Let’s play a game. It’s called My Biggest Turn Off and I’ll start. Mine is "sense of entitlement." There’s nothing less attractive in a human being than a big ol’ sense of entitlement and it comes in many different shapes and forms: manspreading, airplane arm-rest hogging, talking down to service providers, or blemishing the reputation of an entire country (which currently happens to be your host) in order to keep your personal record clean(ish). I’m not sure if the extent of your sense of entitlement correlates with the extent of your success, or if it’s a one-size-fits-all deal, but Ryan Lochte might serve as proof in support of the first theory.
I’ve been following the Lochte story with interest. Not only does it revolve around one of my biggest personal “pet peeves” but it also seems to reflect a larger, far more concerning trend — one where certain individuals of the right gender and colour seem to act under the premise that they won’t be held accountable for their actions and deeds. Everything’s already been said about Ryan Lochte in this brilliant OpEd by Alexandra Petri, where the writer creates an analogy between Shel Silverstein’s renowned story The Giving Tree and the societal circumstances that allow the growth and empowerment of individuals like Lochte. Petri turns The Giving Tree into a privilege tree, demonstrating how privilege enables and fosters entitlement and how the very infrastructures of the American society contribute to that relationship.
In this analogy the roots of the tree become the roots of society. Many, like Alexandra Petri, are capable of seeing this. They ask questions, lament, and protest. It is strange, to stay the least, when a well-loved and respected TV show decides to ignore that and cast Ryan Lochte as one of the stars of its current season.
I love Dancing With the Stars and would probably still be watching it had my children not enforced a strict regime whereby I have to be in (their) bed by 8pm and remain there until they fall asleep. When I came across the headline announcing Ryan Lochte will be taking part in the show’s 23rd season, I threw up in my mouth a little bit. Are you fucking kidding me with this? Insert mandatory statement about how cynical we’ve become as a society, how ratings are King and money makes the world go around, except this casting decision feels far more serious and harmful when you consider the timing.
Let’s look at timing in an immediate sense: mere weeks after the Rio incident (and should we even be using the sterile term “incident”? Ryan Lochte has been charged by Brazilian police for filing a fake report and is facing potential prosecution in Brazil). Isn’t this somewhat similar to casting Lance Armstrong in the wake of the doping allegations? But timing should be viewed from an even wider perspective here. On Tuesday we learned that another aspiring Olympian swimmer’s ridiculous-to-begin-with sentence for the Stanford rape would be cut in half and Brock Turner will be released from prison on September 2nd after serving three months.
Yes, I understand that this decision has been made public on the same day that the cast of DWTS was announced and couldn’t have possibly served to affect the production’s casting decisions one way or another but let’s agree that Brock Turner and Ryan Lochte are symptoms of the same entitlement malady and that in both cases this entitlement seems to be cultivated, not to say rewarded. Now let’s make our lens even wider. Most of us are finding ourselves feverishly following our various social media platforms, watching in bewilderment and disbelief as representatives of law enforcement (officers of the law and court) get away with murder (both literally and metaphorically). We see individuals take law into their own hands and execute policemen and different groups in society (traditionally not protected by the branches of the privilege tree) as well as being de-legitimized in discombobulated and derogatory rhetoric.
Casting an individual whose behavior so blatantly negates all principles Olympic athletes should stand for blatantly embraces lack of accountability. It would smell fishy under any circumstances but it's this particular timing which makes the stench utterly unbearable (and that's without even discussing the casting of former Texas governor, Rick Perry, yet. The former governor is anti LGBT rights, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and is pro-life). The Lochte casting decision isn’t merely cynical to me. At this particular and very combustible point in time it becomes a dangerous signal, one that dismisses the importance of accountability, humility, and abiding by the law and puts personal gain and profit above these values. Perhaps entitlement is contagious.
And finally, what happened to DWTS as a platform for positive and inspiring messaging? One of the show’s best known attributes used to be the fact that they promoted contestants with what we conventionally view and define as disabilities or limitations. Dance became a beautiful metaphor for overcoming all barriers. Remember war veterans J.R. Martinez and Noah Galloway? Eighty two year-old Chloris Leachman and 14 year-old Willow Shields? What about Paralympics athlete Amy Purdy? Ever since I’ve stopped watching DWTS I go to bed with my kids with a little pinch of regret for being out of the loop. As season 23 approaches I’m feeling grateful that I won’t have to participate in the charade of watching Lochte’s obligatory teary-eyed emotional cleanse and mandatory remorse speech (probably in his contract, mark my words). I remain a little curious as to the logistics of holding his rehearsals with Cheryl Burke in a courtroom somewhere in Brazil. One can only hope.
Image Source: WikiCommons