Dancing With the Stars was on television this week. The circus of glorious chaos we just can’t quit–pierced the zeitgeist, and possibly also our heart, with a slew of rousing, expectation-thwarting, at once baffling and brilliant performances that quickly went viral.
The question that has haunted our souls, as existential as a question we dare to ask ourselves, is: “Do I really like Dancing With the Stars, despite all that I believe and what I think?”
JoJo Siwa dressed up as Pennywise, the killer clown from It. She performed a jazz routine and a haunting remix of the Broadway song “Anything Goes”. The performance earned her a perfect score on Dancing With the Stars.
It’s a collection words that should raise red flags of utter absurdity, as if a bot had misbehaved and began to produce phrases that don’t belong next to each other in English. It’s almost as if someone from ABC played Mad Libs alongside their grandchild and then made it come alive on a reality-TV show. It’s absurd. It is alarming. It is art.
We don’t know how much background to provide about this, its meaning, and why it is so remarkable.
You probably know what Dancing With the Stars means. It is a competition show that features celebrities who are judged on a sliding scale from “oh, this’s what they’re doing!” to “literally, who?” Learn ballroom dancing and compete for a mirrorball award.
JoJo Siwa, an 18-year old online powerhouse, turned her stint on Dance Moms into extreme YouTube fame and eventually a juggernaut empire full of rainbows and glittering ostentatiousness. Youths are obsessed. While many may not be aware of her or her reach she is smartly casting for a series in hopes of increasing its awareness among youth and the social market.
Siwa, who came out as pansexual this year, is now the first celebrity to compete with a same sex partner on Dancing With the Stars. This is a significant milestone for a series that has a conservative base but it’s been so long that it seems almost impossible that it hasn’t happened yet.
The dance is a masterfully choreographed mixture of unsettling contortions and elegantly executed gymnastics and pirouettes. Siwa takes on the role of a homicidal clown, and she does a great job while hopping around the ballroom dancing floor until the shocking ending that left me gasping for air.
Here’s the truth: This was not an exception. The entire night was filled with similarly spectacular routines that were all based on horror movies. This is not what you would expect to see as the strongest vehicle for Dancing With the Stars proving its relevance.
Iman Shumpert, a NBA player, performed a modern dance with his partner as the Tethereds from Us. It was equally disturbing and artistic. They also received a perfect score. Peloton instructor Cody Rigsby – peak 2021: A Peloton instructor is currently on Dancing With the Stars -performed a Cha-cha-cha inspired from the Patrick Bateman serial killer role in American Psycho and it was kind of funny. Melora Hardin of Transparent and The Office did a jive to “Hound Dog”, a Stephen King song. It was pure lunacy. It was wonderful.
We are now left wondering if Dancing With the Stars is actually worth it. It is difficult to swallow when we haven’t just rejected this show as a tired camp but actively hated it and considered it a cultural disaster.
“The show’s history of troll casting is infamous. It casts disgraced, controversial public figures with the mischievous idea that it makes good TV.”
Troll casting is a common feature of the show. They hire disgraced, controversial public figures with the mischievous idea that they are good TV by watching them do the Argentine tango. The show has been doubled to offer redemption and the chance to manipulate the public with self-serving monologues and clip packages. It also dresses shamelessly in bejewelled costumes.
Rick Perry, Tucker Carlson, Sean Spicer and Bristol Palin all played. The casting of Carole Baskin, Tiger King’s daughter, was a shocking turn in last season’s series. It’s one thing to glorify a character that was a big star in a docuseries that specialized in animal abuse and made him a star due to rumors about her husband’s murder. It’s another thing to paint her as the “crazy cat woman” as if this were going to be a wholesome viewing experience. The public hate for her was well known by producers. This was bloodsport. She was being thrown at the tigers.
Sometimes, this agenda is clear. Other times, we don’t know what the producers are trying to accomplish with this type of stunt casting.
Olivia Jade is a competitor to Lori Loughlin’s and Mossimo Giannulli, who were both implicated in Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scam. She doesn’t present herself as someone of current public interest in the first episode because she was the poster child of wealthy entitlement, privilege and delusion amid wild controversy. She claims that most people know her as an influencer. This season, her dancing is spectacular. Yet…
Dancing With the Stars has been a series we have watched faithfully, given up completely, and even dabbled in out of spite of ourselves.
It is possible to find an irresistible earnestness in people. This earnestness is, of course, in service to a kind of gloriously captivating schmaltz which warrants hours of investment every week for more than 10 years: things like Jennifer Grey’s Hollywood redemption story, Valerie Harper’s brave battle with cancer, Emmitt Smith’s national television challenge of gender norms, and the joy of Adam Rippon’s adorable appearance on our screens long after the Olympics have ended.
Episodes such as the one that aired last week showed the potential of a series in a time when it doesn’t have the right to continue producing content that is this good. How do you reconcile this with the show’s darker history? That’s what we think about Halloween-timed episodes with horror themes: Grotesque is the point.