The XX Factor

The Culture War Goes Ballroom

For anyone who has any doubts that the main engine of the vicousness of the American political landscape is a pure culture war, I give to you the case of Bristol Palin hanging in on Dancing With the Stars . Palin is making a career out of conservative America using her to demonstrate that what matters most to them is that you’re a member of their tribe. You can break their strict sexual rules, and they’ll embrace you. You can have no talent whatsoever, and they’ll promote you. Just so long as you’re in the tribe. It’s how George W. Bush got to be president, so this shouldn’t be so shocking. Especially when you consider that cheeseball fare like Dancing With The Stars draws more Republican viewers than Democratic ones.

Tribal/cultural war is the only explanation. If this was actually about politics, it would only be about politics. Who wins on Dancing With the Stars has exactly zero impact on policy decision-making in Washington. It has nothing to do with those things that we keep hearing motivate the Tea Party–tax rates, “fiscal conservatism,” the auto bailout. But it has everything to do with scoring points in the ongoing war of sticking it to those latte-drinking liberals, who sneeringly believe the spawn of the martyred Sarah Palin shouldn’t win because she’s not good enough. The nerve!

Consider that the folks who are organizing to keep Bristol Palin on the show are easy to set off on rants about the evils of affirmative action, and much of what defines the current political landscape will become all too clear.

The culture war, particularly when it’s being fought on battlefields such as reality TV, always puts me in mind of those unfortunate sports rivalries where one team just cares so much more than the other that it’s kind of embarrassing. That a bunch of social conservatives are organizing online to make sure that Bristol Palin survives the judgments of those snotty, talent-obsessed, no doubt gay-marriage-loving judges makes me feel bad for them. If they succeed in their efforts to score this point and stick it to the liberals, will they realize that most of the people they’re trying to stick it to don’t know or care who wins on Dancing With the Stars ?

Photograph of Bristol Palin by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.