There’s a scandal brewing involving alleged voter fraud, a questionably qualified contender, and a Palin. And while that would be an alarming development if it actually involved an actual campaign and public policy, it’s nearly as disturbing a comment on American popular culture that the controversy involves Bristol Palin, the 20-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin, and the younger woman’s role on an inexplicably popular dance contest show.
On the red-state side, we have conservative Internet users who claim to have rigged the viewer voting for Dancing With the Stars to keep Bristol Palin in the competition, despite widespread belief that Palin isn’t one of the better dancers on the show. And on the equally silly blue-state side, we have a Wisconsin man who was so incensed over the young woman’s reality TV success that he actually shot his television set in protest.
Forget about the Tea Party movement, the non-functioning legislative process in Washington, and the question of whether to extend tax cuts during a budget crisis. The Palin-Dancing issue is what forces a self-inflicted smack to the head and the question, "what has gone wrong with this country?"
Why do people watch so-called reality shows? What’s real about practicing ballroom dancing with a bunch of largely has-been "celebrities," some of whom earned that media moniker merely by appearing on another "reality" show? Reality TV is not a compelling art form; it’s a way for networks to avoid paying writers. Survivor exploded with a possible Hollywood writers strike looming, and once TV executives figured out that there was a limit to how little writers would charge to pen TV shows, but apparently no limit on the number of people willing to publicly humiliate themselves just to get on television, other fake-competition shows followed. (If the viewers, and not the panel of experts assigned to monitor the performances, drive the vote results, it’s not really a genuine talent competition.)
Who cares if Palin wins? She’s likely having fun on the program, and at least she didn’t quit halfway through the competition. Winning would not give her the authority to launch a nuclear assault or negotiate international trade agreements. She’s been through a lot of media scrutiny and has had a public audience as she navigates single motherhood and a loser ex-fiance. Would it be so terrible if she had the small consolation of a mirrored-ball trophy for being the best dancer on a TV show?
Bristol Palin’s competition is not real. The one her mother may get involved in is very real. Let’s hope viewers channel their energies at the more important contests.