In his “Dancing With The Stars” debut on Monday, Wellington’s Rob “Vanilla Ice” Van Winkle did, indeed, stop, collaborate and listen in his opening cha-cha to “Ice Ice Baby,” and got an enthusiastic response from the crowd (if not head judge and resident grumpy dance grandpa Len Goodman).
However, the rapper/house flipper/celebrity about town was not so enthusiastic about the stage-crashing protesters who jumped in and interrupted judge Carrie Ann Inaba as she attempted to critique disgraced Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. The official broadcast cut away from the melee’ and you just heard a lot of scuffle and a stunned Inaba yell “Off! Off!” to the crashers, wearing anti-Lochte shirts and apparently upset that he’s appearing on a fun dance show after lying about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio during the Olympics. Perhaps you’ve read about it.
Several of Lochte’s co-stars supported him in later interviews, mostly saying he was a nice guy who didn’t deserve to be attacked, but no one defended him so furiously as Van Winkle. He told E! News that Lochte is “an American hero. Get over the story. It doesn’t matter…And you know what, the guy that came out here with the shirt…never cater to a hater, just say later.” You can see that interview in the video below, and an even more passionate version show on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (and mocked by Jimmy Kimmel, who enjoys mocking Vanilla Ice) that you can see in this link around the 4:11 mark.
With all due respect, Ice (who I admittedly cover regular and who seems like a good guy) I think you’re wrong. The haters took it too far – “crashing Ryan Lochte’s dance show” is not a thing one needs on your arrest record. But the story does matter. While I get that Van Winkle and the other dancers’ first instinct is to defend a guy they seem to like get rattled by angry people right in front of them, I think “American hero” is more than a stretch. It’s just not true. Lochte’s amazing swimming makes him an amazing, iconic swimmer, who’s added to the national medal count. Those feats within the pool are his own, and no one can take them away, even with his temporary suspension by USA Swimming. But even if his swimming makes him heroic, it can be argued that his goofy, drunken after-party escapade at a Rio gas station and his subsequent lie about it demolish that hero status, particularly as an American hero. Sorry.
He wasn’t just a guy on spring break, but an adult at his third Olympics and, one would assume, an adult who understood that he was representing his country in and out of the pool. Did he kill anyone? No. Is he the first person to go to another country and act afool? No, he’s not. But he did embarrass himself and his nation, and then compounded it by lying about it and spinning it into an international incident. And then he left his boys in the country to deal with it – Lochte says he was already scheduled to leave, but it didn’t look good. None of this makes him Hitler. But it does make him the quintessential Ugly American, who stomps into foreign lands and acts like a jackass assuming that his American-ness will get him out of it.
That’s ugly. Not heroic. Just saying.