There is no denying the inevitable shame that is associated with watching reality television. However, the stigma attached to Reality TV seems puzzling considering its popularity and prevalence in pop culture. Reality TV captivates the minds of viewers nationwide. It has proved to be the prescription to cure all the woes of mundane life. Its commercial genre fuses popular entertainment and a self-conscious claim to the discourse, establishing new relationships between ‘reality’ and its representation. The same ‘reality’ aspect we are attracted to combats the very production of many of the most popular reality television hits. Much of our interest in the genre as a whole rests upon our desire for authenticity, though it paradoxically hinges upon our awareness that what we are watching is fictionally constructed to produce entertainment. One of the most entertaining is ABC’s hit series, The Bachelor. The rising popularity of the series gave way to Bachelor Nation, a franchise that has generated 86 million dollars in revenue, 4 spinoff series, international versions, and a zealous fan base. Despite the array of accolades The Bachelor has received over the years, it is important to note how its entertainment value comes at a cost, particularly in its representation of people of color.
One of the most problematic elements of The Bachelor is how the series continues to represent black women. Women of color on the show are tokenized; they never end up being a member of the ultimate union, simply serving the narrative and working to facilitate the romantic coupling of white people. Although the carefully selected pool of suitors always contains at least one person of color, they are never amongst the final two, or even the final four. This pattern was established from the very beginning of the series, as the only woman of color in the third season was eliminated in the very first week. In the fourth season, black contestant Karin fell under the constraint of stereotyping. Not only was she never seen interacting with the Bachelor, but she was only referred to in three ways: beautiful, high maintenance, and a great friend. Not only did this dehumanize her, but it limited her to a stereotypical representation. This reinforces the notion that women of color, in the series, serve to facilitate the union of their white counterparts. The way Karin was represented in season four resembles how women of color in later seasons are viewed relative to the extent that their actions work to frame the access a white woman’s contestant has to their fairytale ending ultimately serving as the dominant narrative.
Although The Bachelor’s racism in the past may have been overt and not easy to decipher, this season’s bachelor has brought the series’ racist tendencies to the forefront. Matt James (seen above) is the series’ first black bachelor in all of its 25 seasons. Aside from the overdue presence of a black bachelor, the actions of contestant Rachel Kirkconnell have heightened many viewers’ awareness of the show’s white narrative and racial ignorance. It was recently discovered that Rachel had attended an antebellum-themed fraternity formal in 2018 and liked Confederate Flag-related Tik Toks. The show’s longtime host, Chris Harrison, took to Rachel Lindsay’s “Extra!” show to defend Rachel and her mistake as one of the past. After receiving much criticism, both Rachel and Harrison apologized on Instagram for their actions and condoning of behavior. However, despite Rachel’s heartfelt apology on Instagram, her behavior in this season led me to believe that her ignorant attitude is not something she left behind in 2018. In one of her first interactions with Matt (filmed in late 2020), she mentioned something along the lines of how she is colorblind and does ‘not see color’ when looking for a husband. The height of the Black Lives Matter Movement in early June not only prompted the rejection of color blindness as a mindset but encouraged White Americans to educate themselves on the American institutions that perpetuate the oppression of Black Americans. Rachel’s comment failed to show her initiative to grow and move past her ignorant past and acknowledge the institutionalized limitations her future husband could have living in America.
Cover Photo: Wikipedia