Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pamela Anderson Just Doesn't Get It

Okay – I have a serious confession to make. I am an avid fan of Dancing with the Stars. Every week I go to embarrassing lengths to make sure I am primed, Mondays at 8pm, to catch all the glory on my small screen. I schedule my clients around it, I plan my evening meal, I rush home from whatever appointment I happen to be at. Just like I did when I was a teenager, ridiculously and hopelessly addicted to The Monkees on television.

And I have been keeping this a secret for years.

Now I should say, in my own defence, I have plenty of well thought out reasons for why I do it – meaning that I’ve actually thought about it – but it’s also just great fun to watch. For those of you unfamiliar, the basic concept behind the show is the pairing of people from all walks of life (boxers, actors, Olympic medalists, comedians, journalists, etc) with professional dancers to take a crash course in how to dance ballroom. In front of 20 million people. It’s a competition – a serious one, with good taste. It features decent judges who give constructive feedback without exploiting the contestants, as frequently seen on “reality programs” like American Idol (aka Simon Cowell). What makes a couple advance is a combination of the judges scores (50%) and audience votes (the other 50%). And part of what makes it interesting is that it is always surprising to see who takes easier to dance than others – and it’s often not who you expect it to be.

I am not a fan of ballroom dancing. But I am fascinated by the correlation between body language and character, and how a person’s physical conditioning (for example, in sports training) can interfere with their effort to expand their range of movement, or to learn a whole new “language”. Whether we are athletically trained or not, we are all prone to patterns in the way we move that can become habitual, and this in turn can have a real impact on our mental and emotional states. Any effort to change these patterns can wreak havoc on our field of perception. Take, for example, the Olympic skater on this season’s show who stepped on his own foot during training, or the NFL star who struggled to find his “feminine” side while gliding across the floor. Our biggest obstacle in any creative endeavor is often not what we don’t know, but rather what we do know.

Another really interesting aspect of the show is to see how people connect (or don’t connect) with their partner and their audience – and how both, in turn, influence voting. Dance is far more than just technique, after all. Are they merely going through the motions, or are they, through their partner, connecting with the emotion in, or the tradition behind, the dance? Are they peddling a façade, or do they make some attempt at being real, or reaching out to the people who are watching them?

Pamela Anderson’s debut on DWTS couldn’t be a better example. Famous for her “look at me, aren’t I hot” antics on camera, and her flagrant willingness to expose herself as much as possible for all her adoring fans (ie. men and boys who like watermelons for breasts) – she has been no different here. What is surprising, however, is that despite the lack of any training whatsoever, this woman can actually dance. The first two segments earned her decent scores from the judges. But she just couldn’t resist carrying on in her usual way off stage. At one point, while being briefly interviewed about her performance, she was overcome with the sudden need to search for some unknown object in her brassiere, then cup her prized possessions with her own hands in order to “adjust” them on live television.

The voters didn’t go for it. Though she earned admirable praise from the judges, she managed to land herself in the bottom two after audience votes were tallied. The look on her face betrayed a real disconcertion. As if her life-long perception of her own popularity was being shaken to the core.

Pamela Anderson, you just don’t get it. Not everyone wants to be treated as if they were a 16 year old boy cradling their member. Give it a rest. You’ve been carrying on with this tomfoolery for most of your adult life. What are you really made of, anyway?

Thus, another aspect of the DWTS appeal. Even those who can dance are challenged, albeit on a different level. Will Anderson rise to it? Or will she revert back to what is safe, and what she is used to?

To the rest of us (older) women in the real world, we are challenged all the time in ways that Anderson will never know. Midlife brings hormonal changes and aging bodies. We are asked to dig to the core for who we are and what we value - and we often don't see it coming. We’re in another league altogether. And thank god for that.


Elaine Spitz said...

Jesse, I too, love DWTS and can now openly admit it! Thank you!

Your article is extremely insightful - I didn't really analyze Pamela Anderson's behavior, but have found her very off-putting and disingenuous while watching the show. And I want to like her. Like athletes who have trained all of their lives to do one thing well, she seems to have one-track training in a different skill.

You bring a sensible voice to many women's issues - please continue to challenge our superficial views of how women are viewed, particularly as we age.
All the best!

Jesse Mendes said...

Elaine, you are very generous with your comments. Thank you -- and it's nice to meet another DWTS fan! Please do stay in touch. Jesse