Strictly Come elitism

John Sergeant has sparked the most interesting argument about democracy since – oh, I don’t know, since George W Bush did or didn’t win the popular vote and was rescued (or not) by the Electoral College in 2004.

I haven’t the time to check on the details of American electoral system or how it played in 2004 but I know it’s surprisingly eltist.

Pity Strictly Come Dancing isn’t cast in the same mould. It is broadly the same issue, isn’t it? Do we respect the judgement of the wise elite, or go with the referendum will of the unwashed? Strictly Come Dancing affects to be about skill and talent. The judges are into quality control. Work as hard as you like, and care as much as you like, need a victory as much as you like – you’ll be judged on your sashay and whether your forearm is horizontal with the floor during the pasa doble (or whatever). Never mind that you’ve struggled up from the gutter or swanned along from Mayfair. So far, so conservative or Republican.

But then, this being the modern world and TV, The People get to vote and do so on whatever whimsical, populist grounds they like. They tip out good – deserving – dancers if they feel like it.

Mind you, it always seems to be the case that season after season, the elitist judges end up rather agreeing that The People have picked wonderful finalists – wonderful, qua dancing. So everything’s alright.

Sergeant was right to say that he couldn’t very well risk that outcome not coming to pass. After all, each week more and more  of the weaker competitors have been lost to the show. That leaves an increasingly meritorious and diminishing band of competitors. Sergeant’s presence amongst them would increasingly stand the chance of robbing the final rounds of dancers of quality. His presence as a cuckoo in the nest would be more obvious, more damaging, and more an affront to the dancing dimension of the gig.

In one sense he was obviously right. He was becoming an issue which stood a higher and higher chance of being really quite sour if not actually serious. Why wold he put himself in that position?

One argument about JS’s self-emolation was very tricoteuse. He didn’t have the right to second-guess the masses. He should have stayed in because their support was not to be disrespected in this way.

Another argument was that he was very up himself to believe that he might have won. The British public were having their bit of fun and would have got back to the dancing when push started to come to shove. The wisdom of the crowd would have reasserted itself.

But he was right to go. He should have said that long years in political reporting had taught him that populism is almost always dangerous. One loves the people, of course, and especially when they’re on one’s side. But thank goodness for kinder, cleverer, more thoughtful, more serious elites.

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Publication date

20 November 2008