It’s that time of the year again when I hear my dad laughing loudly at the “The Bachelor,” which is back for its twenty-third season with the same empty promises. It’s ridiculous to think that people still watch a show that embodies twentieth century ideals. Every season, a white male tries to find his wife in a sea of “beautiful” women, many attractive on the outside but bitter and contemptuous on the inside. It’s understandable; they’re all trying to vie for one man’s love. This season is no different from any other as blonde-haired, blue-eyed Colton Underwood, who has proven his soft personality and virginity, seeks to find his future wife.
I have to admit; I once binged seasons of “The Bachelor” just to laugh at the ludicrosity of it all. However, I soon realized how the show perpetuates dangerous body image ideals. Every woman on the show is skinny and “model-like,” and they epitomize the Western idea of beauty. Young women watching the show can easily be influenced. According to a study done by Senior Research Scientist Amy Bleakley at the University of Pennsylvania, “In the absence of life experience, teenagers often learn from TV and movies as they’re navigating uncharted waters like gender roles or how to behave in relationships.” Not only does this put the precarious idea of maintaining a size 0 in the heads of teenagers, but also creates unrealistic goals for relationships. Fights on “The Bachelor” are often romanticized, and even though the bachelor often makes mistakes, he’s always forgiven by the women.
As an Asian-American, I enthused to root for my fellow Asians. I found that there was no one that I could support on the show as Asian competitors usually leave after the first few episodes. The show lacks diversity with only one or two contests being of color each season, and at times, none at all including seasons 15 and 16. In 23 seasons, “The Bachelor” has never had one person of color as the bachelor. “The Bachelorette” just had their first woman of color. In a society where we now strive for racial equality, this minor change can hardly be considered progressive. Though I expected the number of viewers to rise with the introduction of a minority lead, the number of viewers decreased by 12 percent and ratings decreased 16 percent. These numbers speaks to a darker truth: even when presented with “The Bachelorette”’s meager efforts to increase its diversity, its audience reacted negatively, showing that diversity is not only a casting problem but also a societal one. Caucasian leads have dominated our television screens for so long that we as a society have normalized the practice to the point at which any deviation from this perceived norm causes us to recoil. In this sense, we must first overcome our own subconscious biases before we can begin to tackle how these biases have manifested as ethnically homogenous casts. Only then can we as viewers persuade producers to enact changes that should have been enacted years ago.
“The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” also blatantly disregard the LGBTQ+ community. Host of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” Chris Harrison, who is also heavily involved in the decision of the next lead, exemplified such bigotry in an interview with The New York Times Magazine.
“The question is: Is it a good business decision?” Harrison said. “I just spoke at U.S.C. the other night, and I explained it like this: 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.”
The nature of the analogy speaks for itself. Harrison speaks from a position of such deeply embedded homophobia that he flippantly reduced the matter of increasing LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood to selling fast food. Once again, such subconscious bias not only affects Harrison or his TV shows but also society as a whole; we have ingrained heteronormativity so thoroughly into the fabric of our entertainment industry that we are unable to divorce it from any alternative.
Ultimately, it’s sometimes difficult not to find “The Bachelor” entertaining; however, we as a society bear the moral obligation of overcoming superficial entertainment in order to dismantle the institutional bias that comprises its foundation. Look for diversity in the shows you watch and, express your concerns about inclusivity to the Hollywood powers that be. If you’re looking to start small, maybe even consider watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” instead.