If there is no second act in American life, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, someone forgot to tell the reality competition apparatus. Shows like Dancing with the stars often seem to exist just to pull the drama and titillation out of the comeback tales of faded stars.
Incredibly, however, a confluence of shady interests has recently extended the same buyout mechanism that brought Nick Lachey and Honey Boo Boo (briefly) back into our lives to diminished politicians as well. Sarah Palin sang “Baby Got Back” to The Masked Singer in 2020, for example, and Sean Spicer did what would be considered “the salsa” to Dancing with the stars a few years earlier. At a certain point, this kind of lunar PR tactic isn’t just corny but despicable – and we’ve actually reached that point long before Rudy Giuliani appeared on Wednesday night’s episode of The Masked Singer.
I can’t believe I need to say this, but reality TV shows shouldn’t platform fascists.
What could possibly motivate someone to feature Rudy Giuliani on a prime-time reality TV show in 2022? From the most cynical point of view, this is bound to generate controversy and negative attention from the press, including this same column. What could happen worse: a boycott? The one that perhaps leads to an anti-cancel culture news cycle about Tucker Carlson, and then a reverse boycott of the show?
There are other ways to woo such a response besides hosting guests who have been actively and intimately involved in Trump’s efforts to annul the 2020 election. Famous Trumpers like James Woods or Scott Baio could have an impact similar. Liberal viewers would go into a frenzy, which in turn would make many conservatives claim to at least be in favour, on principle. here: outrage! The main difference would be that, unlike Giuliani, neither Woods nor Baio currently have any potential criminal exposure to an attempted government overthrow.
The reason why Giuliani probably seemed acceptable to The Masked Singer leaders – as opposed to hosts Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke, who both left in protest – it’s because the former mayor is widely seen as a buffoon. In 2020 alone he was beaten by Borat, was the face of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping fiascohad alternately hair dye dripping down her face and farted on live television, eventually being stiffed on legal fees by Trump for his efforts. There’s not enough greasy paint in the world to cover all of Giuliani’s clownery.
However, it’s a huge mistake to reduce Giuliani to a punchline.
If all the goofy things listed above had happened in a vacuum, they would (could?) be very funny. But they happened in service of Trump’s sweeping efforts to nullify the 2020 election! And the reason they happened in such a goofy way is that no legitimate lawyer would want to eviscerate their reputation by approaching such an obvious scam. Giuliani was among the only lawyers with a public profile willing to step up to the plate, and the sheer incompetence and exposed malpractice is why.
Giuliani’s election lies and outlandish behavior cost him his license to practice law in New York (at least for now) and inspired Dominion Voting Systems to sue Fox News for $1.6 billion for alleged defamation. As a result, Giuliani is now officially too toxic even for Fox News, where it’s banned, but somehow not too toxic for the Fox network. And after: Steve Bannon on Holey Moley? Eric Trump on the stranger things kids prank show? An “Oops – All the Capitol Rioters” season of So you think you can dance?
It’s even worse, however. Giuliani’s appearance on Wednesday night on The Masked Singer seems oddly timed to coincide with Monday’s news that he was the one to dissuade Trump from the ledge to attempt to seize the voting machines after the 2020 election, beyond just weighing the idea. In an alternate universe, one where outrage works within a few degrees of difference, this news drops, and then Giuliani appears on The Masked Singer, and suddenly a path to public forgiveness appears. After all, the sooner disgraced public figures can laugh at themselves – and make the country laugh with them – the sooner the source of their disgrace will fade into history, right?
Wrong. Fortunately, this the universe doesn’t seem to work that way.
Despite the fact that Fox should absolutely not, under any circumstances, welcome political figures who dabble in fascism, a worst-case scenario is an unlikely outcome. Americans have been somewhat picky about which Trump World figures are allowed to restore their reputations and which are not. Many cashed in on book deals, and some were absorbed by national news outlets, but none were widely adopted by the general public.
Sean Spicer has not repaired his reputation. He couldn’t sweep his authoritarian lies under the rug. All PR attempts to turn it into a cute thing ultimately failed. He was instead rejected by the mainstream and relegated to Newsmax margins as an interchangeable pro-Trump talking head. Maybe it has something to do with Sean Spicer’s particularly obnoxious character. Maybe it’s a sign that people aren’t as compliant and automatically accepting what the powers that be are feeding them as those powers might think.