OPINION: Although Popular, "The Bachelor" Remains Problematic
Jo Nordhoff-Beard | March 22, 2018, 11:14 p.m.
I started watching “The Bachelor” during my senior year of high school so I could converse with the middle aged, single women with whom I interacted at the foster kids organization where I volunteered every Tuesday. The day after the show aired and in the middle of January, I began to hear about then-bachelor Chris Soules, group dates, rose ceremonies, and other foreign concepts that were part of the unexplored.
At first, I watched the show ironically, but soon became inexorably hooked on “The Bachelor” and all of its spinoffs. This past season made me reconsider my opinions on the franchise because the show made more openly problematic choices than it had in the past. Although I still watched obsessively regardless, it gave me a feeling similar to one which comes from obsessing over President Donald Trump and his dysfunctional White House.
I am a fat, bisexual, outspoken feminist who identifies as a liberal and an ally, which makes watching “The Bachelor” all the more troubling because it is antithetical to basically everything I believe. It is problematic on many fronts.
The show espouses antiquated, heteronormative gender roles (and makes jokes about any type of non-heterosexual love). It casts an admitted white supremacist on the first black season of “The Bachelorette.” In fact, the show has only had one person of color in a lead role throughout its 16-year, 35-season history.
“The Bachelor” has made no discernable effort to update itself as the world and online climate have shifted in a relatively more progressive and feminist direction.
The 22nd season of “The Bachelorette” arrived in the midst of the #MeToo movement, making its presence every Monday this spring difficult to watch. Prominent Bachelor fans and former contestants have come out both against and in support of the show, but this season’s strict adherence to its outdated notions of love and marriage seems out of touch with the political climate.
This season’s Bachelor, a washed up race car driver and part-time real estate agent, Arie Luyendyk Jr., was the runner-up on single mom Emily Maynard’s season in 2012. Luyendyk Jr. was on the show before a contestant’s primary purpose became selling hair growth gummy supplements and designer sunglasses on Instagram. He lives in Scottsdale, Arizona — outside of the Los Angeles media onslaught — and was only picked as the Bachelor two weeks before filming began in a last-minute switch up from the runner-up Peter Kraus on Rachel Lindsay’s previous season.
As the season progressed, I liked Luyendyk Jr. increasingly less. Because he had not been on camera for over five years, he was incredibly awkward at expressing genuine interest in the women with him.
One of my favorite Bachelor recapping podcasts described him as “sentient white bread,” as he did not look engaged at all when the women vying for his affection talked to him, and Ali Barthwell, the genius TV recapper at Vulture, described him as a “beige pashmina come to life.”
Luyendyk Jr. reached the end of the season and ended up with Lauren Burnham and Becca Kufrin, two women who were polar opposites. Yet, he said he loved both women equally and could not choose between them. Burnham looked like a Fox News anchor and barely spoke throughout the season, while Kufrin had been ridden with her abusive ex-boyfriend who showed up at the end of the show to get her back.
Up until the moment of the proposal, Luyendyk Jr. said he felt conflicted, yet proposed to Kufrin anyway, as he felt pressured to deliver the fairytale story viewers expected.
Usually, the season ends with a proposal, but two weeks ago, Bachelor viewers were treated to one hour of unedited footage of Luyendyk Jr. and Kufrin’s engagement breakup. Throughout this breakup, which completely blindsided Kufrin, Luyendyk Jr. was callous and apathetic to Kufrin’s angry reactions, referred to their engagement as “hanging out,” and did not even say he was sorry until 49 minutes into the breakup. The camera showed a split screen of Kufrin’s crumbling façade of strength as Luyendyk Jr. broke up with her, an unprecedented action in the show’s history.
Luyendyk Jr. had continued to talk to Burnham since the show started to air in January. While he told Kufrin that it was for closure, it was actually to ensure that Burnham would take him back once he broke up with Kufrin. Five days later, Luyendyk Jr. went to Virginia where Burnham lives, got back together with her, and became engaged shortly after.
I would have respected Luyendyk Jr. more had he broken up with Kufrin, then talked to Burnham about getting back together à la Jason Mesnick, a former Bachelor who nine years ago broke up with the “winner,” Melissa Rycroft, and is now happily married to his runner up, Molly Malaney.
Jason treated Melissa with more respect than Luyendyk Jr. had treated Kufrin: their breakup was off camera, and Jason dated Molly for nine months before proposing. Luyendyk Jr.’s decision to rush into marriage when he could not decide between Burnham and Kufrin showed his immaturity and complete lack of concern for Kufrin’s feelings, which only made his persona throughout the whole season of seem fake, awkward, and distant.
Simultaneously, as I watched, I became enthralled by the raw and unedited emotion, disgusted by the producers of this show for choosing to film this breakup, and irritated at myself for not wanting to look away. The cameras followed Kufrin as she tried to find some time alone to cry and process how she had been lied to since their beginning engagement, which I found was incredibly invasive, exploitative, and disrespectful.
On the other hand, this show often glosses over real issues and emotions by masking them with editing, clearly not showing the viewer when something more serious is going on. Thus, this was refreshing because it did not treat Luyendyk Jr.’s actions and gross mishandling of the situation as an afterthought.
Kufrin’s new season of “The Bachelorette” premieres May 28. This show is one of my favorite, yet least favorite shows. As of now, my rational intuition not to engage in the Bachelor franchise’s universe has not won over my heart, which wants to see how Kufrin reclaims her own narrative. However, at the beginning of this year, I stopped eating meat, and I do not miss it that much. Maybe I can do the same with the Bachelor franchise.
Jo Nordhoff-Beard SC ’19 is an English major from Seattle. She enjoys Sam Hunt, flavored seltzer water, and reading memoirs written by women.