The Gray Bits of Paradise

Maria Posted by Maria at June 30, 2017 14:23:51 June 30, 2017 14:23:51

After shutting down production in mid-June, the Bachelor in Paradise sexual misconduct investigation is complete, with the studio, DeMario Jackson, and Corinne Olympios speaking publicly about the incident. (For my earlier pieces on it, please click here and here.) DeMario did an interview with E! and talked at length about the details of the sexual conduct that was in question. BuzzFeed has followed this story with a high level of accuracy – you can read their recap of the interview here. Last night, they also recapped the “extras” that didn’t make it to air, which are actually more interesting than the interview because it has very inside-baseball details about what happens behind the scenes on reality TV and how the cast is “pumped up” by producers.

In it, DeMario says he was blindsided on The Bachelorette this season, and that he viewed BiP as a redemption story (which has worked for past cast members). He also said that they were indeed drinking very heavily on the night in question, to the point that Chris Harrison noticed how drunk he was and another cast member threw up on himself.

There’s a lot to DeMario’s story because it involves not just the progression of what happened that night (they went from buzzed to hammered) but it touches on his experience as a black man being viewed as aggressive and predatory by a producer (whom he contends was not present at the time of the incident). In recounting the story to E!, he immediately wondered if being a black man hooking up on a predominately white show was affecting how it was being characterized. To put it in reality TV parlance, he feels played (but not, he specifies, by Corinne).

For her part, Corinne said she’s satisfied with her investigative team (who seemed to push back after the network’s dismissal) and that she stands by her initial confusion, memory loss and feelings of victimization related to the incident. She has not ever specifically named DeMario (and she was not the person behind the complaint). (Source)

Both DeMario and Corinne have some damn sense in their heads because they’ve each declined to head back to “paradise” to continue filming.

In thinking about the larger picture of how this played out, I think the question ultimately comes down to who had the power in this process. Corinne, who didn’t remember? DeMario, who was (by his account) asked to quit, then sequestered in a hotel room, then warned things were “really bad” but left without much information or recourse? The junior assistant who had made the claim? Or was it the studio, who owns the tapes, who had multiple sober staffers on site and who has a large investment in this brand? Monetarily, they had a lot to lose, both through the revenue generated from the season and possible lawsuits from the producer and cast members. Oh, and they were in charge of their own investigation.

As of right now, it’s all a wash for WB. The network is back to filming, even though many outlets first reported they would not continue with the season. Per TMZ, the cast was checked for drugs (both legal and illegal), they will have a 2-drink maximum per hour and they will have to sign sex permission slips before heading to The Boom Boom Room. (I’m not joking, that’s what they call it.) Someone very high up must realize how close they were to having a serious legal and civil lawsuit on their hands. (As of right now, no one is reporting on possible settlements or lawsuits.)

Curbing drinking is just smart – that’s why most places have serving restrictions in bars. The “sex contract” is ridiculous. As Lainey pointed out the other day, it is extremely flawed thinking that equates one-time permission as a catch-all for every sexual encounter. “One of my major problems with it is that no one seems to understand that consent isn’t just about asking “permission” at the beginning. It’s not a f-cking school trip. Consent is fluid. Pleasurable, consensual sex means you pay attention – in other words, it’s constant communication, both verbal and physical. So what happens when you get the “sign-off” from a producer but change your mind 10 minutes later, when you don’t want him or her to put his or her hand down your pants?”

We don’t expect real romance or real love or real passion from these shows, but contestants should expect real autonomy over their bodies. A “sex contract” is not protection (for either party), nor is it freedom. It’s a completely reductive way at looking at sex and it oversimplifies incidents exactly like the one they just dealt with.

For Corinne and DeMario this ends the way many of these incidents end – in a gray area with no clear resolution. I don’t even know what a “best case scenario” would be in a situation like this, but “higher ratings for Bachelor in Paradise” is definitely not it.

And I want to leave this on a note about the consent conversation on reality TV which, love it or hate it, is a cultural marker. Over the last year, there have been a few storylines around this. On Real Housewives of Atlanta, one cast member accused another woman (and her husband) of plotting to drug her and take her to a sex dungeon. (This sounds ridiculous, but the accused is a very sex-positive woman with a line of adult toys, which I think played into it.) The accusation turned out to be a complete lie planted by a third cast member and even Andy Cohen – a seasoned pro who has seen every trick in the book – was shocked about the false accusation. At the reunion, the vindicated woman sobbed as she said people on Twitter called her “Bill Cosby.”

On Real Housewives of Potomac, Karen Huger, a grandiose woman with means, invited her castmates to hear her speak publicly for the first time about being date raped in college. She was inspired to reveal her long-kept secret because her daughter was leaving for school.

And on Southern Charm, an overgrown frat boy tried to forcefully kiss a woman who is dating one of his castmates. It was mostly brushed off with “boys will be boys!” and the main worry was if the two MEN would repair their friendship. Only one castmember – a woman in her 30s – seemed concerned by his behaviour. (Vulture did a great recap on it here.)

These shows are largely built for and consumed by women. The way we process and talk about these incidents, both big (date rape, false accusations) and small (swatting off a drunk idiot at the bar) in the real world is probably closer reflected in these shows than it is on HBO’s prestige dramas.

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