It would have been, as it should have been. But these are different times, and this is a different press secretary, and in any case, I think Spicer’s detractors would have enjoyed seeing him eat bugs for Joe Rogan more than seeing him slog through a triumphant dance-studio training montage. Less of Spicer performing the tarantula, more of him swallowing tarantulas, and so forth.
So instead here we are, this place where a man who told falsehoods to the American people — about crowd size, about Trump Tower meetings — will try to cha-cha his way into our hearts. And where his fellow celebrity dancers are put in the position of awkwardly defending him.
“[He’s a] good guy, really sweet guy,” Karamo Brown, a star of Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” told “Access Hollywood.” “People would look at us and think that we’re polar opposites, but I’m a big believer that if you can talk to someone and meet in the middle, you can learn about each other and help each other both grow.”
There might be something laudable about that impulse if that’s what the show was truly about — if it were an emotional therapy exercise, wherein contestants found common ground through creative expression.
But “Dancing With the Stars” doesn’t feature contestants talking through politics; it features dancing. The show won’t be Spicer reckoning with his role in this noxious era; the show will be Spicer persevering through routines set to upbeat music, making self-deprecating jokes along the way. Critics who object to his casting are doing so because they’re troubled by these kinds of optics. After a few episodes of Spicer holding ice packs to his knees, “Dancing With the Stars” could have the effect of dry-cleaning his image: He becomes the amiable oaf who hung in there through his fox trot, not the propaganda wing of a contentious administration.
Tom Bergeron, the show’s longtime host, revealed Wednesday that he had concerns about Spicer’s casting. Without revealing his personal politics, he said he thought the show should have been a “joyful respite from our exhausting political climate.”
To that, Spicer himself replied. “Bringing a diverse group of people together, who can interact in a fun, civil and respectful way, is actually a way we can move the country forward,” he told Us Weekly in a statement. “It 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.”
Spicer and Karamo Brown were on the same page, it seemed. Meet in the middle. Be civil and respectful. Agree to disagree.
This is the language that grown-ups are taught to use when working through conflict. This is what pundits, or politicians like Joe Biden, regularly cite as the problem with our current society: a lack of compromise, civil discourse and coming together.
But it’s facile language, which may sound meaningful but has no practical applications. Where is the middle, for example, when one person, like Brown, is the star of a Netflix show dedicated to promoting LGBT understanding, and the other person, like Spicer, was the mouthpiece of an administration calling for a transgender military ban? Would that “middle” propose that those soldiers can serve three days a week? Every other Friday?
What is the “fun” and “civil” interaction between someone like actress Kate Flannery, another announced DWTS cast member, who has spoken out against sexual harassment and gender discrimination — and someone like Spicer, whose former boss reserves his sympathy only for alleged harassers? What does that look like — women begging not to be harassed, while President Trump meanwhile attacks Christine Blasey Ford?
Agreeing to disagree is useful when the topic is rating the new Popeyes chicken sandwich. It’s not useful when one person wants equality, and the other wants to deny it. It’s not useful when one is saying, “Can I please be a human?” and the other is saying, “No, but how about this, we can both agree that we love the Viennese waltz!”
That’s what we’re really talking about when we talk about Sean Spicer in dance shoes. In some cases, there can’t be a “joyful respite” from our political climate, because these aren’t just topics we discuss and then drop. These are the bodies we live in.
Spicer wants to go on “Dancing With the Stars”? Fine. The show is a democracy. If people don’t like him, he’ll be voted off.
But, for as long as he stays on, I hope that he and his co-stars don’t pretend that the goal of the show is to keep politics at bay. It’s never at bay. It’s not fair for producers to bring a radioactive character to the set, put him in a tuxedo, and sandwich him between James Van Der Beek and Christie Brinkley as if they’re all the same genre of celebrity.
I hope the show itself grapples openly with what it means to have him there. What are they hoping to accomplish, or helping him accomplish? Is Spicer hoping to account for his former actions? Excuse them? Praying we’ll all just forget about them once he dons a top hat?
Even as I’m describing what this sort of reckoning would look like on television — uncomfortable confrontations, on-air confessionals, a group-therapy session or two — it sounds awful. It sounds as if it’s a slog of a show that I would never want to watch. But it’s the only moral way to do it. If you’re inviting Sean Spicer on your show, let it be more than a cheeky ratings grab. And dear God, let it be more than lip service to “balance,” and “diverse opinions,” and a middle that can’t exist.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.