Dancing with the Stars has weathered its fair share of controversies over the years. It managed to survive when it hired Bristol Palin in 2010. It clung on when everyone accused Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air of being a ringer in 2014. It even managed to stagger on after subjecting the world to the sight of Jerry Springer abjectly cha-cha-chaing his way through a song called Hey Daddy.
But the appointment of Sean Spicer as a Dancing with the Stars contestant feels different. This is the first time that it feels like Dancing with the Stars might crash and burn, and take everyone down with it. Spicer isn’t the first Trump-affiliated figure to take part in the show – Marla Maples and Rick Perry were both contestants in 2016 – but he is one of the most notorious, and the scars from his tenure as Trump’s communications director are still fresh, and it’s fair to say that all hell is kicking off.
The blowback has been instantaneous. We’ve already seen headlines like “Sean Spicer belongs on a permanent public blacklist, not in a televised waltz” and “ABC should rename its reality show Dancing With the Scumbags” and CNN has already begun to naval-gaze about America’s unquestioning relationship with celebrity. The host of Dancing with the Stars, Tom Bergeron, has already distanced himself from Sean Spicer with a spikily-worded tweet:
And, obviously, the internet is aflame. The hashtag #BoycottDWTS has taken off on Twitter, with users threatening to abandon any companies who advertise on the show during Spicer’s tenure, and people are reacting furiously to anyone else affiliated with the show who doesn’t outright condemn him. Fellow contestant Karamo Brown from Queer Eye has already endured the worst controversy of his career by calling Spicer “a good guy, a really sweet guy” in an Access Hollywood video. The other contestants, including James Van Der Beek, Christie Brinkley and Lamar Odom, will have to watch their every word if they are to escape a similar fate.
This could have all been so easily avoided. Look at the other contestants taking part on Dancing with the Stars this year. Someone from The X Factor. Someone from American Idol. Someone from The Bachelorette. That’s the base level of fame required to appear on Dancing with the Stars, and there are thousands of other people who fit the bill. The series could have filled Spicer’s slot with someone from Big Brother or one of those godawful Housewives shows and nobody would have been any the wiser.
But no, instead they picked the guy charged with defending Donald Trump. The man who was the mouthpiece of the most divisive American leader in living memory, who lied and rationalised and deliberately spread misinformation so readily that he is the reason why the phrase “alternative facts” entered the lexicon. He banned members of the press from his briefings. He weirdly chose to defend Adolf Hitler during Passover, although he did at least apologise for this.
It doesn’t make any sense. Dancing with the Stars is a big, mainstream entertainment show that exists solely to draw the largest possible audience. Sean Spicer is an alienating figure, who will actively stop people from watching. Cast your mind back to all the other times he’s tried to pal up to the mainstream, and how terribly it went then. When he made a cameo during the 2017 Emmys, popping up to reference one of his most notorious outbursts, the backlash was such that it threatened to damage the reputation of its host Stephen Colbert. That it didn’t is largely down to the photograph from the same night of Sean Spicer being kissed on the cheek by James Corden, who bore the brunt of the outrage and later had to apologise for his poor judgement.
The worst thing about Spicer’s appearance is that it opens the door for all the other fame-hungry Trumpers who want an easy path to rehabilitation. Who could it be next year? Kellyanne Conway? Anthony Scaramucci? Mike Pence? Eric? By allowing Sean Spicer to take part, Dancing with the Stars has made itself an easy out for terrible people. It has opened up a terrible future for itself. Unless, of course, Sean Spicer destroys the show forever. Fingers crossed.