Alright, so I have to admit that I have spent the past few months shamelessly campaigning for Mike Johnson to be the next bachelor for the embarrassingly cult-like, influencers-in-training Bachelor franchise. Why? Because as a twenty-something-year-old who binge-watches reality television as a means to get some sort of validation in my own love life failures, I, of course, fell in love with the concept of a beautiful man smiling into the camera and referring to all of the women as Queens. But really, if we take away the fact that The Bachelor is a reality show manipulated by editing and production, and actually buy into what they are attempting to produce, then how could I not love Mike Johnson with all the false intimacy ABC is selling viewers? He is one of the only men who were beloved by both viewers and contestants, showcases a strong belief system, and navigates conversations about family and loss in a seemingly organic way. Plus, he’s charming as all hell and gives off some series sex appeal vibes through small gestures (like picking Hannah B up and twirling her around like this type of physical prowess comes naturally in everything he does).
So then, when ABC announced, albeit after several platforms had already spoiled the outcome weeks in advance, that the new bachelor was Peter, the boy next door pilot who apparently has the sexual stamina to ignite envy in prepubescent boys everywhere, I was devastated.
I think it would be smart of me to preface this by stating that I am fully aware that I do not actually know these people. I have no idea what qualities they show off in their day to day, away from social media. Peter could be the greatest man in the world and will produce beautifully cheerful babies, whose teeth will shine with a little ding noise when they get older. Mike could also be super annoying. Maybe he tries to sell his friends products from shitting pyramid schemes and constantly brings up how great veganism is. I don’t know. I highly doubt all of that, but again, I have no clue. The only thing I am sure of is that Mike spends a little too much time on those gym selfies, and I would say that to his face just as I said it to my ex-boyfriend who ruined the Instagram aesthetic I curated for him. But whatever. Before anyone wants to dismiss what I’m about to argue, I want to be clear in the fact that I acknowledge that we truly get an especially manufactured “reality” with The Bachelor. I think a lot of people on Twitter would be better off if they spent more time repeating to themselves, I will not take personal offense to the choices C list celebrities make while blacked out on tequila. And in terms of myself, I can say confidently that this is not about personal offense because I am a black woman who wants to see a black man as the lead. I do want to see that happen, but not because of my own feelings I hope to project onto a television show.
Here’s a little context behind The Bachelor and their diversity problem. They don’t think it exists. Do the producers and the almighty entity that is Chris Harrison promote a diverse storyline and contestants? Yes, sort of. Every season, Chris Harrison goes on what could only be referred to as the Damage Control Prevention press tour before the season premiere of either The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. He answers questions about the new lead, promises “the most dramatic season yet,” and selectively chooses to endorse specific contestants that seemingly make the show appear more diverse. He did that with Rachel Lindsay, the first-ever black bachelorette. He did it with Demi Burnett, the first openly bi-sexual contestant. And with those endorsements came the expectation that those labels would serve as their only identities during their time on the show. I mean, come on, they literally cast a racist man on Rachel’s season and centered nearly every conversation about her ethnic identity. Same for Demi, who was pioneering how to have conversations about sexuality for the first time ever on Bachelor in Paradise. Demi’s storyline was beautiful, and she seemed incredibly authentic, but I couldn’t help but notice how much the show itself was using her image as their posterchild campaign for diversity. Her story was simply told through their lens. So, of course, they were going to use that storyline as much as possible, and maybe these are constructive conversations that need to be had, especially on a network that airs throughout an incredibly divided country. But let’s just look at the ways in which they were promoted and identified versus how the men were.
Take for instance Colton Underwood, his entire season revolved around his virginity. Women made jokes about not having “dated a virgin since I was twelve” (here’s looking at you Demi) and hoping to experience first times. Colton was a virgin, might still be, I doubt it, but that was his schtick. Arie was the race car driving old man. Nick Viall had been on every season ever produced by the franchise, ever. Just kidding, but also kind of not. No one asked them about whether or not they were living with a disability, were struggling with identity, or were battling the disadvantages of being a part of a socially ostracized community. Because they weren’t. Or at least they weren’t enough so to result in production caring enough to air it. These are men who received their status as leads through entertainment value. They were underdogs who had been through the process before and had fairly humorous and tame roles to fit into. Unlike the women of the franchise who are best remembered as either villains or “pull at your heartstrings” storylines, who ultimately don’t get very fair anyway. People remember the single mom who battles with being alone after leaving an abusive marriage. This year’s audience won’t forget Caelynn’s retelling of her sexual assault in college. Because as a whole, we look for women to fulfill our need for depth and also subconsciously require them to prove they can emotionally appeal to us. Of course, there have been plenty of male contestants who have opened up about tragedy and loss, but when the audience fangirls over them, those moments are oftentimes marred by America’s willingness to prioritize romance and swoon worthiness over a bummed out backstory.
When Mike pulled Hannah B aside during her season and expressed that he too wants something serious, he confessed to being in love before, expecting a baby and then having lost that child. He owns up to not being attentive enough and having regrets. Sounds like a pretty tv worthy story right? Well, you’d think, but personally, I felt the producers very quickly smooth over that admission. They gave us a glimpse and then within a matter of minutes jumped to the drama that was Luke P. This happens all the time. Men try to open up and they are given a few seconds to really get that “aww” effect before jumping to the next. Whereas the women of Bachelor Nation are given one on one dates to explore their stories with the lead. Because, as I said before, the female contestants have to prove they have depth, they need just enough tragedy to be interesting and worthy of screen time.
