Sean Spicer is cruising through “Dancing with the Stars” on two left feet. He’s certainly not surviving on the merits of his dancing, and I’m not sure it’s his natural charm, either. So what’s the deal with Spicey’s surge?
It’s Trump, of course. For one thing, the president of the United States has been using his leader-of-the-free-world sized platform to get out the vote. That helps. But it’s also the affiliation. For many, a vote for Spicer is a vote for Trump, and sometimes a vote for Trump is a vote against the haters.
Who, exactly, are the haters? The show’s host. The judges. ABC News staffers. The New York Times’ chief television critic. Chelsea Handler. In other words, all the usual suspects.
Speaking of the Gray Lady, dance critic Gia Kourlas is positively scandalized by Spicer’s success. It’s very funny.
Arguing that Spicer “has revealed much about his soul’s weather through his dancing,” Kourlas, noted emotional meteorologist, decried the “cold brutality” of his Paso Doble, and admitted it “hurts” to watch him dance. (That may actually be true.) The critique would make for excellent satire, but sadly appears to be an earnest piece of self-expression.
Week after week, Spicer returns victorious, scoring poorly with the judges but well enough with voters to be ineligible for elimination.
“We keep throwing you out the boat and the viewers keep throwing a life preserver,” said one judge this week.
“These people who are voting just to spite us or whatever reasons they’re having in their heart—listen, I respect you, but how about having a little respect for the people who are working their butts off dancing?” said another. (Listen closely and you’ll hear faint echoes of Jeb! 2016)
On the right, there’s something of an organized social media campaign to keep Spicer in the competition. Esquire reports (emphasis added):
The further you dive into conservative corners of social media, the more concentrated the campaign becomes. Echoes of ‘not being heard’ and ‘not even a fan of the show’ are frequent, but they all have the same refrain: vote for Spicer to make a point. The campaign urges conservatives to use their 10 votes to create wall of sorts, seemingly protecting Spicer week to week, placing popularity over skill and accomplishing the goal of keeping him on television.
About the origins of his success, Spicer says, “There’s no question that’s a huge part of it, people on the political side. But there’s a good chunk of people who enjoy my approach.” Maybe. Something similar seemed to unfold during Bristol Palin’s run on the show.
Reality television voting is complicated. Perhaps the online campaign to bolster Spicer has been robust enough to make all the difference. Perhaps it’s barely made any difference at all. We don’t know what major motivation, or mix of motivations, is keeping the former press secretary afloat.
What we do know is that Spicer’s controversial run on the program has at least given people a harmless outlet to stick it to everyone who believes voting for Trump makes them a bad person, unworthy of friendship or association, everyone who wants to shut them out of polite society, run them out of restaurants and public places. Sure, it’s trolling, but it’s victimless trolling (unless you’re Gia Kourlas), and Spicer is very entertaining, even if he’s something of a Sanjaya. Lest we forget, Sanjaya was pretty entertaining too.
A reality dance competition is as innocuous a source of cultural catharsis you’ll find these days. So vote away, vote like you’ve never voted before, and may Spicer’s reign last all season long.