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“The Bachelor” Controversy

I don’t know very much about the TV show “The Bachelor,” or its various spinoffs, except that it has obviously been a very successful franchise. And I don’t know this story in great detail, but enough of it to bring it up, because of the issues it presents. So if you know more about it than I do, feel free to add.

Chris Harrison has been the host of “The Bachelor” for 19 years, and has also hosted most off the spinoffs. By all accounts, he has been a professional and likeable host, quite popular.

Recently, The Bachelor had its first Black bachelor. He ended up choosing his favorite of the contestants. She is a White woman from the South. Apparently they broke up before the series was shown, but then got back together. I do know that in most instances, this is what happens with the people on the show, very few of them actually stay together, it is more of an over-intense, speeded-up process, manufactured for audiences.

The woman chosen, had some pictures of her surface, where she had attended what they call an “antebellum ball,” where people dress up in the costumes of that Scarlett O’Hara period. Scarlett was fictional, of course, but “Gone With the Wind” was one of the most popular movies of all time, until a recent related controversy about it caused MGM to append a warning label to it. Harrison stood up for her, and tried to defend her, saying that this was a few years ago that she attended the party, and that the sensitivity about these things had changed.

Somehow this then made him the focus, and people called for him to be fired. He was taken off the shows, and wanted to return; but after a year or so, he has just accepted an eight-figure settlement which will stipulate that he will never return to any Bachelor show or spinoff.

We are all entitled to our views on such things. My view is that for Harrison to be removed as host of these shows, is an example of a new kind of McCarthyism. Now, I am of course aware that the Far Right keeps using the term “cancel culture” as a weapon, and I do not want to take their side on any general matter. But I also do not like censorship, and the attempts over the decades to get rid of people because they said or did something that others might not like.

It is certainly not that Harrison defended slavery! Or even that he came out in favor of antebellum balls. He just tried to stand up for his contestant, and say that he thought she was being judged too harshly. The bachelor on the show didn’t seem to think that the woman was a racist, he picked her; and by accounts, they are still a couple. But we have a certain segment of the public putting pressure on the network; and the network, very much wanting to preserve their ratings, giving in.

This is of course what happened in the McCarthy era, when all sorts of people lost their jobs because they had maybe attended one or two Communist Party meetings in the 1930’s. Or even just that some scurrilous magazine such as “Red Channels” named them. Or that one of the targets of those groups mentioned them, in order to save themselves. Or–and this was at the crux of a lot of it–the person had written or acted in anti-business, pro-labor themed films or plays, or had been active in liberal politics.

They put pressure on the networks, which almost always caved in, out of a concern for their bottom line, or to show their own patriotism. And so careers and lives were ruined. A couple of stories about the blacklists wihich were memorable to me, were the movie “The Front,’ the recent mostly ignored movie “Trumbo,’ and the novel “The Troubled Air” by Irwin Shaw. They all evoke the paranoia and casual cruelty of the times.

One should never ignore that much of the HUAC hearings and the McCarthy performances were about people craving attention and power. Nixon rode to power on that history, as did others. And I think that what is going on now, with shows and people being taken off the air because they made a comment, or went to a party dressed as an antebellum Southern lady, or defended someone going to such an event, or had a scene or even a story from antebellum times, is not dissimilar.

I do understand that it is exciting to wield power, to be able to get people fired, or put under immense pressure, and forced to abjectly apologize. I think I noted that a female actor did something like this the other day, apologize for dressing for some antebellum-themed event some years ago. It is not going to stop, and one wonders how strict the boundaries are going to be made.

And I always note that this is really the same kind of thing that “The Right” has done for centuries, trying to ban books and plays or being “immoral,” or questioning the government or leading citizens. “The Left,” or liberals, always fought against that. How different is this now? I know that some would say that it is much different, but is it?

Somehow, there has to be a sense of moderation about these things. Blatantly racist remarks cannot be acceptable. But is going to an antebellum ball as a very young woman, comparable to that? Regency England of the early 1800’s was a society of great cultural unfairness, and mistreatment of various peoples. But they have Regency Balls. I would say that there was a great deal of racism in the 1920’s in America, but there are ’20’s-themed parties. Is it a matter of degree? Maybe, but who makes that determination? It is not the public a large, it is usually those who create the biggest backlash, and force the networks to cave in, to show their virtuousness.

I don’t know any of these people; I may have seen one episode of the Bachelor or Bachelorette. So in one sense, I do not care what happens to the shows. But I feel bad for Chris Harrison, even though he apparently got over $10 million as recompense, minus attorney’s fees.

It is not just about money, though. And I do not like the fact that in the efforts to combat prejudice, we seem to be going overboard in trying to hold some people to standards of cultural behavior of the sort which were used as rationales to send people to the Tower or the stake in earlier eras. If the bachelor starring on the show could see past dressing up for a ball, and still be together with the woman in question, why does the longtime host of 19 years get forced out for trying to defend her in a fair-minded way? The ultimate effect is of course going to be that more people are so very careful about anything they say or do or write, which is bad for art, at the least. So we have not come very far at all, perhaps?

And one more thing. It is very possibly not for me to say, because I am not Black. But when there are tens of millions of people who watch “The Bachelor” franchise, and they realize that Harrison is permanently gone from the shows; and they learn it is because he stood up for one of his contestants who went to an antebellum ball, is this going to cause a reaction which will not help the greater cause, which includes the desperate need to protect the vote, and win the next elections? Were holding signs saying “Defund the Police” helpful? Do you want to win small battles, only to potentially lose the war? Of course these battles are waged by a relatively small group of activist people who might possibly not look at it that way.