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THE BACHELOR: Whitopian Appeal Meets Marital Affirmative Action
We all have our guilty pleasures in life, the kind of indulgences that we are half-embarrassed, and half-amused, to admit to others. For my wife and me, it’s watching ABC’s The Bachelor. —the latest episode of which airs Monday, February 11 (8 pm ET!)
In case you haven’t seen it, The Bachelor (and its corollary, The Bachelorette, with the genders reversed) is a reality show where a group of women spend several weeks vying for the affections of one man. The initial 25 contestants advance to the next round if they receive a rose from The Bachelor by the end of each episode. But there are a dwindling number of roses to dispense each week, so each episode has winners and losers. Those who receive a rose are typically ecstatic and relieved, and those who do not are typically heartbroken.
Eventually, it reaches the point where The Bachelor must choose the woman he wants to marry, and reject the runner up. Usually, The Bachelor proposes marriage, and the runner up walks away in tears. And it makes for great theater.
The show is ridiculous; the melodrama is intense. The women can be catty and backstabbing. They have teary meltdowns over the prospect of being rejected by someone they barely know (and the men on The Bachelorette are often just as bad). And, while some of the joys and sorrows experienced by the contestants seem genuine, much of it is way over the top, which is what makes it so entertaining.
Granted, only three of the bachelors/bachelorettes have actually gone on to tie the knot. But many of the male and female runner ups (known as "Bachelor alumni”) have dated and a few have actually gotten married. Given the decline in the institution of marriage nationally, that’s not so bad.
My wife and I started watching the show three years ago, right after our first child was born (you watch a lot of television when you have a newborn). I fought the program at first, but I was eventually hooked.
Unquestionably, however, much of The Bachelor’s appeal is due to the fact that the show is a virtual "whitopia." (Social scientist Richard Benjamin's term for the kind of almost completely white community that towns in Iowa still are—and America itself once was.)
It’s just nice to be able to watch a television show devoid of any racial posturing or guilt-tripping, even if it isn’t otherwise very profound.
Few people will admit it, but this is a big reason for the popularity of shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Seinfeld, Friends, and Two and a Half Men, also virtually all-white. It’s difficult to relate to shows that feature a highly contrived group of friends—two whites, two blacks, one Asian etc. We don’t watch television to be lectured, but to be entertained.
Often, the only way we can sneak white entertainment under the radar screen is through a period piece like Downton Abbey—the ultimate white-person show which is, no surprise, a huge transatlantic hit.
But there are people out there who cannot stand the possibility that there might exist one all-white show that white people really enjoy.
When Oprah Winfrey had the cast of Friends on her program, she asked them, only half-jokingly “I’d like you all to get a black friend; maybe I could stop by. Could you all get a black friend to stop over?”[See video]
But the obvious answer is “No” because most people don’t have any friends of another race who stop over and visit. Most people have acquaintances of a different race; but actual friends, rarely.
The pressure to integrate The Bachelor, which debuted in 2002, has been growing for some time. Last year two black men who had been turned down as contestants sued claiming that the show violated their civil rights. A judge tossed the suit on First Amendment grounds. But that only emboldened the show’s critics.
In The Grio, an NBC-affiliated website for blacks, Zerlina Maxwell complained that The Bachelor features “white suitors vying for a white prize” and insisted that the show must integrate.
Why not allow interracial relationships, which are no longer taboo, to be shown on your signature dating competition?
[The Bachelor Franchises’ Unofficial Ban On Minorities, September 07, 2011]
Andy Ostroy of The Huffington Post agrees: “Out of 25 candidates, you'd think at least 20-30% would be black, Hispanic and Asian.” .” [Is ABC’s The Bachelor Racist? January 15, 2010]
What critics like Maxwell and Ostroy do not understand is that The Bachelor is not The Dating Game. People are on this show to find someone to marry. And while many people are willing to date outside of their race, most are not willing to marry outside of their race. They want their children to look like themselves, which is quite normal.
I’m generally no fan of reality television, but the one healthy thing about The Bachelor is that it responds to a positive aspiration: the desire to be happily married. True, some of the contestants are just seeking their 15 minutes of fame. Most of them, however, appear to be genuinely interested in finding the love of their lives. It’s a crazy way to go about it, but their hearts are in the right place, even if their heads are not.
This is precisely what makes the show work. On one level, you have to empathize with the goal of the contestants, even if you might shake your head at their path to it.
However, The Bachelor’s critics have not slightest concern for what kind of person a particular Bachelor or Bachelorette wants to marry. They just want to force more minority faces onto the show. And this year, they finally succeeded.
This current season of The Bachelor features Sean Lowe, a handsome blue-eyed, blonde-haired Texan. Among those vying for his heart are several—for lack of a better phrase—“Affirmative Action” contestants, including a white woman with one arm, an Iraqi-born Muslim, and four black women.
Certainly, all of these contestants appear to be nice and attractive young ladies. (Although it turned out one that one of the black contestants has an arrest record—mugshot here—while another works as a “community organizer” in Pittsburgh. Obviously someone in casting has a sense of humor).
Nevertheless, all of these Affirmative Action contestants have been sent home early.
But what’s troubling is that all of these women were destined to have their hearts broken—because there was very little chance that The Bachelor was ever going to choose them
It is hard to see how setting a woman up to get rejected on national television qualifies as an example of “fairness.”
Still, one can’t blame these black women for seeking a white husband since it’s doubtful that many black men are interested in marrying them. The harsh truth is that many middle and upper class black men prefer to marry white women, or not at all—leaving black women with few options.
In fact, if we ever had a black Bachelor—as many of the shows critics have urged—there is a very good chance that he would choose a white woman over a black woman.
In his interesting book, Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone Stanford Law Professor Ralph Richard Banks describes at length the terrible personal lives that black women routinely experience. Most college-educated black women struggle to find a qualified marriage partner because so many black men are underachieving.
Moreover, among blacks, regardless of education or income level, it is apparently just understood that the man can enjoy multiple sex partners simultaneously, and the women are expected to simply put up with it.
Black women have it tough, very tough.
The solution Banks proposes is for more black women to date and marry outside of their race. Or as Steve Sailer put it, it is better to marry outside your race than to not marry at all.
However, the irony is that the problematic black dating habits that Banks describes—the low priority on monogamy and the resultant high rates of venereal disease—inadvertently make the case that dating blacks can be risky.
But few of The Bachelor’s critics are interested in awkward questions like these. For them, anything that is all-white is inherently unjust and must end.
Of course, this is a nonsensical double standard.
Minorities currently have their own race-specific newspapers, magazines, television networks, academic departments, and even their own beauty pageants. No one complains that the Miss Black America Pageant is exclusive to blacks or that the Miss Asian America Pageant is exclusive to Asians, or that the Miss El Salvador Massachusetts Pageant is exclusive to Salvadorans.
But we are told that white people cannot have a single television show?
In the end, what has really made The Bachelor a guilty pleasure is not that it is mindless reality television, but that so many white people have enjoyed it for so very long.
And for that reason, it could not be allowed to continue.
Matthew Richer (email him) is a writer living in Massachusetts. He is the former American Editor of Right NOW magazine.