Smiling Nihilism

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Sean Spicer will appear on the newest season of Dancing With the Stars, which is shameful and predictable in the same ways that it was shameful and predictable when he was warmly welcomed at the Emmys or when Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government invited him, fresh off his tenure as the president’s mouthpiece, to be part of its 2017 class of visiting fellows. Spicer will also be paid well for his dancing, according to Variety:

According to multiple sources, contestants on the ABC competition series make $125,000 for the show’s rehearsal period and their first two weeks on the air. If they make it to week three and beyond, they begin to earn additional fees each week.


A reality competition and an Ivy League appointment have different intended audiences, but are nearly identical projects: to pave over Spicer’s record by treating him more as an object of curiosity than a person who worked very hard to message, obscure, and facilitate the racist violence of the current administration. It’s to allow personality—that Sean might really be such a “good guy” or a “really sweet guy,” which is how fellow castmate Karamo Brown of Queer Eye described Spicer on Wednesday—to wash out all of the unpleasantness of working in service of a travel ban expressly targeting Muslim immigrants, blatant white supremacy at the border, and a dangerous rollback of global access to reproductive healthcare. It’s nihilism disguised as post-partisan getting along.

As news of the casting started to travel as intended, Tom Bergeron, the show’s longtime host, tweeted what was covered by multiple outlets as “disapproval,” but was really just a message encouraging people to keep watching the show, anyway:

That all of this is bad is an obvious thing to say, of course. You can say it about Anthony Scaramucci’s post-White House redemption efforts, about former Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn’s happy life of golfing and cryptocurrency (and his own Harvard fellowship), Hope Hicks’s new job in Hollywood. People cycle in and out of this administration and face no consequences in the broader public, in opportunity or reputation, for it. The pattern of impunity plays on a loop, cyclical and repeating until you find yourself feeling more and more like the kind of person who maybe yells at the television. Maybe even at Dancing With the Stars.

The show is a home for C-rate, flailing, or just especially money-thirsty celebrities looking to make a quick buck, all of which could fairly describe the former White House press secretary. But his inclusion—or before him, the decision to cast Republicans Tom Delay and Rick Perry on previous seasons—presents the public with a bizarre kind of moral flattening that serves powerful people well. Sean Spicer, by agreeing to the low-grade humiliation that comes with participation in the franchise, is being a good sport. Who could be mad at that? the show dares you to answer.

If you wanted to, you could trace the same instinct in Spicer’s casting to the ways in which The Apprentice created a story about Donald Trump—powerful businessman, no-nonsense dealmaker—that he then started to believe about himself, and that the country started to believe about him, too. To say that The Apprentice made Trump president would ignore the ways that the Republican Party had been laying the racist groundwork for him for decades or how the Electoral College is profoundly undemocratic, but it still elevated a bad man for the same nihilistic reasons that Dancing With the Stars said fuck it and brought Spicer on board. Because nothing mattered to the people making those decisions.


It’s a lesson no one learned from. And why would they? Everyone got paid.

Senior editor, Jezebel



What’s most upsetting to me about this Spicer thing, is that he’s just the bellwether for how quickly all the other despicable collaborators to this regime will be rehabilitated. In a decent country, all of these people would be reviled. They would be pariahs for years or decades after their stint in this administration. But this is not a decent country, and their reputations will mostly not suffer, or at most, will suffer for a couple of years before being welcomed back with open arms to society. Cancel culture is a 24-hour phenomenon. We embrace our monsters after a bit of (sometimes literally) song and dance.