In the New York Times opinion pages, author Jennifer Weiner has written “Breaking Up With ‘The Bachelor’”, a piece in which she admits that she can no longer stomach rose ceremonies and scripted catfighting in a time when our president is an incompetent misogynist. Not only that, but she feels personally responsible for Donald Trump being in the White House. Could it be, Weiner asks, that Bachelor fans “played a part in [Trump’s] victory by watching the shows that normalized his behavior and helping to make the social-media lightning that brought him to life”?
Well, I’d argue that every one of us played a part in Trump’s victory. It’s just a fact that our culture produced Trump. He didn’t step out of a vacuum to regale us with all-caps tweets and unhinged speeches—his ascendancy to the presidency has everything to do with our hidden prejudices, and the larger systems that feed on them. But is watching, or not watching, The Bachelor really the issue here?
Weiner calls the Bachelor franchise “flagrantly problematic,” and that’s absolutely true. From the lily-white contestants to the rigid adherence to gender roles, the show is far from enlightened. I regularly refer to it as trash. The “can I steal you”s, the “I think I’m falling in love with you”s, the group dates, the belief that two people can really progress from strangers to fiances in just six weeks—it’s all trash.
But the thing about flagrantly problematic trash is that a lot of people tend to like it. One way to deal with that is to critically engage with popular media—to get to the heart of why a show like The Bachelor is so entertaining, and what lessons we might take from it about the way the world works. One could argue that’s exactly what Weiner did in her piece, but I'm not sure she went far enough, and I think it’s possible to think deeply about The Bachelor without rejecting it outright. Those critical discussions are happening everywhere—a piece on the systemic racism that prevented a black bachelorette for 21 seasons, for example, or an explanation of why we need a disabled bachelor (both of which I discovered through Rose Buddies, an excellent Bachelor fan Facebook group). Writers have explored how the show failed Chad by using his disturbing behavior to make money. There are some takes that don’t sit right with me (no, Corinne is not a feminist), but my point is that many who watch The Bachelor are looking at it not as unproblematic entertainment, but as a lens through which to examine issues that we might not see as clearly in other, more subtle manifestations.
As you may be thinking by now, most people who watch the show aren’t scouring the internet for the deepest critical takes. They’re just enjoying it. But that doesn’t make them horrible people—nor does it make the rest of us saints. In the recently released book Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, author Jessa Crispin describes contemporary feminism—not nicely—as “a decade-long conversation about which television show is a good television show and which television show is a bad television show.” When we put the blame on shows like The Bachelor for Trump’s rise, simply turning off the TV can be enough to placate our consciences. It shouldn’t be. Trump is in the White House because of racism, sexism and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. While The Bachelor may throw those problems into sharp relief, their roots go deeper—to the very beginning of America’s history.
So whether you choose to watch The Bachelor for its ridiculous escapism or reject it as an unholy scourge on humanity, we all have to accept that Trump’s rise was built on a lot more than just one televised quest for love. We all have to accept responsibility—not just to turn off our televisions, but to use our time, money and resources to bring the world closer to how we wish it could be.