Is ‘The Bachelor’ racist and sexist?

WASHINGTON — The formula for both “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” seems to follow a simple equation: good-looking white men and women meet other good-looking white men and women and feign to fall in love on live television.

The reality show franchise, which first debuted in 2002, has come under fire in recent years for being both racist and sexist.

A class action lawsuit was filed, and subsequently dismissed, in 2012 by a group of black men who alleged they were discriminated against during casting. Judges ruled that casting choices are protected under the First Amendment, but the question remains: Why do mostly white men and women appear on the shows?

“Some of the most regressive ideas we’ve moved past as a culture have actively been resuscitated by ABC,” says Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women in Media and News and author of “Reality Bites Back.”

“It can really tell us a lot about what Hollywood wants us to believe about marriage, race, class.”

Pozner has closely watched the development of these two shows from the beginning. She became interested in the franchise after its first incarnation, “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire,” tanked in 2000.

That show ended in a live TV wedding that was eventually followed by an annulment. It turned out that the multi-millionaire in question had a history of violence against a former girlfriend, who had a restraining order against him.

Despite the show’s failure, Executive Producer Mike Fleiss bounced back two years later with “The Bachelor,” which loosely follows a similar premise of finding love on television.

“It is a very 1950s model of gender and race,” Pozner says.

“Women are expected to give up their identity, their hometown, their jobs” if chosen on the show. And men “don’t need to be smart or loyal,” Pozner says, adding that they need “GQ jawlines and the wallet to match.”

To be fair, there have been non-white contestants on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” but none have ever been the star except for Spaniard Juan Pablo, whose fair skin conformed, and even reinforced, the mold.

Another contestant, Marquel Martin, made it all the way to the fifth episode before encountering a bit of a snag.

After receiving a prized rose from Bachelorette Andi Dorfman, a fellow contestant remarked that “she gave it to the two blackies.”

Martin offered a thoughtful response:

“It’s crazy to think that the first thing people are gonna recognize about me is ‘OK, he’s a black guy.’ And that’s the reality of it,” Martin said on the show.

Viewers took to Twitter voicing their support for Martin. The hashtag #MarquelforBachelor was populated with declarations of love and annoyance at his eventual rejection.

Despite viewer’ outrage, Pozner says there is a “bait and switch” when it comes to who is cast, and who ultimately is chosen, in these dating shows.

While producers might argue that they are merely giving people what they want to see, Pozner says they are not giving viewers a choice in what they see.

“Sexism and racism are embedded in the DNA of reality TV,” she says.

“But that doesn’t mean that sexism and racism in these narratives are inevitable. It’s not the format that’s the problem, it’s what producers chose to do with that format.”

One past contestant sees things a little differently.

Lawrence Stanley says he was almost picked in 2008 to be the bachelor for season 12. At the last minute, he was taken out of the running, presumably to star in season 13.

Stanley, who is black and lives in Leesburg, Virginia, flew to Los Angeles and met with the top show creators. It seemed like a done deal, but a week later a different bachelor was chosen. Stanley chalked it up to a business decision and moved on, he says.

When he heard about the class action lawsuit in 2012, Stanley says he emailed the network and expressed his support for the show, assuring them that at no time did he feel discriminated against because of his skin color.

“I think I wasn’t picked because they decided to go in a different direction,” he says. “I just didn’t fit the bill.”

What do you think: Are “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” racist and sexist?

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