It is tough times in Bachelor Nation. Last week, Chris Harrison, decades-long host of the heteronormative and often racist reality dating program, apologized for defending contestant Rachael Kirkconnell of Matt James’s season amid allegations of racism against her. Images of Kirkconnell at an antebellum-themed party surfaced, causing Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette, to ask Harrison in an interview, “It’s not a good look ever. She’s representing the old South. If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?” He responded, “I don’t disagree with you. You’re 100 percent right in 2021. That was not the case in 2018.” (Their conversation spanned 14 minutes, but all that is necessary here is that Harrison apparently just began thinking about racism in 2021, and at one point said, “I am not the woke police. There’s plenty of people who will do that for us in this world right now.”)
As a result, and no doubt pressured by The Bachelor’s militantly loyal viewership, Harrison posted a lengthy apology over the weekend, explaining that he had “consulted with Warner Bros. and ABC and will be stepping aside for a period of time and will not join for the After the Final Rose special.” Of course, his hiatus only means he won’t appear in the special episode that follows James’s finale—it is likely Harrison will return for The Bachelorette and all spin-offs that follow. And that’s a mistake. It’s time to retire, bitch!
But first, the apology:
As far as forced expressions of regret go, this one is well-scripted—though there is no part of me that thinks Chris Harrison feels “ashamed” for using the term “woke police”; the man clearly wants his incredibly easy, incredibly well-paid job back, okay? Just be grateful he isn’t a YouTuber and didn’t have to film this through fake tears.
I don’t think Harrison should be removed from his position of 20 years because of his Kirkconnell racism coddling. But I think it can serve as a catalyst: the franchise has been struggling to keep up with the culture—how is it that it took two decades to get the first black Bachelor?—and Harrison’s unique position as spectacle hype-man and “guide” to contestants doesn’t work like it used to. He can’t comment on race, he stumbles through issues of gender, and just how many more seasons can go by with him promising “the most dramatic season ever”? He’s meant to be a romance subject matter expert, but quite often, comes across as a man just trying to get the next great sound bite, the next meme-able moment... an antagonizer meant to look like a peacekeeper. As Willa Paskin put it in a 2018 Slate piece: “Chris Harrison [is] an emotional succubus posing as an empath.”
If the show wants to continue to offer a fantastical take on straight love, it could do so by hiring someone who understands the nuances of our current moment. Harrison has already stepped down; remove him from the ride entirely.