ABC, we have a problem.
Actually, ABC, you have a problem. This past week was a whirlwind of missteps and blatant disregard for your network’s declared stance on diversity, inclusion, bullying, and morality. And somehow it all revolves around dancing.
On Wednesday, August 21, ABC announced the cast for the 28th season of Dancing With the Stars. Included in the lineup were the usual mix of singers, athletes, and pop culture personalities whose stars have faded. And Sean Spicer. Wait. What?
Yes! Spicer, former professional liar and public fixer for Donald Trump, will be foxtrotting his way onto the show, and with any luck his dancing will be better than the kind he did around the truth during his time at the White House.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) August 21, 2019
The backlash to Spicer’s casting was immediate. Fans of the dance competition series, as well as those who have never watched an episode, wondered how a network like ABC could make such an egregious decision to cast someone who flat-out lied to the American people, aiding in subverting our democracy on a daily basis—and pay him six figures!
Those trying to defend Spicer and the network tried to blame politics for the backlash. Spicer himself released a half-baked attempt at a press statement (proving that he is still terrible at his job) saying that his presence “will make this show an example of how Americans can disagree about politics and tune into good entertainment shows and keep their politics at bay.”
There’s just one problem with that: This isn’t about politics! This is about morals and truth. This is about not normalizing people who willingly lied to Americans, eagerly harming our country and its most vulnerable citizens.
As if we didn’t already know what a hypocrite Spicer was, we were then treated to a whiplash-inducing two-step from the man who said he wants to keep “politics at bay” when he responded to a tweet about his involvement on the show from his former boss, reality show host and accused rapist Donald Trump.
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) August 22, 2019
ABC remained mum on the topic, only further implicating them as enablers and co-conspirators in the normalization of Trump and his cronies, which some TV critics called disgraceful. DWTS executive producer Andrew Llinares tap-danced around the drama when he told US Weekly, “We’ve got a great and diverse cast. We are excited about the season.”
ABC is degrading the word “diversity” by suggesting that having amoral people in your cast makes it a rainbow of positive representation.
One person didn’t stay silent and tangoed his way into the conversation: Queer Eye cast member Karamo Brown, who will also be competing on DWTS. Because it’s 2019 and we live in an alternate universe, Brown, a gay African-American (two groups that Spicer helped Trump and the GOP attack on a regular basis), defended his new co-star.
“I’m excited to sit down w/ him and engage in a respectful conversations,” Brown wrote to a disappointed fan on social media. “Only way things get better is if we try to educate those who have different POV than us.” He also told Access Hollywood that Spicer was a “good guy” and that he had been most excited to meet him. These statements were so misguided they could have been written by Spicer himself.
Considering all we know about Spicer, does Brown really believe that he is a “good guy” or that he has suddenly changed? The man just retweeted Trump—he’s not changing! He’s proud of the lies he told and the cover-ups he facilitated to help attack your rights, Karamo.
Brown later released a statement on Twitter that was so “rainbows and unicorns” it could have been written by Marianne Williamson after she smudged his new DWTS dressing room. People were not impressed, and the continued pushback led Brown to shut down his Twitter account.
While I appreciate Brown’s sentiment, the time has passed for friendly engagement with folks who are Nazi-sympathizers and bigots. You don’t play nice with these people; you stand up to them and call them out.
The very next day, ABC was in hot water again! This time it was Good Morning America co-host Lara Spencer making folks royally mad when she made fun of Prince George for taking ballet class.
Spencer pushed outdated, dangerously sexist and homophobic stereotypes about boys who dance, while her co-hosts, George Stephanopoulos and Amy Robach, laughed right along.
Perhaps they aren’t aware of what shame and bullying like that does to a young man. Perhaps they’ve never thought about what would have happened if male dancers like Baryshnikov or Patrick Swayze, or some of our most famous boxers and football players who also trained in ballet, had given in to this kind of toxic masculinity. Perhaps they just didn’t think.
As someone who often appears on live TV, I can attest to how sometimes you say something incorrectly and immediately want to shove those words back into your mouth. It happens. It’s part of the gig. But this felt different.
Seeing casual sexism, homophobia, and bullying blatantly displayed on ABC as a joke was alarming and infuriating. This didn’t feel like a mistake. This felt like learned and accepted behavior rooted in a dangerous and destructive past.
A little boy named Patrick once took dance classes from his mother almost every day. He turned out to be a great human being, and one hell of a dancer. @LaraSpencer @GMA @ABCNetwork pic.twitter.com/8Q1wxw6UKQ
— Scott Nevins (@ScottNevins) August 23, 2019
I posted a tweet calling out the network, the show, and its host for their mistake. After the tweet was featured by The Hollywood Reporter, many male dancers, dance teachers, and dance fans from around the world weighed in with similar sentiments and expressed their gratitude.
Spencer later took to Instagram (does no one have a PR person anymore?) to post an odd, half-apology which never really addressed her mistake. Instead she wrote of people’s passions and her own childhood ballet classes. The post was bafflingly coupled with an image of a lavender field. I guess we should be grateful that it wasn’t a photo of pansies!
She also disabled the comments section on her post—another teachable moment squashed by someone who needed schooling more than the silence.
But speaking of teachable moments, there’s a recurring theme I’ve noticed in the cases of both Brown and Spencer, as well as with many others who get called out on social media: During the growing outrage there were a lot of calls to “cancel” these people. This too is a form of bullying and a grossly exaggerated response to people who may have misspoken or misstepped. Instead of canceling someone, we should combat their ignorance with education. Let’s inform instead of incriminate when someone’s offense may be non-malicious and correctable. We also don’t need them fired, we need them to do better. We don’t want to counteract our call for decency by acting like an incensed mob. It’s not like they were paid to lie to America!
Lastly, while we wait with bated breath to see what ABC’s next disappointing blunder will be, I have two suggestions:
I challenge ABC to produce a weekly segment on GMA in which they highlight a young, male dancer from every state in the country. Let them tell their stories and show their talents.
I also invite Spencer to take a seat… and view a little film called Billy Elliot and a documentary called Danseur, which both deal with the backlash boys often face from family and society when they follow their dreams to dance.
Trust me, Lara, it’s much harsher and more damaging than the backlash you just faced, and its effects linger far longer, too.