On last night's episode of The Bachelorette, the contestants engaged in a mock "debate" on the steps of the Virginia capitol. They all wore navy suits and stood at pulpits. Abraham Lincoln even made an appearance, as did George Washington, each of them blustering about the foundations of this country. In the same episode — which took place in Richmond, Virginia — Becca Kufrin visited the church where Patrick Henry begged for liberty. (If he couldn't have liberty, he'd take death, remember?) Fitting for this Independence Day week, the episode rang of patriotism. Men shaped like Legos offered platitudes on the steps of a state capitol, and, the Bachelorette attended an "unhappy" hour in honor of the literary legend and proto-Goth Edgar Allen Poe.
The episode was meant to be fun and Virginia-themed (?), but its bland jingoism fell way off the mark, especially considering the Bachelorette's general apathy. It's 2018, Trump is President, chaos reigns, and Justice Kennedy just announced his retirement. But, er, Virginia is for lovers, I guess?
The Bachelorette straddles a weird divide. It has one foot in the apolitical realm — catering to the type of people who demand their favorite celebrities "stop talking about politics" — and another in progressivism (or at least faux-feminism). As this divide gets wider, the show's contortions get stranger. Ergo, last night's episode.
Richmond, Virginia happens to be, per Becca Kufrin herself, a "historical town." The whole episode sort of promotes Richmond as a wholly American place, like a very green baseball stadium.
"Just like Virginia birthed the nation, I hope that it births a relationship that really lasts with Becca," Leandro Dottavio, one of the more level-headed contestants, remarks.
Becca herself has a lot of love for Richmond. She says, "I love historical towns. There's something just so exciting, but mysterious and unique about mixing the old with the new."
Richmond indeed has a history, and but that history is knotted. Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America. Monument Avenue, the city's most iconic site, is a mall devoted to Confederate generals. Just this week, the city of Richmond decided to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis from Monument Avenue. The remaining four statues — of Confederate officials Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury — will be "reinterpreted." Conveniently, the Bachelorette did not visit Monument Avenue during last night's episode, but the statue of Jefferson Davis did appear in an establishing shot. One viewer noted on Twitter that it was "ironic" that the statue appeared on the show the same day the city announced plans to remove it.
The episode's group date — awkward, amoeba-like dates — centered on a debate. The Lincoln impersonator called it "Beccalection 2018." A strange move, considering the show has yet to mention the name of our current president. A number of Bachelor and Bachelorette alums regularly tweet about Trump, but his name has yet to come up on the show. Save for various asides — this season, a contestant referred to "shithole" countries, referencing Trump's comment about Haiti — the show veers away from politics, in part because the timeline of the show doesn't match the election timeline. Nick Viall filmed his season of The Bachelor on top of the 2016 presidential election. Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette star ever, filmed her season in its aftermath. Neither season brought up the president.
The show's most progressive moments have included Lindsay's casting and the inclusion of frank conversations about sexual consent. Speaking to the New York Times this winter, the show's creator Mike Fleiss expressed dismay that these measures hadn't been met with enthusiasm from the show's audience. "I found it incredibly disturbing in a Trumpish kind of way," he said, referring to the drop in ratings during Rachel Lindsay's season. "How else are you going to explain the fact that she’s down in the ratings, when — black or white — she was an unbelievable bachelorette? It revealed something about our fans."
This season, political chatter looms on the margins of the show – i.e. social media. Before the season even started, fans uncovered contestant Garrett Yrigoyen's "likes" on Instagram. He liked a number of conservative "memes," including one that suggested Parkland survivor David Hogg was a crisis actor. Yrigoyen's political leanings, based on his Instagram presence, seem stringently right-wing, even though he insisted in a statement that his "likes" weren't representative of his personality. Kufrin, by contrast, shared a photo of herself giving a Trump sign the bird months ago.
There's also the matter of contestant Lincoln Adim, who said in an earlier episode that he thinks the Earth is flat. "When you look out of a plane, everything is flat," he pointed out. Adim was also recently convicted of indecent assault, a detail that made "Beccalection 2018" especially painful. There was a time not too long ago when a man accused of sexual harassment bloviated on a stage, ignoring the history around him. And it might be time for The Bachelorette to acknowledge the real, complicated, upsetting world in which it now exists. Otherwise, the elephant isn't just going to live in the room. It's going to destroy it.