The Bachelor Franchise Has a Consent Problem
I feel like I’m pretty late to the ”Bachelor” game, considering I only really started watching the franchise in the last couple of months. I started watching it out of morbid curiosity because of how frequently my Twitter would be flooded with people, mostly women, commenting on the various storylines. But even in my brief sampling of this colosseum of heterosexual lust for sex and attention, I could tell that there was a huge problem with this reality show and consent culture. What was particularly concerning was just how careless it felt the producers were with the emotional and physical safety of the contestants in their care.
As rumors began to circulate about drunken sexual assault between Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson on the set of “Bachelor In Paradise”, causing them to halt filming, my biggest question was, “why is this time getting so much attention?”
“Bachelor in Paradise”, a show that revolves around getting a bunch of heterosexual folks drunk and encouraging them to awkwardly hook up to prevent being kicked off, seems like it’s always been a fertile ground for consent violations. The alcohol is free and plentiful, and sexual behaviour is what can keep you in the camera’s spotlight… not only saving you from elimination, but ensuring you get that valuable screen time. From the season I watched, I could name multiple instances where I would expect the intoxication levels of the couple to be considered legally problematic for consent. It made me wonder why the producers and crew, knowing that this was a festering petri dish of rape culture, would not have considered the legal repercussions of filming potential sexual assaults under the influence without intervening.
Especially concerning is the report that producers informed DeMario and Corinne that their storyline would involve hooking up.
It feels coercive to inform participants who and how they are to romantically and sexually engage with each other in order to be part of the show — is it possible in such a situation to give informed consent?
As Christina Cauterucci said in Slate:
“…producers are incentivized to encourage drunkenness and sexual activity, and contestants are incentivized to get drunk and seduce one another. It would almost be more shocking if such a setup didn’t ever end in allegations of sexual assault.”
To be fair, this isn’t just an issue with the wild, spring break themed antics of “Bachelor In Paradise”. As my boyfriend and I watched “The Bachelorette” season 13 while I researched for this piece, there’s a moment where one of the male contestants, Fred Johnson, asks bachelorette Rachel Lindsay if he can kiss her. Fred says that he wants to make sure she feels comfortable before he goes for it which I think is admirable. She seems immediately repulsed, and says how she feels awkward about the request — not saying no, exactly, but her body language is screaming it. He leans in and kisses her in response and my boyfriend literally covered his eyes in disgust and walked out of the room. I, having watched another season of this, realized how numb I was to this kind of pushing of boundaries in this context.
Never mind, of course, all the issues with physical assault in the show, which appears to be allowed to happen until hospitalization is imminent.
Who can forget Chad Johnson going so far as to threaten Evan Bass’s life — a violent and ongoing situation that ABC still shamelessly hosts on their website, diminishing as simply “beef”?
It makes me wonder why watching consent violations and assaults is marketable entertainment… and how far do they have to go before we recoil in horror instead of being drawn into the manufactured “drama”?
Who is accountable for this — the cast who participates, the crew who observes, the producers who sculpt the narrative… or it is ultimately us, the viewers who make the whole thing profitable?