Imagine, if you will, sitting around your radio, circa 1942.
Radio Announcer: “Chesterfield brings you the “Moonlight Serenade” with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The cigarette that satisfies presents America’s No. 1 dance band with America’s No. 1 swing band leader, Glenn Miller!”
“Tonight, instead of “Moonlight Serenade,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” or “I’ve Got a Girl in Kalamazoo,” we’ve decided to bring you an anti-war medley of pacifist anthems and traditional German folk songs because we really wanted to do something that everyone can connect to, you know? Because, we’re all people, man, and no one’s pro-war, right? Who wants war?”
Nearly impossible to imagine because it just wouldn’t have happened.
But these days are different.
Last week, “So You Think You Can Dance”—a formerly refreshing, wholesome, entertaining American-Idol-style showcase of America’s best young dancers doing everything from the foxtrot to hip-hop—decided to shake its groove thang and its political agenda.
The No. 4 summer show in the Nielsen Ratings, “Dance’s” producers thought it was a great idea to get the show’s 10 finalists to perform an identical solo to an identical song, all in one two-hour spectacular.
Choreographer Wade Robson explained that if he were going to create something for every dancer on the stage. “It's gotta have some meaning. It's gotta have something that everyone can connect to,” he said.
So, what was this universally appealing and meaningful idea?
"It's about peace. It's about the war--anti-war. It's about peace.”
Ahem. Each of the 10 finalists donned a peace-sign t-shirt, and listened to Robson’s explanation of his art.
“Sometimes we don't know what we can do as individuals since we're not the ones in power. So what can we do to change things? One thing we can do as a younger generation is be the change that we want to see."
Each dancer picked a word such as “honesty,” “compassion,” or “equality” to stencil on the back of his or her shirt. They then learned Robson’s routine—a cloying, predictable parade of angst and impotence that said nothing beyond “war bad.” It featured prominent foot-stomping, one violent scream, and a defiant march toward center stage holding up a peace sign. It was performed to John Mayer’s Gen-Y do-nothing ode to loserdom, “Waiting on the World to Change.”
Appropriately enough, the song is also cloying and predictable in its angst and impotence and says nothing other than “world bad.”
A sample of the lyrics:
Me and all my friends
We're all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There's no way we ever could…
Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war (insert primeval scream of anguish)
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door…
That's why we're waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change
The producers of the show subjected the audience to the routine 10 times in a two-hour period. A balancing salute to the troops—even a mere mention of the troops and basic well wishes—were overlooked. The purpose could not possibly have been to entertain. It was so clumsy an attempt to “Clockwork Orange” its 9 million viewers into good ol’ Hollywood defeatism that the show got complaints.
At the beginning of the next show, the judges had apologies to make. In addition to the anti-war extravaganza, choreographer/judge Mia Michaels had worn a U.S. Marine Corps dress blue blouse with its stripes on upside down. Marines and military supporters around the country reacted passionately to the apparent disrespect to troops coupled with the defeatism dance-a-thon.
Michaels claimed she wore the jacket as a fashion statement, was not aware of the emblems’ significance, and had no intention of offending anyone. She offered a straightforward public apology on the show.
Next, the show’s producer/judge Nigel Lithgoe was forced to explain the loud-and-clear anti-war message. He expressed utter surprise that anyone would have been bothered by it:
Even though it may be argued that some wars are necessary, I don't know anybody who's pro-war. Who wants a war?
So, to say you're anti-war doesn’t necessarily mean to say that you are not patriotic and you're not supporting the troops in difficult situations. It's really important to separate the two things.
And who would have dreamt that—the dancers were using words like humility love passion—that I would be defending a television show that uses words like that. And, it upsets me.
Art should be allowed to make statements…We had no intention of upsetting anybody, so our apologies to anyone who was upset by this. We truly are sorry and we're wholly supportive of what is going on and we send our best wishes to the troops.
Well, the fact that you spent two hours speaking out against the war and compelling your competitors to do the same without even mentioning the troops can lead people to believe you don’t care much about the troops, Nigel.
It was a typically liberal, artistic display of self-absorption. It didn’t even occur to either the choreographer or the producers that anyone could disagree with so sensible message as being anti-war. I mean, who’s pro-war? Only conservative Neanderthals could dream of supporting the mission the troops are fighting at this very moment, and none of them are cultured enough to watch a dancing show.
But the problem “Dance” ran into was not a bunch of conservative activists. “Dance” just heard from regular Americans. The same kind of Americans attracted by the skill, artistry and wholesome entertainment of “So You Think You Can Dance” are likely the same kind of folks who are just a tad uncomfortable with celebrating anti-war sentiment at the expense of any other sentiment on national TV for two hours while there are American troops in danger in a war zone.
“So You Think You Can Dance” took its audience for granted, tried to force feed it pirouette propaganda, and it paid a price.
There was a time when such shows were tailor-made for men fighting overseas, not made for bringing them down. Glenn Miller did his radio show three times a week between 1938 and 1942 before joining the Army himself and forming the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.
Miller insisted the band be as close to the troops in theater as possible and had them shipped to England in 1943. While there, the band did over 800 performances in less than a year.
A General reportedly once told Miller, "Next to a letter from home, Capt. Miller, your organization is the greatest morale builder in the ETO.” His art made a statement.
In December of ’44, Miller flew ahead of his band from England to France to entertain troops who had liberated Paris. His plane disappeared over the English Channel. Neither the wreckage nor any signs of Miller were ever found. His death remains a mystery, Miller a casualty of the war he went so far to support.
My, these days are different, aren’t they?