Gay Girl’s Goggles: “Dancing with the Stars” SnapCap (13.9)


Brace yourselves: It’s a cruel and ugly world out there.

(Looking for a blow-by-blow of the dances and scores? Check out yesterday’s Video Highlights. This is where we dig into the soft underbelly of DWTS. And it won’t be pretty.) 

AfterEllen Bait 

Hope Solo showed her moxie by powering past (and refusing to grouse about) what sounds like an excruciatingly painful shoulder injury – especially when she’s been spending several hours a day getting yanked around by her arms. The injury long predates the show, so I’m sure it’s just a fluke that it hasn’t made any of the behind-the-scenes footage until now. I mean, it’s not like this is a show with call-in voting where that kind of impressive, humanizing feature could have changed the audience’s perception of her or anything. Totally understandable oversight. 

Solo, in what I’m guessing was a sly nod to the degree to which this show is transparently rigged, started her first dance in chains and then – Settle down, people! Settle down right now or I am turning this SnapCap around and we are going home! – threw them off and danced like a house afire. 

Ms. Solo also seems to have kept up the deliveries of premium baked goods to the costume department. 

And it looks like Karina Smirnoff sent a few blini to the good people in wardrobe too. Goodness gracious. 

Ricki Lake is also looking fine, and I have to say her quiet steel core is really growing on me. Yes, even in that first outfit. It’s not her fault that they dressed her as Big Bird for her samba. 

During the early weeks Ricki seemed to be kind of a distantly above-it-all Miss Perfect dancer, but she really seems to be quite the scrapper underneath. Good on you, Ricki. 

I wonder if her strong core is what’s making the producers and judges push Rob Kittencaboodle as their new favorite dancer? Or maybe it’s just the irresistibly appealing way everyone in Rob’s entire family spends their days screeching and snatching, Gollum-like, at unearned fame. 

Feelings, Feelings, Feelings! 

DWTS once again tried to do a little gentle tugging at the heartstrings this week, but since this show is apparently put together by ogres, they don’t so much tug at the heartstrings as punch into your chest cavity and root around for your heart while wearing white-hot spiked iron gloves. And then if you complain that the whole thing feels a little forced, they randomly dock points from the score of anyone but Rob Katydid. And then they dock a couple more points off Hope Solo’s score just for luck. 

So we had some video clips that were designed to have emotional impact, and just in case some small part of this show’s Cylon audience was in danger of missing that, they had the host tell us, over and over, how emotional it was. Thanks, show! 

The makers of Dancing with the Stars, who have never seen a genuine moment that couldn’t be clubbed, overhyped, and stuffed with appalling filler, really don’t seem to grasp that the worst times of one’s life can’t always be crammed into a simple, happy-ending, single-arc storyline. The most successful piece in that regard was the clip on J.R. Martinez, who worried that he’d never be in a relationship after his injury. His mom said he would, with someone who loved who he was on the inside. And then we got to meet his sweet girlfriend. Aww. (Sweet girlfriend, by the way? Did not seem to be a fan of Karina Smirnoff’s ridiculously sexy tango outfit. Heh.) 

I know Ricki and Hope willingly put their meet-the-contestants/hardship sequences on TV and all, but it still feels oddly like an invasion of privacy to splash them all over a blog. They are strong women and we root for them. Let’s leave it at that. 

As for feelings that the producers weren’t trying to yank out through our throats with gaffing hooks, Ricki Lake definitely ran through some emotions this week – she was stunned when Rob took first place in the cha cha, perhaps because she had been focusing on her neck-and-neck race with J.R. and hadn’t been paying attention to the way Rob has been getting shamelessly overpraised and overscored over the last several weeks. Or maybe she believed in a good and just universe that sometimes makes sense. At any rate, she wasn’t quite ready for Rob’s completely unearned leapfrog to the top. Ricki also claimed that Dancing with the Stars has been “a roller coaster ride” for her, which was oddly adorable; she has mostly been roller coastering between first and second place. 

Rob Karkrashian (hat tip: Canuckgrrrl for the name) also had some feelings this week. He acknowledged that he’s the only person on the show who hasn’t really experienced life, but after that unusual moment of self-awareness he just sort of let it go at that. The realization that he hasn’t developed much depth and isn’t really very interesting doesn’t seem to have affected his apparent assumption that he is somehow entitled to his own show. Is there anyone still pretending that getting Rob an undeserved show isn’t what this whole DWTS charade is about? In his video clip, Rob said that he needed to get out from under his family’s shadow, but it doesn’t seem to occur to him to, say, move far away and look for a fulfilling, non-televised job. 

