I’m sorry to inform you that my nemesis is here again.
This week is the TV show Dance with the stars– the regrettable trajectory of my existence; circus of glorious chaos I just can not help – pierced the spirit of the times, and possibly also my heart, with a streak of arousing, anticipatory, at once confusing and glorious performances that quickly went viral.
The Daily Beast is occupied
All that we can not stop loving, hating and thinking about this week in pop culture.
I feel free from my sense of reality. The things that grounded me – what I knew about myself and what I enjoyed – have been completely knocked off their axes. The question that has haunted me from time to time for the last 16 years, as an existential question I dare to ask myself, has returned: Do I, against better knowledge and everything I believe in, actually like Dance with the stars?
You may have seen the clip spread around on social media this week.
JoJo Siwa, dressed as the Pennywise killer clown from That, performed a jazz routine to a spooky remix of the Broadway standard “Anything Goes” and got a perfect score of Dance with the stars.
It is a collection of words that should raise flags of total nonsense, as if a bot had failed and started spitting out sentences that have no place next to each other in the English language. It’s like someone on ABC played a game of Mad Libs with their grandson, and then on a lark made it come to life in a popular reality TV series. That’s absurd. It’s alarming. It is art.
I’m not even sure how much history I have to give about what’s going on here, what it means, and why it’s no doubt remarkable.
Surely eventually, you know what Dance with the stars is a long-toothed competition show featuring celebrities on a sliding scale of “oh, that’s what they’re up to!” to “literally who ???” learn ballroom dance routines and compete for a mirrorball trophy.
JoJo Siwa is an 18-year-old, very online powerhouse who started the reality show Dancing mothers into extreme YouTube popularity and ultimately a gigantic empire of rainbow and gilded flashy and exaggerated enthusiasm. The young people are obsessed, and although many of us may not have been aware of her or her reach, she is a sharp casting for a series in hopes of raising awareness in the young and social market.
This year, Siwa came out as a pansexual and is now the first celebrity in Dance with the stars the story of competing with a same-sex partner, a progressive milestone for a series with a strong conservative base, but also so long in coming that it’s almost unbelievable that it has not happened yet.
Then there is the dance itself, an exceptionally choreographed combination of threatening and disturbing distortions with elegantly executed gymnastics, pirouettes and technique. Siwa goes into the character work and manages to be a credible murderous clown as she jumps around on a ballroom dance floor right up until the gruesome ending that made me whine the first time I saw.
But here’s the thing: This was not an anomaly. The whole night offered similar amazing routines, all based on horror movies – not exactly what you could imagine being the strongest tool for Dance with the stars reaffirms its relevance.
NBA player Iman Shumpert and his partner made a modern dance like Tethereds from U.S, and it was equally disturbing and artistic. They also got a perfect score. Peloton instructor Cody Rigsby — peak 2021: a Peloton instructor is on Dance with the starsPerformed a cha-cha-cha inspired by the Patrick Bateman serial killer in American Psycho (several words that I can not believe I am writing in this order) and it slammed a bit. Melora Hardin, af The office and Transparent fame, made a jive for the song “Hound Dog” inspired by Stephen Kings Whose. It was madness. I loved it.
So here we wonder once again, is Dance with the stars actually good? It’s hard to stomach when this is a show that we had not just rejected as a tired camp a long time ago, but actively hated and felt was detrimental to the culture.
“The show has a notorious history of troll casting – hiring disgraced and controversial public figures with the flashy, mischievous idea that watching them fight to make the Argentine tango is like good TV.”
The show has a notorious history of troll casting – hiring disgraced and controversial public figures with the flashy, mischievous idea that watching them fight to make the Argentine tango is like good TV. However, it has also doubled as a platform for redemption, the ability to manipulate the public to their advantage with self-service rock packs and monologues, and disguises shamelessness in astonishing costumes.
Bristol Palin, Rick Perry, Sean Spicer and Tucker Carlson have all performed. Last season’s casting of Tiger King‘s Carole Baskin set a new low. One thing is to glorify a breakaway character from a documentary series that dealt with animal cruelty and made her a star due to rumors that she had murdered her husband. Painting her as “the crazy cat lady”, as if this were a healthy viewing experience, is another. The producers knew the public’s unpleasant hatred for her. This was blood sport. She was thrown to the tigers.
Sometimes that agenda is obvious. Other times, I’m not really sure what the producers think they’ll achieve with this kind of stunt casting.
This season, Olivia Jade, whose parents Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli were implicated in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, is a competitor. In the first episode, she does not present herself as a person of current public interest because she was the poster child for wealthy rights, privileges and delusions in the midst of a wild controversy. She argues that you probably know her as an influencer. Her dancing has been amazing this season. And yet … why?
Dance with the stars is a series that I have at times seen religiously, completely renounced or frolic in despite myself.
There may be a seriousness that I find irresistible. This seriousness is, of course, in the service of a kind of glorious, captivating schmaltz that guarantees hours of investment every week for more than a decade: things like Sexy dance actress Jennifer Grey’s redemption bow in Hollywood, Valerie Harper’s brave cancer battle, the thrill of an athlete like Emmitt Smith tackling gender norms and learning ballroom dancing on national television, or the simple joy of having the adorable Adam Rippon still on our screens herself after the Olympics are over.
Episodes like the one aired this week proved the potential of a series at a time when it has no right to continue producing content that was so good. But how do you reconcile that with the show’s more grotesque story? Well, that’s probably the case with a Halloween-themed horror-themed episode: Grotesque is the point.