A Few (OK, Many) Words on the Christianization of the Bachelor Franchise

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

First things first, I was gonna write all this up into a nice packaged piece to submit to Alma, one of my favorite Jewish websites... but somebody else did it first. See "Is The Bachelor Just a Christian Dating Show Now?" by Emily Burack, the smart & insightful gal who beat me to the punch. 

After having a few conversations in a few Bachelor-related Facebook groups (Dear God, I am embarrassing), I realized that I've written enough words in there that I might as well put them into a piece to be shared here. I don't need to send my piece off to a publication if I've got a "publish" button right here! 

SO. Let's get to it.

Last night was the season premiere of The Bachelor, starring the very first Black lead, Matt James. Yes, is it truly absurd & egregious & not OK that in 2021, we are just now getting our first Black Bachelor. Big ups to the Bachelor Diversity Campaign for being loud enough to finally shame ABC into doing what they should've done long, long ago. 

But the season started in an unusual way (& no, I'm not talking about the girl who arrived with a bedazzled vibrator in hand). Matt, who I found to be charming & dashing & full of unexpected nervous energy, entered the mansion, said hello to his room full of potential love matches... then asked them to bow their heads to he could pray for/with/over them (I couldn't discern which word he actually used there). All of the women sat quietly as Matt asked the "Heavenly Father" for guidance during the process; at the end, some of the women cried because they were so moved by his words.

I want to be reaaaal clear up front: I do not have a problem with a Christian man wanting to find a Christian woman. I do not have a problem with a Christian man wanting to pray for/with/over the women he's about to date, especially because the women in that room were cast explicitly for this Christian man & are thus probably Christian themselves. (Maybe.)

Here's what I do have a problem with. 

Matt James (who again seems like a very lovely human) might be the first Black Bachelor, but he is the sixth Bachelor Nation lead in the last seven seasons to be an overtly, devoutly practicing Christian (by which I mean that he has discussed it a lot on Instagram & in interviews). Past leads Becca Kufrin, Colton Underwood, Hannah Brown, & Tayshia Adams were all also overtly, devoutly practicing Christians who have spoken about how important their faith is to them. It seems fair to say that it is unlikely, given what we know about them, that any of these leads would ever have chosen a partner who did not identify as Christian; Tayshia even sent home one of her final three, Ivan Hall, after she learned that he was agnostic, though we never got to see their conversations about it.

Again, let me repeat: It is extremely OK for an individual human to be an overtly, devoutly practicing Christian & to want to marry an individual human who is also an overtly, devoutly practicing Christian. It's even OK for one or two of those people to be the lead in America's most popular dating show.

But at what point do we say, "Hey, ABC, this is too much"? That this is too many seasons of a lot of Christianity? At what point does ABC's continued casting of overtly, devoutly practicing Christians explicitly alienate & actually eliminate the potential for non-Christian contestants to have any shot whatsoever of thriving within this franchise? This isn't about Matt's prayer, or at least it's not just about Matt's prayer. Rather, Matt's prayer represented a very obvious, explicit, out-front display of overt, devout, practicing Christianity that follows seasons & seasons & seasons' worth of more implicit but equally alienating Christianity. For a lot of us, it represented the finalization of the Christianization of this show. 

The problem here is not with one Christian lead looking for a Christian partner. The problem here is the way that ABC's continually casting religious leads continues to marginalize, alienate, & wholly exclude non-Christian contestants who never have a fighting chance – & the way that this prayer scene, in particular, truly exemplifies & drives home the problem.

In these Facebook groups & threads about #prayergate, as one woman dubbed it, a few viewers have expressed their belief that those of us who were uncomfortable with this scene are going in on Matt in particular, or that we're expecting more of the first Black lead than we expected of white leads before him. One woman wrote, "All I see is a bunch of white people finding reasons to ridicule a Black man. All these tears are gross to me."

And honestly... that comment, in particular, is gross to me, because here's the thing: There is room for all of these conversations. Having a Black lead (again, thank God, it's about time) does not negate the need for conversations about other ways in which the franchise erases or further marginalizes other marginalized communities. Having Black leads, finally, doesn't negate the need for conversations about why there aren't more Asians on the show, or more Southeast Asians. It doesn't negate the need for conversations about body diversity, or about sexual orientation, or about disability representation. And it doesn't negate the need for conversations about faith diversity, either. 

It is not fair or appropriate to expect the rest of these conversations to stop or be put on hold because we have a Black Bachelor. If we want to talk intersectionality & representation, we have to be allowed to talk about the many facets of that intersectionality& representation, even if it's uncomfortable. We’re allowed to simultaneously celebrate & enjoy watching the first Black lead while also feeling deeply uncomfortable with & increasingly alienated by the show’s veer into being more overtly Christian than ever. And we can't shut people down or accuse them of racism for trying to continue these conversations in tandem with the existence of a Black lead.

Because again, that's the thing: It's not just about Matt James's prayer. It's about the toxicity of Luke Parker's beliefs about purity. It's about Madison Prewett's evangelical family. It's about Cassie Randolph's evangelical family. It's about the cross tattoo on Becca Kufrin's finger. It's about Tayshia telling Ivan she wouldn't marry someone who identifies as agnostic. It's about Hannah Brown's famous line, "I've had sex, & Jesus still loves me." It's even about Sean Lowe's re-virginization (?) based on his born-again Christian beliefs, & Ben Higgins's repeated discussion of what Jesus means to him, even though, in their days, the show was much, much less aggressive in their on-screen depictions of leads' faith beliefs.

For me, at least, it's about acknowledging that this show now exclusively casts hyper-Christian leads who would almost certainly not choose a non-Christian partner, which means that non-Christian contestants either don't have a shot at winning or, as seems to be the case for Matt James, are simply not cast at all. And it's about recognizing what last night's scene says about the tone & path of the show as of late — which is absolutely, 1000% on ABC, not at all a dig at Matt James as an individual lead or a Black man or a human being.

Because I am not upset with Matt James, the human being. I like him! I am excited to watch him find love! We should have had a Black Bachelor forever ago! But I am also, simultaneously, extremely tired of this show acting like Christians are its only audience (or at least the only audience it cares about), & I am tired of their continual casting of leads who are so Christian that there is no room for the thriving or even existing of non-Christian contestants — & for better or worse, Matt’s prayer was the most open embodiment of that element of the show that we’ve seen in a long time. 

My anger is with the show for making everything, as of late, so Christian that it feels frankly inhospitable to the rest of us. That’s not on Matt, as an individual human or a lead. That’s on ABC. And I, for one, am feeling pretty fed up with it.

2 comments:

Anne said...

I have so many thoughts on this. I don't watch the Bachelor, but did in the past. And honestly, this is appalling. I can't even imagine being on this show and having someone "pray over me"?!?!?! I mean, what? (Clearly I would not have made it past the uber-Christian requirement in the screening criteria...) Elevating and outright *promoting* evangelical Christianity - on a network show - crosses so many lines for me. I'm appalled at the glorification of Christianity in our society today, but this is a particularly egregious example. Sorry for my incoherence but... wow. Just, wow.

Anonymous said...

There have been 25 seasons of the Bachelor. If 6 have portrayed Christians, that’s less than a quarter of the seasons. Why is that so offensive? It’s a reality TV show that, I assume, rarely portrays an accurate cross representation of America. So why is this particular trait worth the attention? Why not the lack of representation of other races or sexualities?

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