a black man, being aggressive towards him. The accusations turned into a heated verbal incident where Lee was confronted about the racial implications of his remarks, which he shrugged off.  Here there could have been an opportunity for a dialogue between the contestants, or the matter could have been closed, but production chose instead to prolong the situation. Production proceeded to draw out the “battle” between these two characters for two episodes, showing footage of Kenny with a bloodied eye, shouting, etc., as teasers to the next episode where they had Kenny and Lee ‘face-off’ in a two-on-one date. This is where I find that the Bachelor producers did their fans a disservice.  Instead of addressing how Lee’s insinuating that Kenny was aggressive perpetuated negative racial stereotypes about black men, they chose to exploit Lee’s ignorance and play into his misgivings about Kenny. Instead of taking the opportunity to speak about how Lee’s actions were wrong and how his accusations generalized and reinforced stereotypes about black men in America, production instead chose to exploit the situation to create dramatic television.

A second and equally troubling incident that clouded the fairytale narrative of the Bachelor franchise was that of the Corinne and DeMario pool incident on Bachelor in Paradise.  Cast members DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios were recorded having a drunken, sexual encounter on set – which brought up questions of the ability to give consent while under the influence of alcohol.  On June 11, 2017, Bachelor in Paradise production was suspended due to allegations of misconduct until an internal investigation concluded that no sexual misconduct had been performed. Here, where an opportunity arose to have a frank conversation about the ramifications of how the media had portrayed both Corinne and DeMario, or to have a discussion about alcohol and the ability to give consent, the Bachelor production team failed once again. When the issue was addressed, its analysis was superficial and admittedly uncomfortable. The host, Chris Harrison, asked the contestants what they thought of the issue, and while some did express the belief that a lot of the poor media coverage Demario received was due to race, there was no further discussion. And when asked about Corinne, the contestants still proceeded to shame her. Here, Bachelor production had the opportunity to control the narrative, and they did—by saying nothing until it suited them. While DeMario and Corinne were both being crucified, production said nothing. Corinne was slut-shamed, and DeMario villainized.  But once it was decided that they [production] were not at fault, they chose to capitalize off of an unfortunate situation. They aired raunchy footage of Corinne and DeMario in the moments leading up to their tryst and drew out coverage of the events over multiple weeks. There was minimal discussion about the ramifications of the events in either Corinne or DeMario’s life, how race plays a role, etc.  

Although watching the Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise is my way of blowing off steam, the show does not provide the fairytale that it once did. Once just a show about one-on-one dates, first impression roses, and the Neil Lane ring, Bachelor franchise shows are now impacted by real world events. But instead of addressing these issues head on and doing them justice, their production team chooses to exploit and belittle them for ratings.  I can no longer condone a show that celebrates virgin shaming, slut shames its Bachelorettes for the same activities its Bachelors do, sensationalizes and profits off of racism, and lets its contestants say that Mexico is “shaped like a quesadilla.” Although I like the fairy tale endings that they provide time and time again, the show’s producers need to be challenged—they need to be responsible and recognize what an important status and influence they wield as a nationally popular television show.