There have been quite a few arguments floating around in terms of The Bachelor working towards diversity, but I call bullshit. There are those people who scream from the mountain tops that they always see soooo many black women on the show. Okay, well let’s break down that argument for a second. If you have ever seen the show South Park you may have noticed what the only black kid’s name is: Token. It’s literally Token. He is the token black kid. And I use that as a kind of absurd example to highlight how of course there will be black contestants, and Asian contestants, and very few and far between Latina contestants. But there’s a huge difference between women of color and men of color in these shows. It’s unfortunate but true. Men and woman of color have two completely different roles to play. Women of color are historically fetishized. Think of the terms “Asian Persuasion” and “Jungle Fever.” The sexual desires for women of color have been a warped and at times racist caricature of courtship. Men will literally write in their Tinder bios that they are looking for a domineering black woman, which I mean okay, that’s your type, but can we maybe discuss why you have to identify an entire race under a stereotyped fantasy? Women of color are referred to as exotic. Men assume guessing their ethnicity is a fun and cute way of flirting. The “I wonder what our kids would look like” game is less about romance and more about seriously considering which features will come through, the “ugly” or the “sexy.” Even within the Bachelor franchise, there is an acceptable kind of brown. The women are oftentimes lighter-skinned, have straight hair, and extremely educated and eloquent as if the latter isn’t the norm. You will typically see a woman of color make it to the top five or so, but it’s always increasingly obvious when it gets down to it that the lead has no interest in them and watching their dates feels like a painful and drawn out pity excursion. I’m not saying that women of color have to be proposed to at the end of the season, because that’s not doing justice for either the lead or the woman. But, I am just trying to expose a pattern.
Women of color making it so far to prove the show is progressive and “anyone can win.” But that’s also just not true. If the show continues the cycle of the same type of man, then the system really is rigged, and the possibility of another woman of color becoming Bachelorette dwindles significantly. After all, the bachelorette is chosen by “fan favorites” from the men’s seasons, and apart from Rachel, there hasn’t been and doesn’t seem to be a promise of another person of color coming through. And some may argue that it’s all about taste and attraction, and yes I completely agree that people need that to sustain a relationship. But if everyone’s taste and attraction eventually steers away from people of color, what is that really saying?
This brings me back to Mike. Mike who made it further along in Hannah’s season than she did during her own time as a contestant. Mike who was the topic of interest for months on both social media and in interviews with castmates. Mike who is vocal about finding a soulmate and “trusting the process.” All of these attributes have previously been indicators of the next bachelor, and yet, not for him.
And this is where I see men of color differing from women of color with this show. The women of color usually go on to become successful influencers, get invited to outdoor concerts, and find love on Bachelor in Paradise. But the men of color? Well, success doesn’t typically follow them post-show. And I know there is a difference between men and women’s presences on social media and most men don’t have thriving post Bachelor clout, but the men of color especially not. Can you off the top of your head name five men of color who were contestants on the show, excluding Mike? It’s actually pretty difficult to recall them. And I think there is a sort of unspoken pattern with their casting as well, as we usually see less and less men of color as the seasons progress, typically with only one or two at the midway point. Again, with the exception of Rachel Lindsay’s season.
Men of color aren’t fetishized in the same way women of color are. Yes, there are stereotypes about men sexually, especially black men, but their more negative stereotypes pull through ultimately. Black men are seen as aggressive, thug-like. Asian men are portrayed as lesser than in terms of masculinity. Men from the middle east are labeled as scam artists, thieves, and terrorists. So, it didn’t surprise me when The Bachelor named Juan Pablo, a white-passing Venezuelan soccer player as their lead a while back. He was, to America, the safest of the brown people. And he also turned out to be a terrible person, and an example many middle-aged women on twitter like to throw around on what happens when they cast a different race. Juan Pablo was a fan favorite on The Bachelorette and turned out to be a real ass hole. No one really saw that coming, but thanks for nixing the possibility of any other man of color for the future, ABC.
The criticism of Juan Pablo was that he was misogynistic and couldn’t commit. But guess what, so are SO MANY of the leads. There is literally a former lead who killed a man and fled the scene. Another lead emotionally abused his fiancé. But how come we aren’t talking about shunning all of those white men? I wonder.
So, here’s my problem with The Bachelor not choosing Mike as the lead: Mike represented a natural progression toward representation, and ABC not only rejected that path but made a point to dig their heels in. Peter is kind and sweet and lovely, but Peter is also like Sean Lowe and Ben Higgins. They are all the same person. Reality television doesn’t care much for individual identity, so much as they care for roles. That’s why you hear our bachelors referred to as just the lead. You have just the villain. Just the fiancé. These are roles these contestants knowingly enter into. Yes, they are real people, but we are seeing these real people cast to fit these artificial images for the sake of the season. Mike not becoming the bachelor wasn’t even about him as an independent person not fitting. Mike not being selected (and according to him not even receiving an interview) was about the franchise saying they don’t want a black man for that role.
The Bachelor can falsely market their love of diversity for the next seventeen years, but the franchise seriously misunderstands the difference between claiming diversity and realistically being inclusive.