Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s third act is a real pleasure to behold. He’s long since retired from professional basketball, and for years now, he’s been a writer, a passionate progressive advocate, ally, political commentator and pop culture commentator. He regularly appears on cable news shows and he always has something interesting to say. Well, this week Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has some thoughts about The Bachelor and Bachelorette franchises and I absolutely love that he cares so much. Personally, I don’t watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette because those shows are simply not my jam. I greet all of those stories with a shrug – it’s just reality show soap opera, with blandly attractive white people getting drunk and hooking up and catfighting and being stupid. But people are obsessed with those shows. And it’s obvious that Kareem has been watching them too (he knows a lot about JoJo Fletcher), and he’s been thinking about what these franchises mean for our society and for love in general. You can read his full column here at the Hollywood Reporter. Here’s an edited excerpt:
Sad news for the condom industry: millennials are having less sex than recent previous generations. A study published last month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior concludes that younger millennials (born in the 1990s) are more than twice as likely not to be having sex as the generation before them. Many people might be cheering this news as a move in the right moral direction, but that’s short-sighted. Rather than a triumph for increased gender respect it could be a symptom of a greater social problem: the replacement of sturdy realistic romantic love that might last a lifetime with the flimsy bedazzled imposter with the shelf life of a loaf of Wonder Bread. There are many lucrative business reasons for the pimping out of unrealistic romantic love in American popular culture, but the plastic face of it is the trendy Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise. As entertaining as these shows are (and they really are compelling fun), there is an insidious darkness beneath the fairytale pabulum they are serving up.
… So, what’s so wrong with a little harmless entertainment of watching people scramble for “love” like ravenous crabs on a washed up seal corpse? In the short term, nothing. Just good, clean fun. But the long-term effects of their choices — from the types of people selected to be on the show to the promotion of a subversive, childish concept of love — is like smoking or listening to Kenny G: it can have serious consequences.
In her novel The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison writes one of the most profound observations about human culture: “Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another — physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought.” Morrison is exposing both notions as weapons that induce self-destructive behavior that harm not just individuals, but also society. The Bachelor shows perpetuate both of these harmful ideas.
The shows’ mantra repeated by most castmembers that “everyone deserves love” ain’t necessarily so. You’re not even in the running for love unless you fit a very narrow ideal of Ken and Barbie doll physical beauty. These shows promote the scorched-earth effects of raising females to be continually judged physically above all other attributes and then measured against impossible physical standards that has marginalized a majority of girls and women — and made billions for the beauty products, clothing, and cosmetic surgery industries. Even youthful Amanda Stanton, 26, admits to using Botox.
The real crime is the lack of intellectual and appearance diversity, which leaves the contestants as interchangeable as the Mr. Potato Head parts. The lack of racial diversity has already been commented on. If you’re black on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, you’re usually kept around as a courtesy for a few weeks before being ejected. Those outside the ideal body fat percentage index need not apply. With all eyes firmly fixed on firm buttocks, the criteria for finding love becomes how high a quarter will bounce off rock-hard abs. Will we ever witness a conversation that isn’t so bland and vacuous that words seem to evaporate as soon as they are spoken? The rest — intimate outings, group dates, visiting hometowns — is window dressing to disguise the establishment of a laundry list for love so paltry and insubstantial that nearly anyone with a hipster beard or pert breasts can make the cut. Just as some experts blame the porn industry for establishing sexual shenanigans that make millennials feel too inadequate to pursue sex, so this network romance porn may set the bar for falling in love so low that only divorce attorneys and Ashley Madison subscribers can endorse it. Oh, the humanity if this becomes the template for true love.
Kareem goes on to say that the contestants are, almost entirely, play-acting this idea of love, that of course there’s very little passion or authenticity, and that treating these shows like they represent real courtship, love or commitment is a joke. All of which we knew already, right? Right. But I absolutely agree with him about the weird Aryan-esque homogeny of the contestants – it’s one of the reasons why I’ve never been into the franchises. I would absolutely watch The Bachelorette if she was an African-American woman choosing from a racially diverse group of men – I think that would be amazing television! I would totally watch if The Bachelorette was Asian-American too.
Photos courtesy of WENN, covers courtesy of Us Weekly.