“He doesn’t have gray hair; he has wisdom highlights,” the narrator of the newest Bachelor spin-off series said in a July promotional trailer. The Golden Bachelor, which premiered in late September on ABC, stars 72-year-old widower Gerry Turner and 22 single women—all of whom are 60 years or older—competing for his love. The idea of a Bachelor series featuring older contestants has been in the works since before the pandemic, with executives remarking that it could be an “interesting dynamic” to look at “through the ‘Bachelor’ prism.”
Many seem to agree with this sentiment. Comments under promotional content for the show expressed general interest in the concept, with one user calling it “the version of The Bachelor every woman truly wants.” The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which represents 38 million Americans over the age of 50 (making it the largest interest group in the country), has written extensively about The Golden Bachelor, encouraging members to take advantage of screenings at one of its 200+ retirement communities. Ultimately, the series debut saw nine million viewers, not including streaming service watchers.
While the show’s popularity is impressive, The Golden Bachelor can provide more than entertainment value or profit: More expansive representations of older Americans in media have the potential to influence perceptions of this population, enforcing the notion that they are autonomous individuals who are capable of lively social and romantic relationships.
Regular seasons of The Bachelor all follow essentially the same template: The lead male—usually in his late twenties or early thirties—is surrounded by women who are also in their late twenties and (occasionally) early thirties. The contestants often hail from the same four states (California, Texas, Florida, and Indiana), are predominantly white, and, in recent seasons, have tended to become social media influencers after their time on the show.
Put simply, most seasons of The Bachelor, and other reality dating shows like it, are predictable. As such, The Golden Bachelor is refreshing. It spotlights the oft-overlooked love stories of women who have dealt with divorce or widowhood. By showcasing elderly populations in vibrant social settings, it also stands in contrast to common media portrayals of aging—which often depict older people as lonely or sick.
While The Golden Bachelor may be the first dating show of its genre, other uncommon, positive media depictions of older Americans in the past have demonstrated the potential for such media to meaningfully impact the public discourse. Take The Golden Girls (1985–1992), a sitcom that featured four older women who live together in Miami. Stephanie McCall writes that The Golden Girls was revolutionary in that it “challenged an audience of all ages to look at aging, and particularly women over 50, in a brand new way.” Throughout the show, the four women discussed their dating and sex lives and joked about topics considered “taboo.”At the same time, McCall argues, the show tackled more serious plot points—such as ageism in the job market, physical health and ability, and death—in ways that forced viewers to think deeply.
Despite the cultural impact of The Golden Girls, it still remains one of the only prominent positive representations of older Americans—specifically older women—in the media. Representation of marginalized groups has been proven as a powerful tool in influencing social perceptions, both internally and externally. Unfortunately, however, depictions of underrepresented groups in the media are often seen as fulfilling a ‘quota’; production companies or studios may stop producing content that features a minority group because the amount of existing media feels ‘sufficient.’ As such, perhaps the dearth of shows since The Golden Girls that authentically feature the lives of older women can be attributed to the perception that they would be repetitive.
Although greater representation of older populations is important, this is not to say that representation should be seen as a “numbers game.” In a survey of Black audiences by Nielsen Holdings, it was noted that increased representation did not necessarily mean that Black audiences felt sufficiently represented. As the authors wrote, “Setting the bar for representation as the presence of Black people on screen, equal to their presence in the population, may not be the right goal.” Their argument can also be applied to discussions of age in the media, where prioritizing the quality of representation—not just the volume—must be considered.
Cultivating positive and more accurate attitudes about elderly Americans through meaningful representation in the media is especially relevant considering how older populations remain neglected in social settings. They are often infantilized or treated as though they don’t have the same interests or needs as others. As one example, although it is widely assumed that older Americans are disinterested in having sexual relationships, 50 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 80 consider sex “important to their quality of life.”
False and harmful perceptions about older Americans also extend beyond beliefs about their sexual lives: Biases about elderly populations translate into persistent ageism in the healthcare sector, the job market, and housing opportunities. Negative media portrayals that also reflect biases and stereotypical representations of older people only reinforce the notion that this behavior is acceptable.
The Golden Bachelor takes an important step toward representing older Americans outside of common stereotypes. However, any solution to ageism reliant upon The Bachelor franchise presents an inevitably imperfect solution. Regular iterations of The Bachelor have been riddled with controversy. Notably, contestants and the former host, Chris Harrison, have come under fire for blatantly racist actions and public statements. BIPOC contestants are also often eliminated early in the season (if casted at all).
While this season of The Golden Bachelor may provide new age diversity to the show, it appears unlikely to provide accurate representation of other social groups. In fact, aside from their age, many of the contestants—and the male lead himself—fit the same mold as cast members from regular seasons. The women are predominantly white, Gerry Turner is the classic midwestern all-American man, and, ultimately, the show hinges on the idea of the love story ending in a proposal and an eventual wedding. As Jada Yuan writes for The Cut, Bachelor-style shows often end up as “an advertisement for old-fashioned, heteronormative matrimony between white people.”
Despite these shortcomings, The Golden Bachelor undeniably has the potential to challenge the ways we discuss aging and the lives of older Americans in this country. Broadcasting the authentic stories of older Americans in the media is a necessary step in shifting broader cultural perceptions. Depicting elderly people’s social and love lives can dismantle stereotypes and biases, and contribute to positive self-perceptions. Older Americans are individuals that can advocate for themselves and deserve to see their authentic selves represented in the media.