And why would he? This show is only making the impression he got from his sisters that one should reap huge rewards for doing very ordinary things (or nothing) worse. He stops lurching around like a 50-year-old frat boy for thirty seconds and everyone treats him like he’s just discovered the freaking Salk vaccine. 

So Rob’s story (other than everyone talking about incessantly about his butt) is that he has been terribly shy and sad there in his gilded cage, but now he is becoming A Man. Which involves everything but learning, growing, or walking through that enormous wide-open door. 

And then we had Hope and Maks, swirling yin-yang symbols of grace and defiance. All the bizarre, completely unfair nonsense they’ve been put through on this show really seems to have forged a bond between them. When Hope had to have Novocain injected straight into her shoulder, Maks was endearingly horrified at how long the needle was. He then cradled Hope’s head and tried to keep her from looking at the injection, even though she seemed completely unfazed by the whole thing. 

And then, of course, there was the part where Hope and Maks were blatantly screwed over by the judges. Again. They knew as soon as they received their insulting trio of sevens for their first dance – the same score, Hope pointed out, that they had received her very first week – that fairness simply wasn’t going to be an issue and they were going down. You could tell they carried that noble bit of melancholy through the rest of the performance show and the whole way through the results show. They’re both competitors at the core, and it must have stung to know that there wasn’t anything they could do to get a fair score. It’s a stupid show, and I think they both know that, but being cheated at a stupid game is still being cheated. 

But the reward they came out with was that for the most part they didn’t care about the show or the judges or their utterly non-merit-based scoring anymore. Hope and Maks supported each other and danced well – and for each other. Audio as they hugged after their tango caught them both saying “F–k ‘em” about the judges. 

After a weird little farce of judging during which Carrie Anne got all snippy with Maks for smiling in a way she didn’t like, Hope and Maks walked off tall and proud and finally laughing at the absurdity of it all. They almost should have thanked the judges for being so weird and petty as to completely break the spell. 

Meanwhile, back at their table, the judges sensed that they hadn’t come out ahead in the exchange, and maybe that they hadn’t come off as commanding winners, though they couldn’t figure out how or why. They looked at each other and whined insecurely about how they were in the right – always a good sign of moral certitude – and Carrie Anne went off on some weird tangent about how Maks was being awful by standing a little bit behind Hope (What?) and then Len said that actually they, the judges, had all been really nice. And then the judges all sat there in silence for a moment, worried and pathetic, and feeling some dangerous inklings that maybe the world was leaving them behind in their chilly little pool of pre-written insults and sexism, and that maybe the gold-plated eucalyptus-scented foot massagers hadn’t been worth their integrity after all. 

And it’s those last few things about this show that have really driven me up the walls. I don’t really have a problem with a show being stupid. Sincerely, sweetly, or boisterously stupid shows can be great fun. I will support a show’s right to be stupid if it has its heart in the right place. 

But Dancing with the Stars doesn’t. It’s stupid and corrupt, stupid and sexist, stupid and gender-normative, and sometimes flat-out stupid and mean. And all of those are inexcusable. 

Thank goodness the Muppets came on later to remind us that some things are silly and fun and don’t need to be horrible. 

And that Statler and Waldorf are both wittier and more lifelike than Carrie Ann and Bruno. 

Athletic Spectacle 

When I originally chose this category, I had no idea how long it would take this show to hit its athletic stride, but now it really has. So much lifting during the tangos! There was even an impressive guest tango during which the lead male lifted his partner over his head and spun her so hard I thought he was working up to a hammer throw. 

J.R. and Karina did some vigorous rehearsing that seemed to involve a lot of wiping out and – yeowtch – J.R. twisted his ankle in a hard fall. Wow, is this show is really hard on the participants. Or maybe the contestants’ bodies are so desperate to get out of there that they’re trying to escape one piece at a time. J.R. pushed through, in spite of re-injuring his ankle during his energetic paso doble jumping. Their tango was the perfect intersection of athletic and sexy, full of lifts and Karina spider monkeying around on J.R.’s body with her legs. Very cool. 

Hope and Maks also brought the athleticism, starting off their tango with Hope writhing on the judges’ table until Maks came over and she hooked her leg around his neck so he could carry her away. Totally normal, ordinary move! Why give someone credit for it? They followed that up with some insane lifts, holds and bendy things. Do you think it would have been worth it to learn some dance terminology for these recaps? No, I don’t either. 

Fighting Monsters 

Did I mention that this show is stupid sometimes? OK, that’s not fair. It’s stupid most of the time.

