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Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

“I’m nice to everyone”

By meerna Jun25,2024
“I’m nice to everyone”

Netflix Launches a Stunning New Documentary Series America’s favorites, about the 2023 Dallas Cowboys cheerleading tryouts. Why should I, someone who has never reviewed anything other than a book, review it? First, a sick day allowed me to consume it in seven hours. The show touched almost every itch I had: As a former cheerleader who spent most of this year in physical therapy to recover from a chronic back injury, watching people go through the motions with a precision that I can no longer even describe as deeply indulgent. I also love documentaries that explore American culture without actually saying it’s happening – and it’s even better if it doesn’t seem like it know it does. America’s favorites is a show about the cult of femininity, of which I consider myself – depending on the day – either a subject or a victim. Plus, growing up in rural California in the 1990s, at the height of the NFL monoculture, I had a nanny from San Antonio named Lisa who drove a Ford Bronco with a Cowboys logo on the side and had two chihuahuas at home named Troy and Emmitt. I had to watch this show.

It begins with Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders director Kelli McGonagill Finglass and choreographer Judy Trammell – themselves former DCCs, as the band’s members are called – video auditioning squirming young women. The candidates have clearly spent their lives not only dancing but also performing as soloists, which is a completely separate skill. Finglass and Trammell’s favorites are characterized by beauty and excellent technique – that is the price of entry – but also by a supernatural quality that makes people want to look at them. And I did.

As they go through the process, novices and veterans alike – all of whom can be cut – develop deep relationships incredibly quickly. Even those who have only known each other for a few weeks call each other best friends. They scream as their best friends are cut from the team. The most frequently uttered phrase on the show should be “I love you so much!”, often appearing in scenes with lots of thin mascara and a group hug.

Similar moments undoubtedly happened to the girls I rooted for in high school, but many of us had been taking dance classes together since we were in tiny tutus. During my short, embarrassing stay at the university sorority, I became skeptical of such displays of emotion. I was dealing with loneliness my freshman year, so my mom urged me to hurry up. But when I found myself in the middle of groups of screaming women declaring their love for each other while engaging in senseless acts, I felt more alone than ever. My sorority, like the Cowboys cheerleaders, had only a handful of women of color – just enough to fend off any accusations of you-know-what – and we mostly kept to ourselves. I got out of there as fast as I could.

Football matches, when they start on the show, provide their own high. Being a cheerleader at a football game is exciting not because you’re the center of attention – you’re not; everyone is watching the game – but because you are in a place where everyone has gathered for a purpose and you have a role to play. The cheerleaders talk about how putting on a uniform is like putting on a cape and becoming a superhero. Oddly enough, I now feel the same way about reporting the news. We’re all still gathered around a specific project, except now it’s about reporting on the state of American democracy. The outcome is uncertain, but I have a job to do; it gives me a sense of direction – one that obviously seems much more important to me now.

Just before this I watched another documentary: Production consentstarring Noam Chomsky, who it was on the news. He speaks of sports as a means of controlling the masses and of group activities such as sororities and cheerleading squads as a means of breeding servility. America’s favorites seemed to completely confirm his theories. The series’ characters are content, calmed down by the strict hierarchy of their world. They hate to disappoint, but when they do, their path back to their coaches’ good graces is clear: perform better and you will be absolved. The satisfaction this brings is so profound that the team’s alumni – some over 70 – return to the stadium to perform together every year. They take the show deadly seriously, with many cheerleaders saying on the show that their years on the team were the best of their lives.

By contrast, the life of the godless, skeptical curmudgeon that Chomsky encourages, and to which I am more naturally inclined, is a bit hopeless. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that birthdays are worth celebrating, that it’s okay to take a day off from missions, and that being grateful – as the women on the show constantly remind us – isn’t necessarily naive. And I’m much happier for it. So who is right, Chomsky?

All this happiness comes with hard work. Those who earn a place on the team do so because they learn to endure pain, they learn to put off surgery, they can survive four or five hours of sleep to take on a side job that supplements their marginal income.

And since they are women, they have to look perfect while doing all this work. They must be wind-up dolls of positive attitude. At one point in the show, a binder said to contain the answers to the question “What is DCC?” opens. I had to press “Pause” to read and re-read one page, which sums it up this way:

WHAT AM I…?

I am a small thing with great importance * I help everyone * I open doors, open hearts, break prejudices – I create friendship and good will * I inspire respect and self-confidence * Everyone loves me * I don’t bore anyone * I don’t violate any law * I don’t cost anything * I am many people praised me, no one condemned me * Everyone likes me * I use it at every moment of the day

“It costs nothing” – that convinced me. Cheerleaders are expected to smile because they are set to standards they cannot meet. They’re told their kicks aren’t high enough (which sometimes seemed like a euphemism for the fact that Coach Finglass just didn’t like them), then that they look like they’re trying too hard and need to relax, then that they look like they have little energy, then that they need to eat more to fuel their body, and then that they are not slim enough. More makeup. Too much makeup. Too blonde. Not blonde enough. The most scathing criticism should be met with a smile and a “Yes, ma’am.”

My favorite character was Reece Allman. She was by far the best dancer, incredibly voluptuous whether she was cheering or during the Latin ballroom inspired dance she performed during rehearsals. (After the rehearsal, the judge asked for the competition to be paused for a moment so he could fan himself.) In interviews in her bedroom, she said that her dancing abilities were a gift from God and that she wanted to use them to bring him glory. She said she didn’t want people to see her at all when she was on stage – that she wanted them to see Jesus. But when she’s on stage, you can’t look anywhere else. And you can’t – or at least I couldn’t – see Jesus.

Reece also explained that she was engaged to the first guy she ever talked to, an absolute sweetheart who got a job at a pressure washing machine salesman selling parts in Dallas so they could move in together. He said Reece, seemingly one of the most confident dancers in the world, visibly shook with fear when he first put his arm around her. This story made it clear that their love was not yet consummated. How could someone who had never gotten laid exude so much sexuality? This contradiction is the attitude of cowboys towards cheerleaders.

According to reviewers, this is the worst performance by Greg Whiteley, the creator Cheers AND Last Chance U— because it’s too easy for his characters. Written by Daniel Feinburg Hollywood reporter that it was “frustratingly entangled in the myths surrounding its characters” and that “it felt more like a well-crafted advertisement than an eye-opening documentary.”

Feinburg is right, but what makes this show interesting is how easy it is to see beneath the facade. In the latest episode, Sophy Laufer accuses a cameraman of grabbing her butt while dancing. The police get involved in the case, but decide that there is insufficient evidence to charge the man. But the scenes are still revealing, because Coach Finglass’s reaction – a raised eyebrow and surprise that the cheerleader would want to press charges – suggests that if it weren’t for the cameras, she wouldn’t support Laufer as much. (She also describes the incident differently than the filmmakers, claiming that police determined there was no assault.)

Laufer is the youngest person in the team – she is only 19 years old. She gave an interview right after the incident and there are traces of makeup on her face, which makes her look even more childish. But at that moment she becomes a woman, not by her appearance, but by forgetting the rules (I am nice to everyone) and report the incident so that nothing similar – or worse – happens to anyone else. She goes out on her own and the other girls have no choice but to support her. “We are so proud of you,” they declare in a pile of hugs.

By meerna

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