Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Letter to Bristol

Dear Bristol Palin,

Although you’ll never read this electronic letter, and even though I think that just one post on my blog about your appearance on Dancing with the Stars is more than enough, I feel compelled to write a few extra words.

First of all, you have my sincere condolences for not winning the mirror-ball trophy. Week after week, you brought your best game to the dance floor, and I respect you for that. You started out on the show as an absolute beginner, but by the last episode, you made noticeable improvements, performing some dances that I would have a very difficult time doing with my case of vertigo. In fact, your penultimate dance on the show, your tango, was a cut above your other whirls around the stage with Mark Ballas. Your perseverance on DWTS — along with your bearing the intense scrutiny of your appearance on the show — is an example to many of us. So, you have my condolences for not achieving your goal of coming in first.

You have my condolences, but I’m not sorry that you lost.

What prompts me to write are two statements from you quoted in the press. The first was your pre-finals declaration: “Going out there and winning this would mean a lot. It would be like a big middle finger ... to all the people out there who hate my mom and me.” You seem to be saying that everyone who rooted against you on the show “hated” you. This, of course, isn’t true. Now, you can find haters anywhere and everywhere, and some of the people not in your corner were indeed haters. Whoever sent the show the envelope with white powder (which turned out to be talcum powder)? A hater. The people making death threats? Despicable haters. But these are the fringe. The overwhelming majority of people, including myself, who didn’t want you to win: we don’t “hate” you. We just don’t think that you should have been in the finals when season 11 had so many other celebrities with a better knack for dancing.

We don’t think you should have even made it to the semi-finals.

And this has nothing to do with my negative political opinions about your mother. Your last name could have been Manson, and if you had danced as well as Brandy, I’d at least tip my fedora to you, if not root. You are not your mother, so my Democratic Party politics don’t enter into this.

True, the show is as much about glamor and personal popularity as it is about foot placement and carriage lines. But at the end of the day, Dancing with the Stars should be about ... well ... dancing. And I think that the celebrities with the superior footwork should carry the day. One of my early-in-the-season favorites was Margaret Cho. I like her comedy — I like what she’s all about. I was glad that she wasn’t the first celebrity voted off the dance floor, and I was disappointed that she left after only the second week. But leaving was something that I knew she had to do. She just didn’t have the moves that the more proficient celebrities could pull off. However, if the outspoken Ms. Cho had made it all the way to the finals, I would think that there was something drastically wrong with the show. In such an event, I think that Dancing with the Stars would have lost its integrity as even a semi-serious hoofing contest. You can see where I’m going with this...

You also said that you “deserv[ed]” to win because you and Mark had “been working [your] butts off.” You two were the only ones doing that? Just because several of the celebrities had show-biz backgrounds, their rehearsals were a cakewalk? Jennifer Grey’s nailing her moves while pushing through the pain of a ruptured disc was a breeze? As important as hard work is, on Dancing with the Stars, it’s the results that should count. And your results on the dance floor just weren’t in the same league as Ms. Grey’s or ... ahem ... Brandy’s.

In fact, I was flabbergasted that your jive on the second-to-last episode received such high scores — three nines — from the judges. I don’t have any experience judging dance, but I thought that your footwork was leaden, your moves were sloppy, and your energy level wasn’t up to where it should have been. I got the idea that the judges were grading you on a curve so that if you ended up being the first-place winner, higher scores for you would give the show some cover. You said that with your jive, you wanted to prove that you belonged in the finals. To me (and a number of professional entertainment critics), you proved just the opposite, despite the enthusiastic compliments the judges gave you.

Other observers said that if you had won first place with your lower judges’ scores, Dancing with the Stars would have lost its credibility as any kind of dance competition. I say that the damage has already been done. Your ascension to the finals on such poor performances, when so many of your competitors had performed much better, tells me that dancing isn’t taken as seriously on the show as it ought to be. And while the rumors and Internet postings of more-than-allotted votes by your fans haven’t been proven, they sound very credible and cast a further pall on your longevity on the show. Dancing with the Stars has been one of the few television shows that I’ve been watching recently. But I’m not sure I’m going to watch it again. To me, it’s now become a joke.

Again, none of this is personal. And if my criticism of your dancing sounds harsh, it’s only because I think that the footwork on Dancing with the Stars should be held to a higher standard than the light-fantastic tripping of the average person on the street. The results on the dance floor should be more important to the judges and the audience than the effort to achieve them, however noble that effort might be. I wish you well. I’m not sure what I wish the show.

Rob in L.A.

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