The Bachelor franchise. For 28 seasons, millions of viewers have watched a familiar formula of women crying, helicopter rides as first dates and so many red roses given and 'I love yous' exchanged that have, with the exception of three cases, ended in break-ups. The show isn't exactly a rousing advertisement for the institution of marriage, but rather a venue for many contestants to pursue pseudo-permanent reality television careers and fratty cruise events where they can hook up with other like-minded, shallow people.
So it may surprise you that I'm actually a big advocate of Misee Harris' social media campaign to become the first black Bachelorette. The pediatric dentist from Tennessee launched her own campaign last year as a response to the racial exclusion of minorities, forcing a conversation about racism into the national spotlight. Still in the spotlight, she continues to mentor young women and work with children who have autism, has recently patented her own line of athletic mouthguards and advanced in casting for the show Shark Tank. And she is still interested in being on the next season of The Bachelorette, an ongoing campaign she has described as a " call-to-action for producers, writers and Hollywood executives to turn away from the tired stereotypes of black women."
Although Harris applied and was chosen to be a contestant on a previous season of The Bachelor, she ultimately withdrew because she was concerned about 'being another token.' Given that all 28 seasons of the franchise have featured white Bachelors and Bachelorettes, and that there have been very few contestants of color, this was, and still is, a valid concern. In fact, the show has been sued for racial discrimination. Creator Mike Fleiss has claimed that diverse contestants don't come forward, and that when they do, it feels a 'bit forced,' like 'tokenism.'
First of all, isn't there an argument to be made that viewers have been 'forced' to endure ten years of nearly all-white casts that for many of us, do not reflect the diversity of people we engage with in our daily lives? Also, tokenism in this context would imply that a non-qualified contestant was picked simply because they added diversity. But to dismiss a beautiful, successful, charitable woman because of the color of her skin? How does that constitute anything but systematic racial exclusion?
Furthermore, why is it that the the bachelor and bachelorette must be a former contestant? Isn't the formula getting a tad stale? I mean really, every season, it's the same deal--white woman gets 'heart broken' on The Bachelor, sits in Chris Harrison's hot seat during the reunion show for ten minutes and cries about how she is 'looking for love' and has finally moved on from the Bachelor who she fell in love with over those two dates she had with him, only to come back a week later smiling and radiant as she is announced the new Bachelorette. We get it.
Some writers have argued that The Bachelorette isn't a show that contestants of color should strive to be on in the first place, and that it might actually demean an accomplished woman like Harris. First of all, regardless of whether or not you think Harris should be on the show doesn't take away from the fact that Harris wants to be on the show. At the end of the day, she should be granted an equal opportunity, period. Secondly, The Bachelor is one of television's most popular franchises that is watched by millions of people religiously and has, like it or not, cultural influence. To give a show an all-inclusive title like 'The Bachelor' implies that there are going to be all kinds of contestants on the show, not a whitewashed view of relationships and marriage that doesn't reflect the reality of dating and marriage today. I mean seriously, if Mike Fleiss is going to be so blunt about his reasons for excluding people of color, then he should have named it 'The White Bachelor.' Or, 'The Fratty Bachelor.' Or even better, 'The White, Fratty, Straight, Christian Bachelor.' You know? Keep. It. Real.
Finally, it is precisely this cultural permeability, this accessibility, that can make a show like The Bachelor a potentially powerful tool for creating conversations on topics around relationships and some other pretty serious issues. Doubtful? OK, let's take the example of Sean Lowe's season, which did feature a fairly diverse group of contestants, including an Iraqi woman named Selma Alameri. Former Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky took it upon herself to write a blog entry titled "Selma's boobs, Roller Derby and Tierra Drama" in which she makes fun of Selma's cleavage and criticizes her intent to stay true to her mother's wishes and not kiss Sean on national television.
When reading the comments in the article below, there was quite a bit of backlash against Ali for criticizing a culture that she didn't appear to understand. Others, however, expressed confusion over Muslim modesty and asked for clarification as to why it might be acceptable for a woman to drink and caress someone but not kiss on national television.
I take MAJOR issues with you going on and on about how Selma dresses sexy and thus she was a 'cock tease' for not putting out with Sean. Wow Steve, so if a woman dresses sexy, she has to put out? That's how rape culture is perpetuated, FYI.
This is why pop culture shows are so valuable, because they can facilitate important conversations on issues like culture and gender that need to be had, just by the nature of their accessibility. While the diversity of blogs in the blogosphere is exciting, there is a potential that certain communities which cater to specific topics will only pull in the interested and invested, ultimately preaching to the choir. I love the idea that having a diverse group of contestants on a show that so many people watch might provoke questions and spark conversations on cultures that are different from theirs in a way that they might not normally engage with. I mean seriously, I love that someone might actually learn something, or at the very least, be inspired to learn, about the Islamic faith after watching an episode where two people go on a date, climb a rock and toast marshmallows over a campfire.
Pop culture visibility matters, and Misee Harris deserves to be part of it. If she were chosen I'm sure many would watch, and it's not just because she's black. It is because she is a professional, talented woman who would add interest due to the nature of her accomplishments. That being said, picking a diverse roster of candidates for her would also add a lot of interest, and it would probably get people talking. And that's a good thing, right?
Tweet Mike Fleiss @fleissmeister letting him know you want @miseeharris as the next #bachelorette!
For a longer version of this article, you can check out my blog.