Last week, the reality television show The Bachelor was the source of much controversy. Concerns were first raised over the past actions of a contestant, but the situation turned into a much larger debacle when the object of public fury became the 19-year veteran host of the show, Chris Harrison.
The contestant in question, Rachael Kirkconnell, faced accusations of racism, especially after photos surfaced of her attending an “Old South” plantation-themed sorority party in 2018.
Public scorn soon turned to host Chris Harrison after an ExtraTV interview with Rachel Lindsay, a former “Bachelorette” on the show’s twenty-first season.
In the interview with Lindsay, who was the first black “Bachelorette,” Harrison was asked what he thought about the allegations against Kirkconnell. He didn’t defend her outright, but he did say that she deserved a chance to speak and be heard. Apparently, this was not acceptable.
He began the interview, saying,
“First and foremost, I don’t know. I haven’t talked to Rachel about it. And this is again where we all need to have a little grace and a little understanding and a little compassion…Again, this judge-jury-executioner thing where people are just tearing this girl’s life apart and diving into, like, her parents and her parents’ voting record…Its unbelievably alarming to watch this. I haven’t heard Rachel speak on this yet and until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this? You know, I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago and that’s it. Like, boom, like okay, this girl is in ‘this book’ now and she’s now in ‘this group,’ and I’m like, ‘really?’”
Lindsay pushed him on the issue, saying “it’s not a good look,” and asking what she, as a black woman, would represent if she went to that party. He pointed out things were viewed differently a few years ago. “I don’t disagree with you. You’re 100% right in 2021,” he said. “That was not the case in 2018.” Multiple times, he repeated that he wasn’t defending Kirkconnell or her actions.
Lindsay actually agreed with Harrison at one point, saying, “I think that’s the problem…you’re right, we weren’t looking through those lens [in 2018] and we should have been…and just because it’s a popular party doesn’t necessarily make it right.” She said, “I believe you’re right, in a sense that, you know, maybe there should be some… ‘hey’ understanding of, like not everybody knows everything…”
Lindsay went on to describe her frustration with Kirkconnell for not coming forward to deny the claims made against her.
Harrison made the point that speaking out is a “slippery slope,” noting that it’s impossible to please everyone or answer to everybody’s attacks. He continued, “I saw something that said ‘this person was a registered Republican. Therefore, they are ‘this’’ and I’m like ‘woah woah woah’…” before Lindsay interjected and said “yeah, that’s ridiculous.”
In the days following the interview, Harrison received severe backlash from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) participants on current and former seasons of the show, while Lindsay has since appeared in several interviews, including an appearance on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.
Regarding Harrison’s comments, Lindsay told Lemon, “I was shocked. I thought, maybe he misspoke. But then when he continued down this path, I thought ‘oh no, this is really what he wants to say.’ And I felt I needed to let him say it.”
Reality television is a frustrating entity. It isn’t necessarily “good” for society to watch other people fight on TV or be entertained by the woes that come from extravagant lifestyles, and there is an argument to be made that it doesn’t always move the culture forward in a positive way.
However, it does serve a purpose.
Reality TV brings everyday conversation onto the screen. It places marriages, families, or politics on center stage from within peoples’ homes. It creates scenarios where Americans watch someone else’s life, live vicariously through them, and start these conversations in their own households.
When a group of women on a Real Housewives episode argue about something one of them allegedly said, friends can turn to one another in their living rooms and debate who is right or who should be treated differently.
Reality television is — at its best — at the will of reality. Take the most recent season of The Real Housewives of Orange County. The show was upended halfway through because of the coronavirus, so the stars transitioned to filming themselves from inside their homes, and audiences watched as quarantine began and the world shut down.
Reality television plays to a certain base level of humanity. It acts as a modern-day colosseum where we watch various contenders compete against and interact with each other. We make bets, maybe “cast lots.” We pick our favorites and have strong feelings towards those who are characterized as the villains. It’s a game.
And that is why the participants’ past and current lives are brought to the forefront, especially on shows like The Bachelor. It’s how living-room conversations can happen.
But it stopped being a game when it turned against its own.
On The Bachelor, the accusations made against Kirkconnell came up and people voiced their concerns. Then, Chris Harrison, the (formerly, perhaps) beloved host came onto the scene, playing the devil’s advocate role he has established for years. He’s the one in the room who sticks up for someone, who loyally has the bachelor or bachelorette’s back, and is there to facilitate important conversations.
Harrison did the same thing he has done in the past. He said he didn’t know what the right answer to the situation was, but he was willing to hear both sides. Then he became the target.
The culture pervaded the show, but this time, the worst of the woke statutes seeped into the arena and instead of them resulting in conversations, their laws became a rallying cry against the very person who was willing to hear out both positions of the issue. And then, Harrison apologized.
First, he admitted that he had caused harm “by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism.” A few days later, he posted another statement, saying that “By excusing historical racism, I defended it.” He said that he was wrong to use the term “woke police” and that he is “dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before.” It’s fine to apologize for unintentionally hurting someone’s feelings, but Harrison is apologizing for even questioning the mob’s edicts, for even saying that Kirkconnell deserved a fair trial before she was cast out.
As a brief note: “[insert adjectival noun] police” is a metaphor for enforcers of specific rules. See: “grammar police,” “fashion police.” The “woke police” are the ones who enforce the “law” of “woke-ism.” And enforce it, they certainly do — as is clear from Harrison’s apology to the woke police for calling them the “woke police.” The concept that this is somehow derogatory is unfounded, and people who are angry over being called “woke police” are being called such because of their fury.
Kirkconnell has also since apologized for her past actions, saying that her “ignorance was racist.”
The fact of the matter is that Bachelor Nation in itself is built off of a premise that has arguable ties to ancient notions and practices of selecting one’s partner from a group of people.
If it is racist to go to a southern-themed party, is it misogynistic to be on a show that takes its theme from ancient patriarchal practices of a privileged person selecting their mate from a group of many eligible suitors?
No. It isn’t. It’s a reality television show in 2021.
And while it centers on superficial ideas and concepts, you are not a sexist if you are on the show and you are not a sexist if you watch the show. You might be sexist for other reasons, but being on a show (or being a fan of a show) does not condemn you.
Making past mistakes or doing things that you regret shouldn’t condemn you, either. It should be an opportunity to talk about our culture — where it has been, where it is, and where it can go. Maybe going to that party was a mistake — maybe it wasn’t — but talking about it is the right course of action, not excommunicating the very person who wanted to have the discussion.
Maybe The Bachelor isn’t a great show and doesn’t promote wholesome ideas about how we should view dating, sex, and marriage. Maybe it encourages the wrong mindset about important, fulfilling ways of life, at times advancing superficial stereotypes. But maybe it’s also fine to have a fun game show to watch on a weekday and talk about with your friends. And maybe not. But I’m here to talk about both sides all day.
If reality television silences dialogue and eliminates contestants at the first scent of imperfection; if we can’t have these conversations about the morality of a television show and the actions of the people on it, then we won’t be better humans. We’ll just stop talking to each other.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.