The Mystifying Allure of Sean Spicer
When I was in sixth grade, I was probably the smartest kid in the classroom. I was easily smart enough to fall into the 'nerd' classification, which at that time was completely separate of the 'cool' classification. I peaked early, because there would eventually be a stage when it was cool to be a nerd, but by the time I got there, I wasn't smart enough to be considered a nerd anymore. I had to reinvent myself, cultivate a voice, or try really hard to be funny, because I'd lost the main thing that made me relevant – my relative intelligence.
Sean Spicer, it seems, went through every one of those steps except for the last one. He was undoubtedly teacher's-pet smart at one point, watched the rest of the world pass him by, and didn't really do anything about it, channeling his reserves of intelligence into a sort of dull anger. He, much like a small sixth grader, often uses frustration or irritation as an outlet for words. However he, unlike a sixth grader, has an audience of millions every single day. And it's intoxicating.
We treat Spicer almost like we would a sixth grader. We coddle him, thinking him adorable because he sometimes struggles with words, his open defiance occasionally skirting into a pre-teen rebellion. We encourage him when he insists upon his point, knowing that he'll trip over his own dick sooner than later. We don't mind when he butchers names and chews gum, because 'boys will be boys'. We listen to him when he wants us to turn off the microphones and cameras, because no kid wants evidence or footage when they piss their pants. We listen to his subtle distress calls, like when he wore his flag pin upside-down. We can forgive when he tells us to 'stop shaking your head' because he's feeling insecure and we should try and be respectful of that. And we absolve him of responsibility, because his innocence that lends credence to the thought "he couldn't possibly know what he was doing." We point out the incompetence, which must mean he's not of the same ilk as a Kellyanne Conway or a Steve Bannon. We give him a pass when he underrates Hitler, because that's poor lil' Sean, he doesn't really know what he's saying. We consider it precious when he hides in (excuse me, among) the bushes, feigning running away to see how mom and dad react. He's going to act out – would you expect any less from a kid who feels like he's under attack from all sides, from his bullies (reporters) to his parents (the president).
Remember Conway's famous 'alternative facts' line? It's most commonly (and correctly) attributed to Conway herself, but it's often forgotten that it was Spicer that Conway was referring to. Barely two weeks in, the president was furious with chief of staff Reince Priebus for recommending Spicer, in the same way a principal is disappointed when mom has to come pick up her son for the fifth time that month. And kind of like a troublemaker, everyone knows his name – did you know the names of any of Obama's press secretaries? They were Jay Carney, Robert Perino, and Josh Earnest (I only made one of those up). You don't want to call it a ban? Sure, Spicey, it's not a ban. Your birthday party had more kids than anyone else's? Definitely. Whatever you want, big guy.
He's a cross between the calculated loyalty of Seth Grayson on House of Cards, and the blundering ineffectiveness of Mike McClintock on Veep. Of all the people said to be jockeying for the role of 'shadow president', from Fox News to Bannon to Jared Kushner to Ivanka Trump, Spicer was never a contender for the role (let alone mentioned) because you never give a kid the key to the car. He got his 'Sean Sphincter' nickname in college, only because 'sphincter' is too big of a word for pre-teens to know how to use.
And it's a different kind of childish appeal than the president. Spicer is considered cartoonish, helpless, and harmless. Trump is seen as unqualified, petty, and dangerous. There's a certain guiltlessness in rooting for a guy like Spicer, something you can do with clean hands and a clear conscience. But besides the occasional entertainment value you get with Trump, like that time he said 'titties' instead of 'cities', the joy there is opposite – it's more of a hate-watch.
Even the Melissa McCarthy impersonation lends to this ever-growing persona. While Alec Baldwin's Trump is an over-the-top caricature designed to exaggerate the craziest aspects of his demeanor, the McCarthy routine is a dissection of Spicer's persona, full of tidbits that we could actually see Spicer doing. It also casts Spicer as a somewhat sympathetic figure, compounded by Spicer's own response to the skit where he said McCarthy "could dial back."
My sixth-grade class was a time of transition – the first major one in life. We weren't a faceless mass of annoying kids like those uncultured fifth-graders, we were individually annoying in our own right. We went from playground kings in elementary school to schoolyards scrub in middle school. It was time when we had to make peace with moving on, and Spicer is no exception. The latest is that he might be gone, to be replaced by Sarah Huckabee Sanders (someone who also stunted, albeit as a teenager) or whoever the fuck. They're saying that it's supposedly a promotion to Communications Director, and that he might be replaced by a rotating cast of people. That's the thing about sixth grade though: they tell you it's a promotion, but you're really climbing out from one hole to find yourself in another. Maybe Spicer can finally reinvent himself, without the pressure of perfection and without the luxury of sympathy.
But even if he doesn't, we'll give him a pass, just like we always have. Because he's been the most captivating presence behind that podium in all of history. Period.