America seems to be following in the footsteps of the Roman Empire. Witness the state of our government and our lifestyles, including our forms of entertainment. In the ancient Roman Colosseum, people paid to gleefully watch gladiators and lions impale and devour hapless Christians. In modern times, reality TV has become the new Colosseum and the American viewing public has become modern-day Romans. The reality shows clogging the airwaves revolve around cutthroat business competitions, young nitwits vacationing at the shore, and the performing arts. Into the latter category falls a popular show, “Dancing with the Stars.”
In this competition, a celebrity clueless about dancing is paired with a professional dancer. The pairs always consist of a man and a woman (this year’s contestant, Chaz Bono, notwithstanding). The professional dancer has the grueling task of teaching the partner with two left feet how to cut a rug. Three judges, themselves professional dancers, weigh in on the performances, awarding points on a scale of 0 to 10. The judges’ votes are totaled (i.e., a dancing pair may receive a total score of 30). Reality, however, enters the fore when the at-home audience casts votes each week to keep their favorites jitterbugging. The selection of the winning team is a process of elimination.
When the show first aired, contestants had to audition. But in the years that followed, contestants of notoriety were selected to enhance the show’s entertainment value. Some of the notables that have waltzed, fox-trotted, and samba’d their way across the stage are:
· Hines Ward, an NFL (National Football League) player
· Emmitt Smith, an NFL player
· Marie Osmond, singer and sister to Donny Osmond
· Kirstie Alley, actress
· Tom DeLay, a former U.S. House leader
· J. R. Martinez, war hero and actor
· Mario Lopez, a former contestant on American Idol who scandalized the show by breaking its inane rule of signing with a non-Idol label after he’d been booted from that show
In truth, “Dancing with the Stars” is not really a contest. What it is, in reality, is a vehicle for ratings and the almighty advertising dollars. It is also a blood sport. People tune in to see the amateurs trip over their own two feet, trip over their partners’ feet, injure themselves, break down emotionally, force their bodies through moves God never intended them to make, and cram themselves into costumes that, by and large, don’t leave much to the imagination (this goes for the men’s costumes as well as the women’s). It doesn’t matter who gets impaled or devoured on this show; America loves its blood sports.
For example, the performances of Kirstie Alley and her partner Maksam Chmerkoskiy were, as the show launched, exercises in futility. Kirstie had become nearly as famous for her “more to love” body as she had for her role on Cheers. It was Maksam’s burden, literally, to haul Kirstie around the dance floor. But, thanks to his hearty ethnic background and titanium jockstraps, Maksam survived what would have given lesser men a double hernia. Rumors had it that when the show ended, he was nominated for both the Arnold Schwarzenegger Superman Award and the Jack La Laine Man of the Year Award. Yes, Kirstie dropped a lot of weight as a result of her stint on the show, but it was Maksam who did much of the work.
Marie Osmond added a slice of Victoriana to the show when she fainted during her samba with Jonathan Roberta. There wasn’t even a couch on stage on which she could have her vapors. Although the audience’s initial reaction was laughter, the dauntless Marie managed to compose herself after a station break to receive her score from the judges. Some said the fainting spell was a sympathy ploy to gain higher marks, but since she was awarded 21 out of a possible 30, I don’t think there was too much sympathy being handed out. Adding insult to injury, some of Marie’s detractors complained that her costume looked like a Disney princess ballet recital costume for a 5-year- old, a la Cupcake.
Former member of the U.S. House of Representatives Tom DeLay didn’t let allegations of money laundering keep him from strutting his stuff. Fellow House members were astonished by his poise and dexterity as he danced to those old favorites, The Tennessee Waltz and The Eyes of Texas. But nothing beat his lively dance that included a tush-quiver that brought smiles to a select portion of our society.
One season, Emmitt Smith vied with Mario Lopez for the crown. Although Mario’s tango brought the judges to the edge of their seats and drew thunderous applause from the audience, it was Emmitt who won. But don’t feel too badly for Mario. If you can’t win one reality show, and you can’t win another, fate may yet be kind to you: Mario now hosts his own show.
Contestant J. R. Martinez gave inspiration to us all. Demonstrating fortitude and determination, this wounded veteran rose from injuries that had consumed 40% of his skin, including one of his ears. He credits the long running and now departing soap opera, All My Children, for his full recovery; compassionately, the soap had offered Martinez an acting position. Without that notoriety, he felt that would have never been selected to try out for the dance contest.
Among the newcomers to the 2011 season is Nancy Grace of Casey Anthony fame. Maybe Nancy will be asked to dance to Judgment at Nuremberg or another tune that will reflect her position of former prosecuting attorney and current TV show host.
My only questions about Dancing with the Stars are, “Who are the real stars? Are they the celebrities that begin with zero talent, or are they the long-suffering professionals constrained to whip them into shape? And why don’t the viewers get to select the contestants?”
If I were granted the opportunity to make the selections, I would like to see people of interest vie for the title, people like President Obama or Mrs. Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or even Moammar. If we make the show accessible to audiences globally, this would be a great way to duke out … I mean, dance out … our international problems. What say ye?