"The Bachelor" has come under fire this season for its current leading man, Juan Pablo Galavis, telling a reporter that there could never be an all-gay version of the dating show: "Obviously people have their husband and wife and kids and that is how we are brought up. Now there is fathers having kids and all that, and it is hard for me to understand that too in the sense of a household having peoples." Indeed, a gay version of the series is practically unimaginable for aesthetic reasons -- audiences expect gay men to be, as Galavis put it, "more pervert in a sense," or else tragic. The romantic journey of the series isn't one gay men usually undertake on TV.
The program's host, Chris Harrison, has come down on Team Juan Pablo, coming to the same conclusion for different reasons. He tells the New York Times Magazine that the show works so well as is that it need not vary its straight-folks-seeking-love model:
"The question is: Is it a good business decision? I just spoke at U.S.C. the other night, and I explained it like this: Look, if you’ve been making pizzas for 12 years and you’ve made millions of dollars and everybody loves your pizzas and someone comes and says, 'Hey, you should make hamburgers.' Why? I have a great business model, and I don’t know if hamburgers are going to sell."
"The Bachelor" hews to a very specific formula; elsewhere in the interview, Harrison notes that the show would not cast an overweight protagonist, either. The issue of race goes unremarked-upon, but the show has only ever had one nonwhite star, the Venezuelan Galavis. "Is our job to break barriers, or is it a business?" asks Harrison, and the answer seems inherent in the question.
But Harrison's perception of gay and straight love as so wildly different as to be like pizza and hamburgers reveals the sort of prejudice that suffuses the entertainment industry. Leaving aside the not-so-small fact that competitors vying for the star's heart could fall in love with one another, a gay "Bachelor" would be "The Bachelor"; gay people are capable of the same cant and silly sentimentality as straight people. Isn't that the very idea of gay marriage -- that gay folks are entitled to not just the rights inherent in a legal union but all the dopey rhetoric like rings and doves and throwing rice? Indeed, Harrison goes on to note that he is "100 percent for equality and gay marriage."
There are aspects of gay life wildly different from straight life, but the inclination in some toward "Bachelor"-style cheesiness and willingness to go on a Romantic Journey is just the same. There are enough gay people as silly as the straight people on "The Bachelor" to fill out a cast -- even if you leave out overweight people, as Harrison wants! But the show would never be accepted.
The dispiriting reaction to the very good HBO series "Looking," a show depicting gay love that's deliberate and overtly emotional in the manner of a soap about straight people, rather than outsize or melodramatic, has been revealing. Gay and straight people enter into entertainments about gay people expecting a certain number of boxes to be checked off: self-aggrandizing drama, promiscuity, victimhood. "The Bachelor," which doesn't acknowledge the promiscuity inherent in its premise, has its own rules, into which gay people could easily fit but the expectations around them could never.