"I always warn girls, stay away from the nice guys," Chad Johnson declares in the second episode of JoJo Fletcher’s season of The Bachelorette in 2016. He’s wearing more arm muscle than black tank top. "A lot of girls think I'm an asshole. In the end I'm actually nice. It's the nice guys that are assholes. They have an agenda behind those eyes."
Extremely combative and prone to threatening the other contestants, Johnson ended up being exactly the asshole he claimed he wasn’t. In a now legendary sequence, Johnson was escorted from the house by security.
But on this season of The Bachelorette, Johnson’s taxonomy of “nice guys” and “assholes” sounds like a prediction. With his early and eager declarations of devotion, Luke Parker started off Hannah Brown's season of The Bachelorette as a nice guy. But there was an "agenda" behind those blue eyes. Brown's just beginning to catch on.
By now, Parker and Johnson are two of Bachelor Nation's most well-known villains, riling up drama in the house — say "Luke" or "Chad" to any Bachelorette fan, and they'll know exactly whom you're talking about — and providing narrative thrust to their seasons. Since the 14th season's premiere, Parker has been compared to Johnson on Twitter. The two men have surface similarities that go beyond their wildly muscular physiques. Both are reviled by other contestants in the house. Both force the Bachelorette to act as mediators/moms for their one-on-one rivalries. After they're eliminated, both Johnson and Parker return to the house in dramatic sequences, believing that they can crush the rules of The Bachelorette in their meaty hands.
Before things got violent, Johnson's "villainy" was largely a byproduct of his refusal to conform to the general enthusiasm required of Bachelorette contestants. He sneered at the other guys' efforts to impress Fletcher with songs and elaborate routines, at the notion of a group date, at their sadness at not getting chosen for a date (“You've gone a full life without seeing JoJo. You can’t wait a day?”).
Johnson was like a tourist to The Bachelorette, bewildered by its native customs. As a viewer, this kind of truth-telling almost came as a relief. He seemed like a real person amid a sea of phonies. Of course he wasn't in love with Fletcher yet! He didn't know her! "You can’t be in love with her. If you are, that’s weird," he said to the guys. I remember nodding when he said that. Could Johnson be...right?
Conversely, Parker embraced the rituals that Johnson sneered at, as if he were programmed to please. Parker made a great first impression, then hid behind its reverberations for a while. And it was quite a first impression. Parker was one of the five contestants revealed during the After the Final Rose special. Under the glare of his aqua eyes, he gave a measured declaration of excitement: "Look, you are the only one I wanted to be the Bachelorette. Now that I'm here, holding your hands in real life, this is blowing my mind. I cannot wait to go on this adventure with you." Brown had none of Parker's composure in her response. "You have a way with words!" she stuttered, clearly mesmerized.
That's part of the issue — he does! Parker is great at telling Hannah exactly what she wants to hear. In a move that would almost certainly make Johnson roll his eyes, Parker publicly said he was falling in love with Brown during a group date on the show's second episode. Parker was offering up the future Brown imagined.
Most women I know have dealt with guys like him, who are much more manipulative, controlling, domineering, and emotionally abusive. There's a creepiness to Luke.
With an illusion this glimmering, it took a while for Brown to notice what was really going on. How Parker would demand all of her attention. How he'd listen to her requests, then deliberately ignore them. How he'd lie incessantly. How he'd treat her like an object to be won. How he'd make her feel crazy.
"I frequent the Bachelor subreddit and a few Bachelor-related Facebook groups, and the same comment everyone keeps making is how oddly triggering watching Luke is," Lily Herman, a writer (and frequent contributor to Refinery29) told Refinery29 in an email.
"Most women I know have dealt with guys like him, who are much more manipulative, controlling, domineering, and emotionally abusive. There's a creepiness to Luke this season; every action he makes seems highly calculated, like he's trying to figure out how to express human emotion instead of just reacting with human emotion. He's this very clear manifestation of this very particular type of toxic masculinity that's eerie and infuriating at the same time," Herman continued.
At this point, Parker is threatening to disrupt Brown's entire Bachelorette "journey," to use the show's terminology. Instead of moving forward in the Bachelorette process, she's running in circles with Parker. She eliminates him, she takes him back; she asks him to change, she waits. Brown, you see, ran into a major problem. Unlike Fletcher, she fell for this season's villain.
To be fair, Johnson was much easier to dismiss than Parker. He wore his villainy like a red flag draped over his shoulders — it was blazingly obvious, and that obviousness is what kept Fletcher safe. Fletcher wasn't fooled. Johnson was eliminated during a two-on-one date once she learned the extent of his aggressive tactics. You can't tell the season's frontrunner you're going to show up to his house after the show, and expect to stay on the season. Threat detected, threat eliminated.
I think Luke P is probably worse than Chad pre BIP b/c Chad wears his red flags on his sleeve, whereas Luke P is more classic abuser who seems charming until he turns. But they're both pretty legitimately awful, and knowing what we know now about Chad, I can't say he's better.— Sara Lang (@SaraLang) June 19, 2019
In an interview with Glamour, Bachelor and Bachelorette host/puppet-master Chris Harrison explains what makes Parker so different.
"I think the problem is, most of our villains, if you want to call them that, are not that near and dear to our Bachelor and Bachelorette’s heart. They see through everything and they’re gone. The problem here is that Luke P. is a central figure in Hannah’s heart...As much as she maybe wants to choke him and shake him, she also really adores him and has this amazing bond. Their lives and their values align in a lot of ways, from religion to their conservative ways to the way they live their life, and that is what drives her crazy. She likes this guy," Harrison said.
Does she "like" him, as Harrison suggests — or has she been manipulated into liking him? Unfortunately, with comments like these, The Bachelorette falls into the trap of romanticizing the "intensity" of an abusive connection, though it's hardly the first work of pop culture to do so.
As Parker and Johnson show so well, there are many colors in the toxic masculinity rainbow, each as vivid as the next. Our advice? If you run into the Luke Ness Monster or Chad Bear in the wild, run the other way. There are other fish in the sea. There are other guys in the mansion.