“The Bachelorette” got a little risqué Tuesday night, with a group date game of dodgeball digressing into a strip version of the game, and detractors aren’t happy about it.
During the first group date of this season, bachelorette Clare Crawley decided to “up the ante” of the competition. “I think we should play strip dodgeball,” she announced before the game commenced, with the men’s initial shock quickly becoming testosterone-induced resolve. While the losers would finish the game in naught but a jockstrap, the winners would be rewarded with an exclusive evening with Clare.
“This is my game. These are my rules,” Clare said, enjoying herself. Not everyone was quite so entertained, however, with the Parents Television Council going so far as to call the escapade “sexual harassment.”
“Asking television contestants to strip naked sounds like it would come at the direction of Harvey Weinstein, not from Walt Disney-owned ABC,” said Parents Television Council President Tim Winter. “Such programming is outrageously tone-deaf, especially as Hollywood continues its reckoning in the #MeToo era.”
Winter’s comments ring true to some degree, specifically in the cultural context of Me Too. It was all fun and games for Clare to require that the men take off their clothes, with host Chris Harrison and the bachelorette taking turns with lewd double entendres and “ball” pun commentary.
But what if the roles were reversed? The same shenanigans would hardly have flown had this been a season of “The Bachelor,” with a man declaring that the group of women must strip for his amusement. Regardless of whether this ordeal rises to the level of sexual harassment, it’s clear that sexual standards of decency are different for men and women.
“If anyone in a position of authority in corporate America asked his/her employees to strip in order to keep their jobs, the executive would be fired,” Winter continued. “But Disney not only enables The Bachelorette to do just that, it promotes the show, rates the program as appropriate for young children (TV-PG), and ostensibly encourages — and even celebrates — blatant sexual harassment.”
Winter once again has a point. It seems reasonable to assume that a show requiring black boxes to censor genitals deserves more than a TV-PG rating and that a Disney-owned company might maintain a more wholesome standard. The Parents Television Council is therefore calling on Disney and “The Bachelorette” producers to “stop asking audiences to be entertained by” this conduct.
It is curious, however, that this advocacy group would single out this episode as particularly troubling. For an entire franchise that has reoriented the show around sex, this dodgeball game was completely unsurprising.
Are men stripping down to G-strings any worse than swarms of women wearing string bikinis? After all, this certainly wasn’t the first time “The Bachelor” producers have had to invoke the black box of censorship to conceal a nip slip or a rogue butt cheek. Is a game of strip dodgeball less family-friendly than Fantasy Suites, a steamy and recurring “Bachelor” trademark? Was this week’s episode more upsetting than Hannah B. announcing, “I f-cked in a windmill”?
Winter’s concerns certainly have merit, and parents are right to be vigilant and demanding about the content their children consume. Strip dodgeball isn’t for young eyes. This, however, is the culture we’ve created. Sex sells, and the demand for it is endless. As long as viewers keep coming back for more — and they do — the profiting suppliers will keep on supplying. Much like the raunchy J. Lo and Shakira halftime show, this episode of “The Bachelorette” was precisely on-brand with the rest of our sexualized culture.
The Overton Window of sex has shifted dramatically to the left. Where Lucy and Ricky Ricardo once slept in separate twin beds, now married celebrities wriggle with professional dancers in sequined lingerie week and after week for a score and a mirrorball trophy on “Dancing with the Stars.” This too airs on ABC primetime — and there are no black boxes.
Examples of such casual yet corrupted entertainment abound. Look at any music video on YouTube or on TikTok. Swipe through the Cosmopolitan story on your kids’ Snapchat. Get a sampling of the jokes on Nickelodeon cartoons.
Parents should be able to watch television with their children without fear of such debasement — or better yet, allow them to watch a program alone. Parenting, however, wasn’t intended to be reduced to plopping a child in front of a screen. And while our personal standards of decency shouldn’t be informed by what our cultural overlords dictate, nor should we be surprised when a degenerate industry pushes degenerate content.
If the Parents Television Council wants ABC to be family-friendly, it shouldn’t call for “The Bachelorette” to be cleaned up. It should call for it to be canceled.