Tuesday’s results show had a sequence that could have been so wonderful, a tiny shred of good, and DWTS ruined it so hard that archives of back seasons shriveled up and became more atrocious just from the shockwave. 

It started out as a segment on young male dancers, about high school age, who kept on dancing even though they were made fun of and even bullied. And just as viewers were thinking, “Hey, way to go, Dancing with the Stars, you’re being positive, idealistic, and nonjudgmental,” one of the dancers mentioned how he pointed out to a football player that he’s extra-straight because he’s hanging out with a bunch of pretty girls. 

Which, OK, yes: Taking on the stereotype that all male dancers must be gay, or that all participants of anything must be a given sexual orientation is important. And indeed, maybe if that had been done properly, the judges could have wrapped their dust bunny brains around the idea that there is also more than one way to be feminine. 

But no such luck. The show brought up that point again and then again. Being a male dancer equals cute hot girls! And then they drove that point home by having the youngish teenaged dancers dance with a quartet of fully mature Troupe dancers, which, given the context and the ham-handed delivery of the male-dancers-get-female-tail message, was unbelievably creepy. 

And so instead of sending a message that nobody, gay or straight, should be bullied, DWTS by implication went with the message that you shouldn’t bully male dancers because they’re not gay! No reason to make fun when they’re really super straight stud-horses who may or may not be open to completely age-inappropriate relations! 

…And I guess that means the dancers who aren’t straight are fair game? Or is this loonball show pretending that gay and bi dancers don’t exist? 

I wish the producers would give Middle America a little more credit, you know? Amazingly enough, there are great swathes of the country that are not full of bigots and can totally handle the idea that you shouldn’t torment someone for being gay. Just because the bigots are the loudest doesn’t mean you have to cater to them. 

Given how terrible this show has turned out to be with sexism and gender norms, I am honestly astonished that they handled Chaz Bono’s presence on the show as well as they did. (“Well,” in this case, means only repeatedly insulting Chaz about his weight. DWTS has such a low bar for some things you need to hit the sub-basement to find it.) 

And of course, the monster that is Rob Kraken just keeps getting bigger and stronger. So big and so hungry now that pretending to believe he’s the scrappy underdog is no longer good enough. I think that was the most terrifying part of this week – the part where we stopped pretending he was better than Hope, who admittedly was a feisty bet for third, and started pretending that he’s a better dancer than Ricki or J.R. Which is just ludicrous. And objectively false. 

If you’ve been following the show, a) I’m sorry, and b) you have known since the first week – literally the first week – that J.R. and Ricki would be two of the three finalists. The two of them have even been shorted a little on behind-the-scenes footage because their placement in the finals was so obvious that there was no drama to it. The race among everyone else was always for the third slot. 

So going into this show, anyone who had even seen a fraction of an episode knew who the first two finalists would be. 

And yet on Tuesday’s results show, the producers did one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen on television: They announced Rob’s status first, and he had made it through. Which meant the audience knew all thee finalists five minutes into the show. 

The producers had one thing – ONE THING – in their hour-long filler-bloated show that carried any dramatic tension and they blew it before most viewers had so much as salted their popcorn. I’m still baffled by it. Do the DWTS producers really have that much contempt and loathing for their audience? They can’t possibly really think anyone was dumb enough to not immediately know the results. My cactus called that thing. 

So either the producers truly do not give a single hot rat about actually entertaining their audience, or the preposterous demand that we all pretend that Rob is a great dancer who deserves his spot has reached the point where we’re now all supposed to buy the story that he’s one of the best dancers. We were supposed to think Rob, out of all of them, was the surest thing. Will no one point out that the Emperor has no dance belt? His clan of marketing catchphrases must be even more wealthy and terrifying than I thought. I was going to advise everyone to run, but that would be futile. Whatever the Kindersurprises are planning, we’re going to need space pods to escape it. 

Kicked off this week: Hope Solo. 

We all know she deserved better, or at least fair. But at least Hop made it out with her strength, dignity, and sense of self intact. Hope won’t win a glitter ball in a rigged competition, true, but it did look like she had a hell of a lot of fun dancing the last couple of weeks and forged a real friendship with Maks. And, with luck, she showed some younger viewers what female kickassery can look like. 

Hope Solo has been on the hero’s journey on this show, and she walked straight into the dragon’s mouth.

True, the dragon spat Hope out before she could vanquish it. But she gave it a hell of a case of indigestion along the way. 

Let’s all raise a training-table appropriate beverage to Hope Solo. And then let’s have another swig to fortify ourselves, because there is still one week left, and it has Rob Kowwiththecrumpledhorn in it. 

In the meantime, go forth and dance.

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