Five Ethics Questions and Answers: Bristol Palin’s Undeserved Survival On “Dancing With the Stars”

This week, once again, the clunky Bristol Palin, Sarah’s daughter, survived elimination from “Dancing With the Stars,” and now is in the Final Three. A far better amateur dancer, pop singer Brandy, who had one of the week’s best scores, was sent home instead. The entertainment media is howling with indignation. What does it all mean?

Question 1. Is Bristol Palin Sanjaya?

Answer: Yes. Like the infamous, long-haired, musically-challenged “American Idol” contestant of yore who lasted round after round while better performers were cut and the Simon Cowell fumed, Palin continues on “Dancing With the Stars” for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with fairness, justice, talent, or even her.  Sanjaya endured because teeny-boppers who couldn’t identify good singing if it was carrying a billboard thought he was cute. Palin is the beneficiary of the cognitive dissonance scale: the positive feelings many show viewers have for Bristol’s mother elevates their opinion of her dancing, while few of the viewers who dislike her mother are willing to be so petty as to express that dislike by taking it out on her kid.

Question 2. Is it fair?

Answer: It isn’t especially unfair. “Dancing With The Stars,” unlike “American Idol,” is not designed to change lives or launch careers. The “stars,” who are usually has-beens, wannabes, “fifteen minutes of fame” types or gimmicks, just get the publicity and exposure they crave. For their no-name professional dancer partners, it’s a job; most return season after season. For the viewing public, the vote is a “choose your own entertainment” choice, not the far more consequential and life-altering “decide whether Carrie Underwood becomes a millionaire recording star or spends her life singing for nickles at county fairs” vote required by “Idol.” One could even argue that a vote for Bristol is kind and generous. Brandy cried when she was cut, but she has a recording career and already has a long-running sitcom to her credit. Jennifer Grey, the current DWTS favorite, has been out of  the limelight for a while, but she’ll always have “Dirty Dancing.”  Bristol Palin was chosen from the “gimmick” pool and in contrast to the real stars, is an unwed mother with an immature, untrustworthy, publicity hound jerk hanging around as the father. She’s not unusually attractive or intelligent. This might be the high point of Bristol Palin’s life. It’s ridiculous to crown her the best dancer, but that’s not really what the show is set up to find. The winner is the contestant the public wants to see win. If that’s Palin, all I can say is…awwwwwww!

Question 3. Should Bristol Palin be blamed for getting more votes than she deserves?

Answer: Of course not. There are some bloggers writing that if Bristol had any integrity, she would voluntarily withdraw and let Brandy continue. Not only is this not something she should do, it would be unethical for her to do it. The rules of the game are clear: the voters get to choose, and the contestants and the show go along with their decision. Interestingly, if Palin was to withdraw, she would be following in the unethical footsteps of her Mama Grizzly mama, who betrayed the trust of Alaska voters by resigning as governor before she had finished the job she had promised to do. Bristol Palin similarly promised, by her participation in the competition, to keep dancing until the voters said to stop. She shouldn’t break that promise. Her only obligation to the show is to do her best, and she certainly appears to be trying as hard as she can.

Question 4. Who should we blame, then?

Answer: We should blame a what, not a who. The what is America’s pathological worship of celebrity for celebrity’s sake, producing a culture-choking bumper crop of Kardashians, Christine O’Donnells, Snookies, and Nicole Richies as well a basketball star mayor of Detroit, a comedian U.S. Senator from Minnesota, and too many more to list without prompting a serious bout of clinical depression. Bristol’s mother is the first politician to meticulously mine that what to get to the White House (unless you count Barack Obama) without any other substantial accomplishments or qualifications. If it works, Bristol Palin hanging around on “Dancing With The Stars” will be remembered as the canary dying in the mine shaft.

Question 5. Is there anything else unethical about Bristol Palin’s continued presence on the show?

Answer: Now that you mention it, yes. It is a rank failure of integrity when a nation that expressly rejected Europe’s hereditary class systems for a society based on merit and self-determination  continues to bestow fame, favor and power on the relatives of accomplished figures to the extent that we do. Why is Megan McCain, hardly the most perceptive or learned or articulate political commentator available, so ubiquitous in the media? And Liz Cheney? Why is Sonny Bono’s widow in Congress?  Or Jesse Jackson’s son? Or Dan Quayle’s son? Why are we only now, 50 years after JFK was elected, finally running out of dim-bulb Kennedys getting elected on the family name? Why was Hillary Clinton elected Senator? How did George W. Bush rise so fast?

Why do people buy David Limbaugh’s books? Are teens really going to flock to Madonna’s daughter’s concerts in a few years? Does anyone really believe that there aren’t more talented actresses begging for work in Hollywood than Rumer Willis? Or that there weren’t better actresses than Priscilla Presley? Why do Hayley Duff and Ashley Simpson have professional singing careers?

Bristol Palin’s elevation to “star” status based on her mother’s accomplishments alone is inherently unfair and unjust, not to mention dumb. Unfortunately, in 2010, it is unethical conduct that is as American as apple pie.

One thought on “Five Ethics Questions and Answers: Bristol Palin’s Undeserved Survival On “Dancing With the Stars”

  1. Who the hell cares? I don’t care who’s on “Dancing with the Stars,” “American Idol,
    or “America’s Got Talent.” I don’t care who’s judging them, or why. They are 2010’s soma, along with other reality shows of various kinds.

    Yes, I watch NCIS, CSI New York, Criminal Minds — mostly in repeats and mostly to relax. But those shows have actual plots, actual actors — not made up hype stories about the contestants, what’s happening with the judges, etc.

    Sarah Palin’s daughter notwithstanding: any old actors who can barely move get votes on “Dancing with the Stars?” How about that legless guy?

    Come on. Find something more important to write about. (Sorry.)

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