COMMENTARY | Andy Cohen hosted the maven of “Dance Moms,” Abby Lee Miller, on his “Watch What Happens Live” late night show on Tuesday, but even his endless charm could not smooth over the depressing dry rot of culture embodied by Miller. For anyone who does not know, “Dance Moms” is a show about women living vicariously through their pre-teen daughters by forcing them to take dance lessons from Miller.
Now, granted, I have limited knowledge of the show, as, like the pageant-based ode to child abuse and neglect, “Toddlers & Tiaras,” “Dance Moms” falls into the category of things even I refuse to watch. But the endless commercials showcase Miller screaming with cruel creativity at moms and girls alike.
So Cohen mentioned, about two minutes into the broadcast, that it seemed like every week on Miller’s show, a mom threatens to leave the studio. Miller’s response on the live broadcast?
“They quit at life. Look at them,” she said, “they’re moms.”
Uh, what? This woman has students to teach because of their moms, but being a mom is evidence of being a quitter? How, on earth, can someone say something so awful, so deliberately rude, and yet be the center of her own little “reality” TV universe?
The truth is that Miller’s show isn’t on the air in spite of her atrocious treatment and opinion of the people around her who put the groceries in her cupboard, it is because of that treatment. And what does that say about us, as a society, when this type of egregious behavior and lack of any remnant of social grace is rewarded with endorsements and TV deals?
Cohen played into Miller’s meanness, giving her a platform with “Abby Lee’s Dance A-Catty-Me” and perhaps gave a little back with his game “Abby Lee or Chimpanzee,” but somewhat unspoken is the truth that no one ever seems to mirror back to Miller.
She is an overweight woman with a marked lack of self-awareness, announcing that Honey Boo Boo needs to lose weight. She trots out little pre-pubescent girls in outfits more appropriate for adult strippers, screaming abuse at them. She seems to have nothing but disdain for the people who make her lifestyle possible, and yet there she is, on TV, week after week.
And here’s what’s truly terrifying about Miller and her show. Eventually, we will get used to it.
Eventually, it will no longer be shocking to see an adult woman screaming at children in her care. It will no longer be entertaining. Which means that behavior will no longer garner this level of attention.
Which means that someone even worse will come along.
When we publicly giggle at Miller while feeling secret relief that we are not in range of her barbs, we feed a beast that is insatiable, a beast made of lauded narcissism that folds ever inward. We make the socially unacceptable so acceptable that it becomes difficult to tell the difference.
Worse, we set the example that bullying and sexual exploitation, even of little girls, are key to success and attention, and that is a sad, sad road, indeed.