The cast of The Bachelorette
Craig Sjodin—ABC
Ideas
June 2, 2015 12:08 PM EDT
Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

There’s something newsworthy about the reverse of expected behavior. You can expect headlines to do well if they’re about a man biting a dog, for example, or two heterosexual men falling in love with each other on a reality show in which they are expected to woo a young lady. That’s what created the flurry of media attention for ABC’s The Bachelorette, which teased the episode that aired Monday as the “Brokeback Bachelor.”

Anyone who knows anything about reality television knew this would turn out to be nothing more than a ratings-grabbing ploy. Sadly, gay men were used, once again, as the punch line. Yes, the conversion of two straight dudes on national television would certainly be worth watching, but what actually happened on the show was not nearly as dramatic, and might actually be more commonplace if, well, it weren’t for shows like The Bachelorette making it hard for guys to be friends.

The promo teased one contestant, Clint, who is vying for the bachelorette, Kaitlyn Bristowe, saying that he was in love with fellow contestant JJ and adding that they had “gotten close in the shower.” I expected to see two buddies in a naked clinch in whatever strange group bathroom set the designers had built to accommodate a house with about 20 guys and one lady. (I’m guessing it looks something like a cross between a locker room and one of the more exciting episodes of Cribs.)

We saw nothing of the sort. All they really did was hang out together. We saw them in the hot tub at the same time, but they were both wearing swim trunks and weren’t even touching. They did talk about popping zits off of each other’s backs in the shower (and JJ even complimented Clint on his “good snake”), but there was no allusion to any hanky panky.

It was more like two dudes rinsing off after a good workout than it was like something from the steamier side of slash fiction. The most risqué scene was a shot of them sitting side-by-side on the couch where JJ’s crotch had a bar over it, probably because his boxer shorts didn’t cover as much as he thought.

To use a stomach-churning term, this was definitely more “bromance” than romance, which is not only a shame because it was a bait-and-switch for audience members, but because it discourages this type of behavior from happening. The Bachelorette is an environment where more than a dozen guys in their 20s live together in a house and court one woman. They will naturally spend a lot more time with each other than with the lucky lady, and friendships are going to form, some stronger than the bond with the bachelorette.

But as soon as one of these inevitable friendships is formed, the gentlemen are labeled as “Brokeback” because the only way that men can share a level of emotional intimacy with one another is if they are gay like the characters in Brokeback Mountain. Then The Bachelorette deploys some clever editing, and we have a sexual component manufactured out of nothing.

It’s no wonder men are afraid of their emotions and don’t like to bond in public when the media shames them as soon as they have a very natural inclination to form a friendship with someone they’re locked in a house with for a month. This move only makes The Bachelorette look tone-deaf and manipulative. The show is supposed to be about romance, so why not celebrate two people finding pleasure in each other’s company rather than playing it for shock and laughs?

Last summer, CBS used the quasi-romantic relationship between Big Brother contestants Frankie Grande, a gay man, and Zach Rance, a straight guy, as a rallying point for viewers. Not only was “Zankie,” as they were dubbed, prominently featured on the show, but they became favorites among the show’s hard-core fans, with even Rance’s mother saying she hoped the boys could make the relationship work.

The Bachelorette is sadly behind the times. How can the show make it up to the gay community, and viewers at large, for baiting them with a fake storyline? By having the next bachelor be a gay man. Not only would this prove to America that the show supports same-sex marriage and relationships, but it would also give a whole new twist to a show that seems at ease using gay people to court viewers. If two male contestants were to actually fall for each other, it would make for riveting TV, and the show wouldn’t have to resort to silly titillation to gain an audience.

Read next: The ‘Brokeback Bachelor’ Stunt Proves That ABC Is Behind the Times

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