Dancing with the Stars Gets Palined (November 18, 2010)

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I am simultaneously awed and repulsed by former Alaskan Governor and 2008 GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s sway on the voting public. The former emotion is influenced by the undeniable statistics that underpin Palin’s track record. Six of the 11 total Senate candidates that Palin backed in this month’s mid-term elections won their seats. And of the five that didn’t emerge victorious, two of them, former Nevada assemblywoman Sharron Angle and Alaskan attorney Joe Miller, were defeated by a hair despite being two of the most dangerous candidates on any ballot anywhere.

Those who dismiss the real power of Palin do so at their own peril, no matter how vile I find the woman. I was quite sure in late 2008, after Barack Obama handed John McCain a resounding defeat that crossed party lines, that Sarah Palin would retreat to the Alaskan wilderness she calls home, living out the rest of her life as a political afterthought, a wacky footnote in Presidential election history.

But while Palin may not be able to recall books or magazines that she reads, the woman is a publicity machine virtuoso. Somehow, by freeing herself of the shackles of her elected office, a move many of us never saw coming, she has grown only more politically powerful. She’s like a Gremlin that someone fed after midnight. The woman is everywhere: Fox News, reality TV, candidate meet and greets. She also seems to genuinely hold together a close knit family, raising a special needs child and servicing her backwoods hottie of a husband, Todd. She somehow appears to get more attractive with every public appearance, like a rifle-toting Dorian Gray. It’s challenging at times not to admire the lady. As something of a multi-tasking wunderkind myself, I must begrudgingly hand it to another.

However, that does not mean I like her personally. I absolutely abhor her politics and just about everything she stands for: pro-life, pro-guns, anti-regulation, and many times, anti-sense period. She is equal parts fascinating and nauseating. As a card carrying liberal who worships CNN and avoids Fox and other GOP media arms, it has up until recently, been fairly easy to limit face time with Sarah Palin.

But then ABC announced its cast for Dancing with the Stars Season 11 and I knew my luck was about to end. Bristol Palin, Sarah’s 19 year-old daughter and a successful “teen activist (cough)” was chosen as one of the “celebrity dancers (double cough).” What were the odds that Sarah Palin, a nearly unparalleled media whore, would pass up the opportunity to support her offspring on TV’s #1 show?

I must admit, at first I sort of clapped my hands together with glee. What a train wreck this would be! Bristol was going to suck! And initially, I was not disappointed. Witness the mid-October routine in which Bristol and her partner Mark Ballas donned gorilla suits to dance the jive accompanied byThe Monkees theme song. Horrifying. Deservedly so, the teenager found herself at the bottom of the leader board and on her way to elimination.

Not so fast…

I realized to my horror, and all too belatedly, that Sarah Palin’s continuous presence in the audience, and inside the packaged clips that precede each choreographed dance routine, might be something of a motivator for the show’s audience, which skews older and Republican. As a contestant’s final standings comprise an amalgam of judge’s scores and democratic viewer votes (dammit!), week after week, the teenager has escaped certain death.

As the show lurches toward next week’s finale, the bodies of far better dancers whom Bristol has knocked off lie in its wake: Audrina Patridge, the talented, if vacant former star of MTV’s The Hills, Rick Fox, the sexy and suave retired L.A. Laker, and just this past Tuesday, the most shocking defeat of all. R&B singer and actress Brandy was eliminated despite receiving a perfect score of 30 for her engaging Argentine Tango.

What the hell gives?

Although violence is never the answer, I find myself sympatico with viewer Steven Cowan from Vermont, Wisconsin, a man so incensed with Bristol’s triumph over Brandy that he shot his television. New York Times’ columnist Gail Collins writes this morning:

“According to a police report posted on The Smoking Gun Web site, Cowan became so upset by the political implications of Bristol Palin’s continuing victories on “Dancing With the Stars” that he shot the family television, precipitating a 15-hour standoff with local police. The complaint notes that Cowan did not think that Bristol ‘was a good dancer.'”

