The Bachelorette came to an end on Monday when Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette, broke up with Peter and chose Bryan. Seven million viewers collectively released the most exasperated sigh they could muster in an already-exhausting year. Lost love is as horrible to experience on a television screen as it is in real life.
Peter won the popular vote
Bryan won the electoral college #TheBachelorette
— Keyo (@Kcastlem) August 8, 2017
As a first-time viewer, Rachel Lindsay drew me in with her easy smile, fiery confidence, and honest vulnerability. It felt powerful; a woman of color commanding both the camera and a palette of men eager to woo her. Watching the show was like vicariously living what I thought my twenties would be like: fun, flirty, and carefree. Her dark skin was a desired luxury in Bachelorette paradise. Rachel played the rejecter, not the rejected, and she didn’t have to gloss over her race with her suitors or the viewers.
Before I could slip fully into this idealized universe, the rosé-tinted veil parted. Instead of the other, better world I’d hoped for, the past nine weeks brought unnamed racial tensions masked as entertainment, a hazy divide between reality and reality television, and millions of regular viewers questioning the morality of the network.
As I try to figure out how we ended up so far from The Bachelorette‘s initial promise, I realize that the show never tried to hide its true form — I was the one desperately projecting my own desire to watch an uncomplicated broadcast of a woman of color with a strong personality and genuine depth find what she’s looking for. To honor the end of a season that could have been more transformational than it was allowed to be, here is some of the best writing about the most recent season of The Bachelorette:
1. Black, Single, and Waiting (Robin M. Boylorn, Slate, May 2017)
Boylorn professes an air of cautious romanticism as she hopes The Bachelorette will spin a fairy-tale black love story, like they’ve done for so many white couples in the past.
The previously composed, racially neutral, respectable Rachel did a black-girl two-step on national television with a black dude from Baltimore?? I smiled at the familiarity of it all. And I decided right then and there that I would tune in to the premiere, if not the whole season.
Boylorn ends the season with an absolutely crushing follow-up to her previous expectations in “The Heartbreaking First Black Bachelorette.”
2. The Vexing Racial Politics of This Season’s ‘Bachelorette’ (Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker, June 2017)
St. Félix writes with poetic frustration in an attempt to capture the show’s role in perpetuating racial tensions for viewer fodder.
What is most frustrating about this saga is the show’s editing, which presents Garrett’s racist antagonizing and King’s angry responses as morally equivalent. King calls Garrett a “snake,” a “Lee-zard,” and “a bitch,” but that is in response to Garrett constantly commenting that King is “big,” “angry,” and “violent.” When another black contestant tries to explain to Garrett that “there is a long history of people calling black men ‘aggressive,’ ” Garrett replies that it is King who is “playing the race card.” It is cheap, even for “The Bachelorette,” to equate nasty gaslighting with garden-variety television villainy.
3. How ‘The Bachelor’ Franchise Is Exploiting Race for Ratings (Ira Madison III, The Daily Beast, June 2017)
The drama started early this season, with hopeful woo-er DeMario’s shameful exit after his girlfriend came on set to berate him for lying to Rachel — and the show’s massive viewership — about his intentions. (He later found himself dead center in the sexual assault claims that halted production of the next franchise installment, Bachelor in Paradise.) Madison looks at race in the wider Bachelor franchise through DeMario’s fall from grace and how the network used it their advantage: “It’s unfortunate that in lieu of portraying the first black bachelorette in a negative light, the producers of The Bachelor seem intent on using the black male contestants as fodder in their race experiment.”
4. A Rare Conversation About Class Brings ‘The Bachelorette’ Into the Real World (Joe Coscarelli and Caryn Ganz, The New York Times, July 2017)
Visiting hometowns is one of the more boring “Bachelor” tropes; the homogeneity of the contestant pool means there are usually few differences between home lives. This season, Eric was a notable exception, breaching the The Bachelorette’s reality barrier when he delved into a complicated life at home that isn’t just filled with whirlwind trips to Spanish wine country: “Eric’s brief detour into the pain and complication of the real world—one of the most engrossing conversations between Rachel and a suitor all season—lasted only about a minute. That tells you a lot about this show.”
5. Welp, The Bachelorette Has Hit a New Low (Jay Willis, GQ, July 2017)
Dean dealt with his fair share of preview reel exploitation, as scenes of him attempting to make amends with his father eight years after his mother’s death were chopped into marketable dramatic bits. After watching Dean’s heartbreaking departure following hometown visits, every shred of goodwill I had transformed into to anger and utter disgust at a network actively profiting from Dean’s nationally-broadcasted familial fight. Jay Willis articulates my exact emotions.
Even if Dean agreed to give it a go, it’s still really tough to justify including within that scope the scene of Dean and his father working out their unresolved issues over the death of Dean’s mother ten years ago. That anger might be real, but the fact that something is real doesn’t mean that broadcasting it isn’t seedy and uncomfortable and exploitative.
6. The Bachelorette and the Empty Redemptions of Reality TV (Megan Garber, The Atlantic, Aug 2017)
Chris Harrison reading off Lee’s racist tweets during “The Men Tell All” episode on a giant screen projected to a live studio audience felt surreal to watch. ABC thoroughly vets all contestants that come onto any show in “The Bachelor” franchise, yet willingly brought Lee onto The Bachelorette despite his blatantly racist and incredibly accessible Twitter activity. Lee’s whole appearance on “The Men Tell All” episode was an apology tour were forced to watch. Megan Garber picks apart the controversy and reality television’s “tantalizing mingling of truth and performance, offered up for rituals of redemption.”
7. ‘The Bachelorette’ May Have a Black Star, But It’s Still Set In A White World (Eric Deggans, NPR, May 2017)
If you only read one of these pieces, read this one. Its a the literary equivalent of a mic drop.
From the show’s perspective, this was likely a home run: They presented a diverse field of contestants and a black bachelorette without upsetting the bedrock formula that makes this “reality TV” soap opera successful. (According to previews, we can look forward to one suitor’s surprise girlfriend bursting onto the show and ramping up the drama).
But for those of us hoping to see some of the show’s basic messaging about culture, class and race changed, it was a disappointment. True diversity isn’t just about expecting black people to assimilate into a mostly white world; it’s about widening that world to reflect the experiences of everyone in it.