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TV review

Forget the lime shirt. There is nothing funny about Sean Spicer being on ‘Dancing With The Stars’

The Daily Beast

September 18, 2019

Sean Spicer lied to the American people. His reward: to be a contestant in “Dancing With The Stars.” Forget the lime green shirt and crazy dance moves. The shame is his, and ABC’s.

Oh look, a straight white man in a lime green monstrosity of a shirt and white pants takes to the dance floor!

My, he does it with a flourish of his arms. What fun!

His legs go this way and that. I never knew he would look like this!

He is smiling rapturously. He’s having a ball!

Oh, the hilarity of a former high-profile representative of one of the most anti-LGBTQ administrations of modern times taking on the accoutrements of flaming camp! Thank you ABC, this will warm our winter evenings!

This is supposed to be the laugh-inducing cornerstone of Sean Spicer appearing in Dancing With The Stars. He is letting go all his inhibitions; finally, he has found an outlet for himself, to show more of himself than we knew him as in his previous incarnation.

If you don’t watch Dancing With The Stars or its British variant Strictly Come Dancing or any one of its many other spawning international cousins, this is one of the repeat storylines.

The butch straight sportsman, the politics guy you’d previously seen in a suit, are here made over in bright colors, sequins, and make-up to liberate themselves under the glittering disco ball. The basic storyline is: “I never thought I’d do anything like this. It’s so much fun. See, I’m so much fun, and not just that guy you thought I was.”

Spicer’s début on Dancing With The Stars conforms to every one of the surface pantomimes, but with one major difference. Sean Spicer’s previous incarnation was as something very serious (White House press secretary), and it is the way that he approached that job and soiled its importance and gravitas that then became its own joke—but not of the haha variety.

Whatever your view of Donald Trump, he has set the standard. He is the ultimate conflation and embodiment of politics, celebrity, and notoriety. His lesson to follow, which Spicer has to the letter: loom large on a screen, be a personality, say outrageous things, be a brand, get followers. Nothing else matters. Not the public good, not being a good and steady servant of the people. Just self-interest.

As Ryan Lizza noted in the New Yorker after Spicer’s resignation in 2017: He began his tenure as Trump’s press secretary “with a bizarre rant about how Trump’s Inauguration audience ‘was the largest audience to ever witness an Inauguration, period.’ (It wasn’t.)”

The lies kept coming, as Lizza wrote: “Spicer defended Trump’s lie about how there were three million fraudulent votes in the 2016 election. He spent weeks using shifting stories to defend Trump’s lie about President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower.”

Spicer’s press conferences infamously devolved into a toxic mixture of lies, bluster and confrontation; he baited the press, and insulted journalists at the behest of his boss. The gradual decline to almost-nothing of the White House press briefing, the attacks on the media, can be dated to Spicer’s mangling of the job and his public responsibility.

This is what ABC is rewarding, this is what ABC is treating as a joke.

Sean Spicer got what he wanted; he is now a minor celebrity, his “personality” ennobled with a spot on Dancing With The Stars.

Sean Spicer lied to the American people. The American people paid Sean Spicer, and in return, as a public servant, he lied to them. Sean Spicer violated the trust of the American people for his own fame and venality. And now ABC is rewarding Sean Spicer for lying to the American people by giving him what he craves, a spot on a primetime entertainment show.

Celebrity and infamy are the currencies here; and ABC and Spicer are involved in a hideous Paso Doble in maximizing Spicer’s public image and presence.

When it comes to Spicer’s debut on Dancing With The Stars, only the lime green shirt is new; everything else Sean Spicer wore of himself loudly.

Indeed, the day after his debut, thanking Mike Huckabee for his support and encouragement for people to vote for him, Spicer was back to playing in the familiar, whiny waters of the Trumpworld victim (who is absolutely not a victim), while trying to rig the votes in his own favor. “Clearly the judges aren’t going to be with me,” he said, asking supporters to vote for him, to send a message to Hollywood “that those of us who stand for Christ won’t be discounted.”

These are desperate, underhand tactics. But perhaps even Christian voters of the show won’t vote for someone of Spicer’s lack of dancefloor skills—he got 12 out of 30 from the judges, the second lowest score of the night.

Huckabee himself said Spicer’s success would lead to an “emotional meltdown in Hollyweird.” On the contrary, “Hollyweird” only cares about ratings, and the first episode of the new season showed an uptick in viewers.

Are there good liberals at ABC wringing their hands over Spicer’s presence? Nah, not in key senior positions. It gets publicity. It gets buzz, and pieces like this written about it. Sean Spicer doesn’t have any dignity to lose, so he’s happy to sign up for it. He is trading on his own notoriety.