Although I did little more than launch my remote across the living room on Tuesday night, I sympathize with Cowan’s rage. We have come to begrudgingly accept Palin’s influence in the political arena, but please Tea Partiers, leave the integrity of Dancing with the Stars untouched.

Too late I guess. At this point, it seems inevitable that Bristol Palin will walk off with the coveted Mirrorball trophy next week. Our only hope of salvation is the mobilization of the Jennifer Grey/Dirty Dancing/ Ferris Bueller lobby. Get out the vote! The future of reality TV is at stake! Maybe the pending miscarriage of justice will spur Democrats more than minor issues like war, tax reform, health care and the economy were able to on November 2.

God bless America.

This Week’s Pop Cultural Winners and Losers (November 13, 2010)

Winners:

Spam
This canned, precooked meat product introduced by Hormel in 1937 and sold in 41 countries around the world turned out to be a literal lifesaver for the 3,300 passengers stranded on the Carnival Splendor. The ship was finally towed back to San Diego this week after three days adrift without power. Just when we thought the era of heavily salted, processed foods had jumped the shark, mysterious gelatinous glaze stages a roaring comeback.

Chinese Architecture
The upside to denying over 1 billion citizens personal freedoms is that a government is able to mobilize and complete infrastructure projects with lightening speed. Witness the story this week of China’s completion of a 15-story hotel in just six days. Using pre-fabricated materials, the structure was assembled in record time, without injury to any of the crew. Meanwhile back in the States, we’re working on 25 years of trying to get the much needed Hudson River Tunnel started.

The NFL
If he can be believed this time, the 41 year-old quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings will finally free the sports world from headlines about his drug use, false retirements and infidelity. The athlete announced on Friday that the end of this season would be his last, and there is reason to believe he might be sincere this time as his career is currently a smoldering ruin of scandal and injury. The NFL, which has much reason to appreciate Favre’s past contributions to the game, would still do well to be rid of this prima donna cancer once and for all.

Losers:

Carnival Cruises
Fire! A Spam buffet! Overflowing toilets! No power! Let the lawsuits begin, despite Carnival’s vow to fully refund all passenger tickets, as well as issue vouchers for future travel.

Anand Vasudev
The ousted contestant on this season of NBC’s The Apprentice became the first to be dropped for breaking the rules and lying about it directly to The Donald’s face. The irony is that the infraction, which occurred on a task in which Vasudev’s team buried their opponents, proved to be both unnecessary and unproductive. The contestant smuggled a secret cell phone and sent text messages asking a friend to bring him money. The shady play backfired and not only that, but the mistake afforded Trump a great, if entirely cynical, PR opportunity. As the Donald prepared to fire Anand, he took a moment to pontificate on the corporate underhandedness that has lead America to the dismal economic place that it currently occupies.

Viewers of Dancing with the Stars
Yes, the final four includes the talent of pop singer Brandy, the inspiration of cancer survivor and Dirty Dancing icon Jennifer Grey, as well as the youthful exuberance of Disney star Kyle Massey. However, for eight torturous weeks now, the viewers have also had to endue the whiny, ungifted listlessness of teen mother Bristol Palin. Nevermind that the only thing Bristol did to become a “star” was have premarital sex before becoming the ultimate abstinence advocacy hypocrite. She absolutely sucks as a dancer, and since that is what the show is all about, here’s hoping the Red States take an early Thanksgiving break from their recent fondness for voting.

So This is What Fat Looks Like? (May 11, 2010)

Cheryl Burke

I will preface this post by admitting that this is a topic discussed so oft, there is practically nothing fresh to add. However, since our society continues to adopt an ever more sociopathic bent in its idea of female beauty, I feel the need to raise the issue again.

Last night, as I emerged from my post-Tae Bo bath, I received the following text mesage from a male friend who was watching the evening’s broadcast of Dancing with the Stars with his three young daughters.

“Cheryl Burke is looking heavy.”

