A Politics-Free Zone?
Last month, something unusual happened on Dancing with the Stars. Do you know that show? The one where celebrities, most of whom are famous for anything but dancing, get on TV and, well, dance?
They’re usually paired with a professional dancer to keep from making complete fools of themselves, but secretly we’re all hoping they miss a step or trip over their partner. Or, at the very least, betray their true feelings about the spectacle they’re making when we see sheer panic across their faces.
Anyway, it was recently announced that in addition to James Van Der Beek (Dawson from Dawson’s Creek), Christie Brinkley (Billy Joel’s ex), Hannah Brown (from The Bachelorette), and Lance Odom (basketball player and former Kardashian spouse), the show would feature…Sean Spicer. Yes, that Sean Spicer, the first of three (so far) press secretaries of President Donald Trump.
He was the one who told America Trump had the largest and most-watched inauguration in history. He repeated Trump’s claims that millions of votes cast in the 2016 election were fraudulent, and that former President Obama was listening to conversations in Trump Tower via an illegal wiretap. He told a room full of reporters that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, played a “limited role” in the campaign, as though “limited role” didn’t mean “running the entire thing.”
Not surprisingly, people had…feelings about this. Not about the lies, necessarily, as we’ve gotten used to those. But more about the idea that someone famous for lying and amplifying the lies of the lyingest liar in presidential history should be doing a kick-ball-change tap dance on our television sets. And doing it precisely when we’re doing our best to forget the surreal post-apocalyptic nightmare we’re living in.
Soledad O’Brien said that Dancing with the Stars is “[n]ormalizing a professional liar who supported and lied for a bigot and a racist,” and added, “Why anyone would support a project that stars Sean Spicer is beyond me.”
Emmy nominee Billy Eichner tweeted, “The cynicism and carelessness it took to hire Sean Spicer...god it’s all just so depressing honestly.”
Lawrence O’Donnell, who hosts a show on MSNBC, said “Just think about the (liberal) TV executives who did this. Think about what they said to each other in making this choice. Think about why they did it. The dark, empty soul of commercial TV will be revealed to you and you’ll understand how we got Trump.”
But the criticism wasn’t just coming from liberal pundits and gay comics. Tom Bergeron, the longtime host of Dancing with the Stars, also thought it was a bad idea. He noted that he had hoped “…that DWTS, in its return following an unprecedented year-long hiatus, would be a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free from inevitably divisive bookings from ANY party affiliations.”
In response to all this backlash, Spicer simply said, “I hope it will be a politics-free zone.”
Apparently, Spicer thought that watching a guy who literally defended Hitler from the White House press room doing the cha-cha on our TV screens would bring the country together—because hey, after all, it’s only politics.
The problem is that “politics-free zones” are increasingly harder to come by. Sometimes, it’s easy to spot good people on both sides of a political debate. Should our neighbors be allowed to paint their house hot pink if they wish, or will doing so bring down the value of everyone else’s home? Should we increase our tax rates to pay for better roads, or will doing so put some small business owners at risk? I can have definite opinions on these issues and still recognize the humanity of those who disagree. And usually, these things are worth talking about, and not worth ruining friendships or familial bonds.
But it’s not as easy to see the good in people who defend firing someone because they are LGBTQ, ripping children away from their parents, allowing these same children to die needlessly by denying simple flu vaccines, or telling literally thousands of lies to the American citizenry from the White House press room, the halls of Congress, or the Oval Office.
Sometimes politics is just politics. And sometimes politics reflects our morality (or lack thereof), our integrity (or lack thereof), and our character. Sometimes we can let political bygones be bygones, and sometimes we have to take a side.
This column will return to being a “politics-free zone” in October. In the meantime, I’ve just been writing about a silly dance show on TV. ▼
Eric Peterson is a diversity & inclusion educator and pop culture enthusiast living in Washington DC. He is the co-host of a weekly podcast about old movies.