2021 Bachelorette offers substance to indulgent television

2021 Bachelorette offers substance to indulgent television

Network 10’s The Bachelorette makes history by featuring the first Indigenous and queer protagonist, Brooke Blurton, which airs this week. But, only time will tell how this move influences the future of the sugary franchise, journalist Michelle Wakim explains. (Image source: Network 10)

By Michelle Wakim @MichelleWakim

On Wednesday October 20, 2021, Noongar-Yamatji woman Brooke Blurton, who identifies as both bisexual and pansexual, will make history as the first Indigenous and queer protagonist in The Bachelor franchise.

Behind the news, reality TV is the most watched genre across our nation. The biggest shows include Married at First Sight, MasterChef Australia, and The Bachelor franchise.

We indulge in reality TV the same way we indulge in junk food.

We crave and binge it at the end of a long, hard day and use it to compensate for our insecurities. It adds weight to parts of us we are not proud of: toxic gender constructions, racial discrimination, classist and ageist prejudices. It feeds the masses on free-to-air, commercial television in a prime-time viewing slot.

For the sake of zeitgeist, it is irresponsible to dismiss reality TV as insignificant.

The Bachelorette was not established to educate, but neither was so much of what we consume. We are a generation who learnt about sex from porn, systemic racism from viral videos, and mental health from Netflix.

We are the media we consume; we are what we eat.

It’s about time this indulgence – our entertainment, and simultaneously our education – had substance.

This is not a new argument. It mirrors common sayings we offer to adolescents: “if you are going to have sex, at least be safe” or, “if you are going to drink, at least do it at home where there is an adult”.

If we are going to watch reality TV, at least let it represent the people who make up this country.

There is a risk that Blurton will be misrepresented and exploited as a marker of diversity, and the communities she identifies with will be dragged down with her.

There is a risk that Network 10 will perpetuate harmful, racist, and homophobic tropes.

There is a risk of queerbaiting, and that social media will work to invalidate her sexuality if she chooses a man at the end.

Despite acknowledging these risks, there is space for optimism because the communities Blurton engages with are loud, proud, and widely protective of her representation.

If Network 10 are careless in this pursuit, The Bachelorette will fall victim to online criticism, construction, and destruction. Although healthy compared to other free-to-air shows, ratings are declining for The Bachelorette, and Blurton’s season could very well be the make or break.

We cannot, and should not, rely on The Bachelorette to be our moral compass, or the sole pathway to meaningful race discussions and anti-discrimination practices, but it is part of our cultural discourse. 

We canrely on it to engage the average Australian – the mainstream, free-to-air viewer – and bring them into tolerant and progressive conversations. 

On May 20 2021, the day Blurton’s casting was announced, Google Trends showed searches for Blurton peaked, as did searches of the term “pansexual”. This, paired with widespread discussion and comment, is a faint marker of education and visibility.

Network 10 have the opportunity to make this junky indulgence substantial, to offer up a full meal, even if the result is simply an instant, microwavable helping.

Is Network 10, and the reality TV genre in general, capable of representing Blurton genuinely, or will it simply be tokenistic?

The responsibility to decide that falls on us, as viewers we hold the ultimate power. If Network 10 do this right, let’s dig in; if not, let’s do what we do best, and leave our comments and complaints.

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