I immediately replied that my friend is a sexist punk, but curiosity getting the better of me, as it always does, I promptly set my DVR recording in motion to have a look at this purportedly “heavy” woman……What I saw was, give or take, reflected in the image above.

I am almost too exhausted by this injustice to comment, but of course I will. I am 31 years old and far from famous. When I graduated with my BA in 2000, I weighed upwards of 190 pounds and wore a size 16. I couldn’t walk a standard issue flight of stairs without breathing heavily. Obviously, that is unacceptable at the age of 22, and though it took me a few more years to claim ownership of the hard work required, I am proud to say I lost 60 pounds and have kept it off (give or take a few holiday fluctuations) for 6 full years.

I won’t deny vanity played a role in my efforts, but in large part, I stay in shape for the right reasons – my health. I am perhaps phobically afraid of the aging process and the idea of becoming physically dependent one day, but that does not distort my own ideas of healthy womanhood. I might hate the cellulite that lives on my thighs, but I am learning to love Mother Nature’s curves a little more all the time.

How in the hell can Cheryl Burke, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Love Hewitt or Tyra Banks – all media targets in recent years, and all gorgeous women – be called “fat” by anyone?

The argument has been made that standards are different for those in the public eye because they “know what they’re getting into” by choosing a career that in part, requires trading on one’s appearance. Nonsense, and I would think a man with three daughters would know better. Why does it seem that with each passing news cycle, female beauty becomes an ever more abstract concept, to be discussed in academic theory, but never really achievable by anyone? I realize there was never a formal meeting held by the Earth’s males, but it feels at times as if there’s a global conspiracy to keep us ladies held in check by some basic level of worthlessness.

In 2007, when Britney Spears was in the throes of her career meltdown, and bombed performing her single “Gimme More,” live on MTV, she was upset not at her deteriorating mental condition, or her crappy lip synching. No, she was in tears backstage after the show, wailing that she looked “like a fat pig,” as if that were the worst of her problems in that hour. She was about to lose custody of her two sons, but egads! Priorities! Let’s lose those 5 pounds first!

It’s wrong. It’s out of control. Men of the world, I ask ye: please start picking on your own gender. Lord knows there are plenty of uglies to choose from. Ah but yes, I forgot, as long as the man is rich/funny/talented, looks don’t matter. Just ask Jesse James, Tiger Woods or Larry King. Ladies! Let’s stop being complicit in our own destruction. Next time you feel a catty comment about another female’s weight rising to the surface, eat some chocolate instead. It tastes a whole lot better than jealousy anyway.

Dancing with Bitches (March 2, 2010)

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I know many of you will be working to hold back your snorts of derision when I claim the following: the last two outings of Dancing with the Stars sucked (the withheld snorts are obviously from those who think every run is crap). Two seasons ago I had to watch Shaun Johnson walk away with Gilles Marini’s trophy. Last season there were just too many (lame) contestants.

Like my former American Idol habit, I was ready to quit DWTS cold turkey. My DVR is clogged up quite enough, thank you, and I need to prioritize. I am working on finding a job, coordinating a move, training for a race. I have enough to do without watching another trainwreck like Tom Delay bumble his way to two stress fractures.

But just as I was ready to delete my series recording, the cast list for the coming season was released and boy is it a doozy! Not only do we get the infamous and much maligned reality mom, Kate Gosselin (arguably the most name recognized contestant DWTS has ever hired), but there’s also skanktastic 90s icon Pamela Anderson, as well as a special treat for myself and the gay community. Wait for it….Shannen Doherty! Gary, if you are reading this right now, grab a paper bag and breathe slowly.

Last season’s competitors were hardly worthy of the “celebrity” title which hung about their necks, Kelly Osbourne and Mya notwithstanding. But now we’re talking.

I own it. I will be back. And I pray, I pray hard, that when the inevitable catfight ensues (none of the rumors you have heard about Gosselin, Anderson and Doherty being total slags are false), cameras will be there to capture it.