His lies don’t matter now, his great public disservice doesn’t matter. He’s a personality, a celebrity; he’s above all the muck and grime of politics. Now he’s here, in the land of the mirrorball, where his appalling behavior can be fetishized and monetized, and made pretty for primetime.

In a fundamental sense, he is no different to his new buddy and fellow DWTS contestant Karamo Brown, of Queer Eye, who like most celebrities seems to just recognize and respond to more celebrity when he sees it—and screw everything else.

It was Brown who babbled about Spicer being “a good guy, really sweet guy” when the contestants first met and then later, looking tweeted about forward to sitting“down w/ him and engage in a respectful conversations. Only way things get better is if we try to educate those who have different POV than us.”

Brown may want to remember that Spicer, no matter his employment status, is fronting for an administration that is doing all it can to roll back LGBTQ rights and equality, including the trans military ban and the Oct. 8 Supreme Court cases around LGBTQ discrimination—discrimination which the Trump administration is determined to defend.

Brown may want to bring that up in one of his happy-clappy, holistic sit-downs with Spicer. But again, celebrity and fame are what counts here; don’t expect anything more substantial from Brown than dime-store new age philosophizing. He and Spicer can both commiserate over how unfair their critics are, how misunderstood they are, how you put yourself in the public sphere and, gah, it’s all so toxic!

Lizza noted that “Spicer’s temper tantrums, ill-fitting suits, and mispronunciations turned him into a pop-culture sensation.” That may be true, but it is also a terrible indictment; someone who abuses democracy and their role as a public servant in that democracy, and then parlays that abuse into a circus act and calling card for future TV gigs should receive at the very least hard questioning—not a role on a sparkly dance competition.

Spicer’s presence on Dancing With The Stars is singularly unfunny, and as a parable of politics and celebrity culture it is a depressing lodestar. (Next, Kellyanne and George Conway to sign up to Couples Therapy?) Spicer’s appearance in Dancing With The Stars, lime shirt and all, is no surprise. It is merely the most florid extension of the circus we watch every day on our dumb, ill-informed, vacuous, shouty circuses of news programs.

Everyone in our politics and news business is involved in a scramble to make a name for themselves. Sarah Sanders now holds forth on Fox News. CNN talking heads are as familiar as sitcom characters.

There is a shamelessness that the age of Trump ushered in, which has sought to test what we, as viewers and consumers, find acceptable to watch and listen to. It is why bear-pit discussions and zinger put-downs go viral, and experts on climate change and stoic diplomats soberly explaining their subject areas get the snooze button.

That is why ABC tapped Sean Spicer to appear on Dancing With The Stars. He was magnificently terrible at what he did, so let’s reward that. Let’s have him on TV!

But there is no joke, no eye-wink, and no irony here. How do you make light of the desecration of democracy that Spicer symbolizes? Well, ABC thinks you should dress it up in a lime green shirt and white pants. You don’t call it what it is. You do not question it. You do not do your job, and safeguard what this person tried to destroy. You roll your eyes, treat it as a postmodern jape, and think of the ratings.

Unless everyone at ABC has had their brains sucked out and replaced with glitter glue, there must be disgust over engaging in Spicer’s services. One can only hope that all the LGBTQ members of staff on the show, and anyone else with a scintilla of decency and moral conscience backstage, asks Spicer what he thought he was doing as White House press secretary, and never lets him off the hook for a second. Ask him everything, all the time.

If host Tom Bergeron wants to do a job for all the people watching this show who paid Sean Spicer’s salary for all that time—for all that gaslighting and lying he did for the cameras for which he was so lucratively salaried—then, when Spicer comes for the judges’ scores, also interrogate him on his past, his job, and his record in public service.

Put some grit on that mirrorball.

Obviously, Spicer’s shtick will be to wear loud shorts and tight pants, and flame away, because for him this is both heterosexual playtime and a redemption storyline. Don’t indulge it. Vote him off, and challenge his lack of humility, his hypocrisy, and his lies.

And to all those working in wardrobe at Dancing With The Stars, no more lime green shirts, no more tight pants, no more attempts at cheap sartorial ingratiation. Don’t try to get us to laugh along with him.

Instead, make Sean Spicer dance in all those ill-fitting, drab suits he used to lie to the American people in. Those White House podium appearances were also performances. So, let him wear on primetime TV to get applause and votes from us what he wore back then to get his applause from the president. Let us see this sneering clown in the clothes he is used to wearing—the same clothes he began his shameless career in showbusiness in.