[I was asked to contribute to The Wilted Rose, and this is my submission from that time, November, 2019. I'm reprinting it as I work on my column about recent events with Chris Harrison. Because, surprise surprise, these words are still relevant! More soon.]
We all know and love The Bachelor. Yep, it's a guilty pleasure - of that we are all well
aware! But what excuses ABC and this mega-franchise from accountability? In short, nothing really should. Yet, time and time again, those involved with the popular show consistently backpedal and shrug their shoulders as if simply nothing can be done about diversity on their own program. As if they're not in charge of their own casting?! Yeah, right.
We, as the audience (and fervent members of Bachelor Nation), are expected to turn a blind eye and play along. But as the years (and, in the case of The Bachelor itself, decades) roll by, the lack of diversity - especially when it comes to casting the leads is frankly inexcusable. Plus, maddening, hurtful, rude, and shortsighted - I could go on. And on.
So, what are the top brass doing about it? Well, exactly nothing. Here's the latest from host Chris Harrison:
[“It was incumbent on us to change that narrative, and we have done that,” Harrison said. “Over the last several years, we have taken great strides in … trying to make you feel more represented. While I would love to only make great social statements and really change the world, I can’t just do that because we have to stay on the air … or I’m not making a social statement to anyone.”]
So... casting another black lead - such as Twitter was clamoring for for months when it came to begging for Mike Johnson to be the next Bachelor - is just not doable as a social statement because that means they won't be able to stay on the air? I'm sorry, but I've got to call bullshit. Remember how "Grocery Store Joe" was on Becca Kufrin's season of The Bachelorette for one night? And how the outcry was so massive when he got eliminated that they decided to put him on Bachelor in Paradise as a direct reaction to the social media traction? Well, the same phenomenon happened with Mike - except Mike was around for weeks during Hannah Brown's season, leading to a nonstop five-month campaign on behalf of Bachelor Nation in a quest to help secure him as the next Bachelor. And yet... nothing happened. They didn't even approach him to be the lead! (Nothing against Grocery Store Joe, but come on!)
[We asked for Mike. Instead we got Peter. We all know how that went! Announcer voice: "It did not go well."]
It seems that viral campaigns work when it fits the franchise's narrative - and is conveniently absent when it doesn't. Alllll those people hoping for Mike - yet that's not enough to convince ABC that more than enough viewers would tune in to see him? What Chris is saying about not being able to stay on the air boils down to this: they're playing it safe for the advertisers while catering to a demographic that only wants to see a certain type of person on their screen. You can guess what kind of person I'm talking about.
In the end, The Bachelor absolutely COULD make "great social statements." They COULD, in fact, change the conversation while helping shift things in this country. It turns out they just aren't going to - because they don't want to, nor do they have to. They've got us in a bind: we want to tune into our favorite guilty pleasure; and ultimately, we still do, no matter what. They know this, and they bank on it - literally - with our eyeballs equaling their lucrative advertising dollars.
[Mike paved the way and now Matt James is our current Bachelor. It only took a deadly pandemic of racial injustice to get the franchise to cast a male lead! ]
I'm not sure what the solution is, but all I know is that I'm going to keep clamoring about it here. We might still be tuning in, but we won't stay quiet about it.