Our American obsession with reality TV says a lot about us as a culture. Some people love reality TV. Some people love to judge those people. But with a reality TV star sitting in the Oval Office, we can’t deny the fact that this is a deeply ingrained part of our ethos.
I would argue, as [an embarrassed] reality-TV lover, that we can learn a lot about our selves and our society by looking at the plot lines, characters, and attitudes created by the producers of these TV shows. In fact, if you want to learn about how Americans feel about gender, sex and sexuality, and relationships, you couldn’t find a better education than you’d get by watching a few episodes of the Bachelor or Bachelorette on ABC.
For those of you who are unfamiliar (have you been living under a rock or do you just have more exciting lives than me?), the Bachelor franchise on ABC is a series of reality shows about a chosen Bachelor or Bachelorette (cis-gendered, almost always white, heterosexual man or woman) who dates anywhere from 25-30 people, slowly eliminating these potential suitors until they arrive at week 10 and propose to their one true love in what is always “the most dramatic season finale yet.”
This show has given us some gems as far as Gender and Sexuality 101 material. Bachelors sleep with multiple women and no one bats an eye. Bachelorettes have sexual relationships with multiple contestants and you hear the usual: slut, whore, skank, easy. Put 25 fitness trainers in a house together in a competitive environment and you quickly see how our society fails to promote deep emotional intelligence in our boys and men. Homophobia (“no homo”), toxic masculinity, racism, and problematic gender norms run rampant.
This season, however, the Bachelorette production team has outdone themselves. A cast member, currently on the show though clearly not a final contender, was convicted of indecent assault just prior to the show airing. (LINK TO STORY). Had the producers done any sort of due diligence with their contestant background checks, they could not have failed to uncover two-year-old allegations of sexual assault and harassment. In a #MeToo world where we’re finally discussing sexual harassment and assault, would producers really not be thinking of this?
It’s unfortunately likely that these charges were uncovered and dismissed as “allegations” that don’t need to be taken seriously or valued as a potential source of drama. Even if they were unaware, that shows a willful ignorance to not be protecting the contestant from suitors with aggressive or violent histories.
Our reality TV reflects us. It reflects our culture and it reflects our values. Whether we want to admit it or not, TV shows what we want to see and what we see in ourselves. If these producers can ignore a convicted sexual aggressor, what are we tolerating or ignoring in our every day lives? How do we go through our daily lives ignoring the abusers around us? Who do we tolerate because “it happened so long ago” or “it really wasn’t that bad” or “she just couldn’t take a joke”? Who escapes the consequences of their actions because their a beloved entertainer or a leader in the community? Who will go unpunished because the victims are not important enough to our society?
It’s just a TV show. I know that. But it’s also a reflection of us. It is a mirror held up to our culture and we can’t turn away any longer. #MeToo