The NBA is lacking for stories right now. To help fill the void, BDL's Eric Freeman is watching and analyzing each performance by Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace (neé Ron Artest) on the ABC hit "Dancing with the Stars." He had never watched a single episode of the series before this season.
Well, this feature was certainly short-lived. After only one round of dances, Metta World Peace and his partner Peta Murgatroyd were eliminated from "Dancing with the Stars," earning the lowest portion of votes alongside fellow at-risk pairs led by famous person Rob Kardashian and howling banshee Nancy Grace. In part, this loss was deserved -- World Peace barely paid attention to his choreography and appeared to believe that the cha-cha-cha was a dance dependent on mugging and jumping in the air. On the other hand, Elisabetta Canalis and Chaz Bono were worse, yet apparently hold enough of the audience's curiosity to escape a first-week exit.
In retrospect, it was over the minute hosts Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke Charvet began referring to Metta World Peace by his legal name just one month after hewing to the drab appellation with which he was born, "Ron Artest." On Monday's season premiere, MWP was presented as "Artest, NBA champion," not the more freewheeling public figure he's become over the last few years. World Peace is notable for his unpredictability; to act like he's your normal athletic star is to deny him his particular appeal.
On the other hand, "DWTS" is a decidedly conservative series, both in terms of its content -- ballroom dancing is not the kids' favorite pastime -- and the generally overdetermined nature of any series that caters to an audience over the age of 40. Unscripted moments are anathema to "DWTS" -- it'd rather have its "wild" contestants tend towards flirtatious banter and flamboyant extravagance. World Peace is a genuine weirdo. He's as likely to sport a wacky hairstyle as he is to change a waltz to a tango in the middle of a pre-planned routine.
I don't want to make it seem as if MWP is a good dancer -- he is most assuredly not. But on a show where very few contestants can be said to have natural ballroom talent, his presence was an entertaining one. Even in defeat, World Peace was likable and gracious: He praised Murgatroyd profusely and thanked everyone in the production for their support. Metta is a relentless self-promoter, but he also seems to enjoy the publicity machine, and it's rare to see him at a public event without a big, genuine smile on his face. Yet, when Bergeron said he would "mourn all the antics we're going to miss," it fell flat, in part because "DWTS" has proven perfectly able to keep performers around just because they make for good TV. Unlike Nancy Grace, no one wants to see MWP fall on his face. He doesn't have the cross-branding appeal of a Kardashian, nor does he have enough star power in his sport to draw in male fans like Jerry Rice and others have in the past.
To put it simply, he's not easy to explain. And, ultimately, that's why his early departure may be for the best. World Peace is a bizarre person who cannot be described in the simple hero/villain terms that guide most of our modern cultural discourse. "DWTS" is fundamentally a simple show built on well-established marketing strategy. At his best, MWP defies that simple calculus. If he was going to succeed on this ratings juggernaut, it was going to have to be on his own terms, which, incidentally, stand against the founding principles of the series itself. This show is not forward-thinking in the least.
Despite his charisma and flair, Metta World Peace may be best-suited to an existence as a cultural outsider, the kind of guy who's appreciated best by those outside of the mainstream. If his short time on "DWTS" has been any indication, World Peace isn't a person who can be described as a type. Like most anyone worth caring about, he's far more complicated than that.