Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dance Moms for President

Everyone has a guilty pleasure.  My public guilty pleasure for years has been politics.  I love the drama, the characters, the passions, the intrigue, the competition.  For this political junkie, there is no more exciting event than the New Hampshire primary, the nation’s last great exercise in the retail democratic process.  It’s my Super Bowl, the day when the wheat is separated from the chaff, the contenders from the pretenders, and the front runners from the also-rans.  Heck, I have immortalized my passion for the New Hampshire primary in a way that only a Virginian can understand – I have personalized car tags that read “NH PRMRY”.  That’s commitment.  

My guilty pleasure has one drawback.  The entire exercise requires more thinking than your run-of-the-mill guilty pleasures, so I should be forgiven if from time to time, I opt out of the partisan chatter and dive into some nonsensical chatter.  This past Tuesday night, my big once-every-four-years night, I must confess that I opted out of thinking exit polls for about an hour.  I opted out of New Hampshire primary results coverage on the cable news channels for my private guilty pleasure – the season premiere of Dance Moms on Lifetime.

The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.  “Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m a Dance Mom-aholic.”

Before you cast any aspersions in my direction, I do not watch Dancing With the Stars, Glee, or any programming on the Oxygen network.  I don’t touch the hard stuff.  I started watching the twisted parents of the Abby Lee Dance Company to protect my own children.  My kids got me hooked on Dance Moms when I insisted that I watch it before they were allowed to indulge themselves.  I needed to monitor their viewing habits as any conscientious parent would do.  How was I to know that Christi’s insecurities, Abby’s hysterics and Cathy’s Candy Apple delusions would be so intoxicating?  Once I heard Abby Lee say that “every time a parent opens their mouth, a child is ruined”, I could not miss an episode.  That’s the kind of street wisdom you can’t get from NPR. 

Apparently, I am not alone in choosing one hour of televised child abuse over the quadrennial political rhetoric.  Dance Moms eagerly anticipated season 2 debut was the program’s most watched telecast ever and Lifetime’s best ever Tuesday season opener among Total Viewers.  It averaged 2.5 million Total Viewers in the 9:00pm ET/PT time period, with an average viewer age of only 37.  I can now argue that the show keeps me connected to the younger generation, those in their late 30s.  That’s a positive, right?  Keeps me young(er).

Political coverage that night did not fare nearly as well.  Fox News Channel won the ratings game over its competitors with its primary coverage averaging 550,000 total viewers. Its nearest competitor, CNN, averaged 401,000 total viewers, while MSNBC placed third with 245,000 viewers.  Dance Moms had twice as many viewers as the 3 major cable news networks combined.  Watching Holly explain to her daughter Nia why she wasn’t going to the big dance competition in North Carolina held more eyeballs than Newt Gingrich’s sour grapes speech.  That says something about our collective IQ, but for today, it is saying more about mine I fear.
After some soul searching, I think I now understand my attraction to the show.  The drama, the characters, the passions, the intrigue, the competition – it’s just like presidential primary politics, except for the dancing.

The similarities are striking.  Both programs offer a bevy of irrational claims, unexpected tears, secret alliances, and incoherent shouting.  Holly complains that her daughter always gets assigned the ethic dances.  Herman Cain blames the media for treating him differently because of race.  Brooke can’t stop crying.  Newt sheds a tear in Iowa to humanize himself, a tough assignment.  Melissa promises to watch Jill’s back against the mob of moms.  Santorum agrees not to go negative on Newt.  The storylines are cut from the same cloth.
On Dance Moms, each week features a new competition in another state, just like the primaries.  This week, the dancers headed off to North Carolina to compete.  The GOP candidates headed to South Carolina to perform their own versions of the two-step. 
On Dance Moms, each show begins with the audience learning which contestant will be at the top of the pyramid that week, just like just like the primaries.  The national media anoints a different candidate for the top of the political pyramid seemingly every week.

If you are at the top of the pyramid on Dance Moms, everyone is gunning for you and nothing is off limits.  Ditto for national political races.

Next week, we learn that the Candy Apple Dance Company is planning a third party charge to the top of the dance rankings.  We know from the opening episode that the Candy Apple effort is headed for disaster, but we will watch to find out how it happens.  Who knows, maybe votes for the Candy Apple dancers at the next competition will siphon votes from the Abby Lee Dance Company and provide an opening for another troupe to win the trophy.  That’s what happens when the votes get split.

Mitt, Newt, Rick S., Rick P., Ron and Jon.  Abby, Melissa, Kelly, Holly, Christi, and Cathy.  If you close your eyes and just listen, it’s hard to tell them apart.

Abby Lee Miller’s signature catch phrase is as fitting for the 8-year old ballerina who can’t dance through her injuries as it is for the 8-term Congressmen who funnels earmarks to big contributors:  “Everyone’s replaceable.”

Next week, it’s another dance competition in South Carolina.  Can’t wait for the results.

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