What the Strictly kiss scan­dal teaches us about re­la­tion­ships

The Guardian - G2 - - News -

If his­to­ri­ans of the fu­ture wish to an­a­lyse Bri­tish cul­ture in 2018, they could do worse than in­spect the Strictly Come Danc­ing kiss scan­dal. First, front pages were em­bla­zoned with re­ports that Seann Walsh and his pro­fes­sional dance part­ner Katya Jones had been caught “snog­ging” out­side a club (which makes it sound like Strictly is Bri­tain’s bike shed and the Bri­tish me­dia are col­lec­tively skiv­ing maths). Then, on Tues­day, Walsh’s long-term part­ner, the ac­tor Re­becca Humphries, ac­cused the co­me­dian of “con­trol­ling” be­hav­iour, al­leg­ing Walsh had been

“ag­gres­sively, and re­peat­edly, call[ing] me a psy­cho/nuts/men­tal”. At the time of go­ing to press, Walsh had not re­sponded to these claims.

A story that started as a bit of fluff has quickly shifted into one about the dan­gers of con­trol­ling re­la­tion­ships. Humphries’ post on In­sta­gram was a pow­er­house take­down of an ex-boyfriend, from ad­ding the ex­tra N in his first name in brack­ets – to show it is an af­fec­ta­tion – to tak­ing their pet cat. But it’s her de­scrip­tion of al­legedly abu­sive be­hav­iour that re­ally stands out, as well as her show of sol­i­dar­ity with other women in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions. “I have a voice and will use it by say­ing this to any woman out there who, deep down, feels worth­less and trapped with a man they love,” she wrote. “Be­lieve in your­self and your in­stincts. It’s more than ly­ing. It’s con­trol­ling.” Call­ing out al­leged gaslight­ing pub­licly is par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful be­cause it thrives on iso­la­tion and se­crecy: a vic­tim is led to ques­tion her own ver­sion of re­al­ity, while her protes­ta­tions are used as ev­i­dence she is “crazy”.

There’s much snob­bery around the cul­tural im­pact of shows such as Strictly, not least be­cause they are aimed pre­dom­i­nantly at women. But the truth is the very shows too of­ten dis­missed as vac­u­ous can be vi­tal forces in tack­ling so­cial is­sues. The death of the OK! favourite Jade Goody did much to raise aware­ness of cer­vi­cal can­cer among young women, while racism rows on Big Brother bring home prej­u­dice in a way earnest cam­paigns of­ten don’t. In the sum­mer, Love Is­land be­came a ve­hi­cle for warn­ing about un­healthy be­hav­iour in re­la­tion­ships, with the char­ity Women’s Aid say­ing there were “clear warn­ing signs” in Adam Col­lard’s treat­ment of fel­low con­tes­tant Rosie Wil­liams. An In­sta­gram post like Humphries’ can do more to ed­u­cate young girls than the best char­ity cam­paign.

But if there is a les­son in this, it is surely that we should be wary of us­ing other peo­ple for en­ter­tain­ment fod­der. There is some­thing very un­com­fort­able about the way large sec­tions of the press come over all Mary White­house with the slight­est whiff of sex, while tit­il­lat­ing the reader with as many juicy de­tails as pos­si­ble. The Mir­ror re­ported on Tues­day that Strictly bosses have changed the planned dance be­ing re­hearsed by “shamed pair” Walsh and Jones in a bid to make it “less sexy”, putting Jones in a “less re­veal­ing cos­tume” (pre­sum­ably wardrobe are now work­ing on a glit­tery sack­cloth-and-ashes look).

This dis­com­fort has rapidly in­creased in light of the re­cent rev­e­la­tions. Sud­denly, leaf­ing through the fall­out of a sneaky snog seems less fun. The al­le­ga­tions from Walsh’s now ex-part­ner are a swift re­minder to any of us tak­ing plea­sure in these sto­ries as some light en­ter­tain­ment: be­hind the head­lines sit the lives and pain of real peo­ple.

Strictly con­tes­tant Seann Walsh

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