Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The All-American Cowboy versus the "Bionic Booty"

Please take note that the following post contains spoilers for tonight's Dancing with the Stars results show as well as a good ole' fashioned rant. Consider yourself warned.

My parents have been watching DWTS since it first aired, which is pretty miraculous to me since, up until recently, they barely watched any television at all. But I suppose it's because they're big fans of ballroom dancing and have been taking lessons and dancing together for the past twelve years. In fact, they got me into ballroom dancing when I was fourteen; I even briefly contemplated taking it up professionally when I was a teenager, but school commitments and other things came up and it just didn't happen. They also got me watching the show, although it took until this season for me to really become a fan.

At the beginning, my allegiance was split between Gilles Marini and Shawn Johnson--because Gilles was awesome, even early on, and I was such a huge fan of Shawn's plucky determination (and sheer unflappable optimism) during the Beijing Olympics (I also have a begrudging appreciation for Melissa Rycroft's dancing...but don't tell anyone). But rather rapidly, over the last few weeks, Lil' Kim and Derek stole my heart. Sure, I like Lil' Kim's music, but her celebrity has nothing to do with my adoration of her as a dancer.

DWTS brought out a side of Lil' Kim America hadn't really seen before. Instead of the tough-as-nails, "Queen Bee" rapper who gleefully tossed about obscenities and explicit sexual references, she revealed herself to be funny and a little shy and deeply committed, not to mention charmingly insecure despite her hip-hop cred. On the show, more than any of the other celebrities, Lil' Kim to me seemed remarkably human. The vast majority of her dances were excellent because she worked hard and, most importantly, because she's an incredible performer.

And, yes, part of her performance persona is that sexy, hip-thrusting style she's adapted from her hip-hop career, but I think she was never really given a chance to show other facets of her talent. In fact, every time she performed a dance that wasn't "raunchy" or "passionate" enough, she was penalized.

The judges were clearly very taken with Lil' Kim, and as shocked as I was that she was eliminated this week, but even in the final, tearful moments after her elimination, they were lamenting the loss of her "bionic booty."

Apparently, no matter how good she is, a woman of color is still judged on her "passion" and her ass (oh, er, her "assets," as they said tonight--haha). I'd like to see what would happen if Bruno told Melissa Rycroft to work her "bangin' rack"! Can you imagine?

(I could write volumes about the blatant racism of the judges' comments to Lil' Kim--especially when they were being "complimentary"--as opposed to how they address the other dancers, but...that will have to wait until I'm not, you know, trying to finish a dissertation.)

Just to be clear, I'm not angry because my favorite dancer was eliminated. Honestly, if Lil' Kim had gotten to the semi-finals and then had been beaten by someone equally good, like Gilles or Mellisa or even Shawn, I wouldn't have cared...much. But when the person who wins out over Lil' Kim is the one person left on the show who has absolutely no innate talent whatsoever? Well, then my feathers get a little ruffled.

Ty Murray is not a good dancer. He seems like a perfectly nice guy, I have no problems with him personally, and he's improved remarkably over the past few weeks. I'll even give him props for his Argentine Tango last week, which was pretty good...on a relative scale. However, he's stiff and stilted, still hasn't developed a sense a rhythm or movement after months of training and is simply worlds away from any of the other four couples.

I hate to speculate on things like this. What do I know, really? But I find it hard to believe that America didn't vote for Lil' Kim just because her waltz last week wasn't as good as it could have been. If that were the reasoning behind people voting, then Ty wouldn't have made it past the third week. It seems pretty clear to me that Lil' Kim's elimination this week has way more to do with people's privileging of the "All-American," white cowboy--clearly held to a different (lower) standard than any of the female contestants--and preconceived notions about how women of color are supposed to perform for us and how they're supposed to act.

And about yesterday's waltz? While I'm no professional by any means, I think I have a little more ballroom knowledge than the average Joe. Like Carrie Ann said, there were a few missteps, but it was still a beautiful dance (my goodness, ever-the-stickler Len even liked it), with some very graceful, sweet moments. Oh wait, I forgot. Black women aren't supposed to be graceful; we only like them when their booties are "bionic" and their dances are raunchy. Or, as Bruno said, "You tried to be a lady, but you're more comfortable being a tramp!" Um. Wow.

Let's tally things up, shall we? Lil' Kim has been consistently good, has excellent rhythm, and is a phenomenal performer. Ty has been consistently iffy, has no rhythm, and couldn't perform his way out of a corral.

Clearly, I don't get "American viewers" and how they vote. Or, actually, I think do get it. That's what scares me.


Shahara said...

You have missed an important part of the back story. Lil' Kim has made a career out of her "assets." She is a master at manipulation and self promotion. Her stay in jail was used as a career re-starter. She is a pro at projecting, protecting, altering and using her image to her advantage. First and always she is an entertainer. She knew exactly what she was doing as she accentuated her best body parts and danced her way to the final 5. She wanted to win and was doing what she thought would get her that result. The fact that Bruno let loose and used language tinged with double meaning and hidden references, was predictable. When Layla Ali was on the show, there was no such language used. There was conversation that related to boxing and dancing in the ring. Layla Ali has a large frame and an ample rear. However, no one referred to her "assets." It is an entertainment show on TV in need of holding it's viewers attention. There is another reality that has to do with America itself. It is 75% or better White and the majority do not live on the East or West coast. They are middle Americans who vote for the person who looks the most like them and who they like. While race may play a part in their vote so too does it play a part in the voting of African Americans who voted for Lil' Kim because she is black. Such is the "reality" of a show like DWTS where you have the public voting for who wins.

Aviva DV said...

You're right. Certainly Lil' Kim plays up (and has always played up) her ass(ets); she knows what the audience and the judges want. So does Melissa Rycroft, for that matter--as a former cheerleader (and, goodness gracious, a reality TV star), she's no stranger to using sex appeal. All of the contestants use (or try to use) sex appeal to some extent (even Shawn Johnson, although she's much more demure about it, for obvious reasons). My point is that Lil' Kim wasn't allowed to be good at anything else. Either she was shaking her booty or something was lacking. And I don't think that was entirely to do with her skill level.