“The Masked Singer” premiered in the winter of 2019, before the world shut down from the pandemic. A reality competition aiming for the extremely bizarre, it felt like the type of television series one would find playing in the background of a dystopian future. Thankfully, with two cycles per TV year, the show has mostly faded into the background of our cultural consciousness. That is, until Deadline reported that at the first taping of the new season, one of the celebrities’ masks came off, revealing his identity: Rudy Giuliani. The surprise upset judges singer Robin Thicke and comedian Ken Jeong so much, they reportedly walked off in protest.
The ex-mayor of New York is no longer just a failed presidential candidate with a fading political career.
Giuliani is known for being a colorful political operator. He was willing to perform on “Saturday Night Live” in drag, back when such a thing was considered highly transgressive. But the ex-mayor of New York is no longer just a failed presidential candidate with a fading political career. His activities as the one-time personal lawyer for former President Donald Trump have turned him into a national disgrace.
Just off the top of my head: He tried to derail Robert Mueller’s investigation. He (allegedly) attempted to mastermind a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit Joe Biden, the scandal that led to Trump’s first impeachment. He then (allegedly) tried to undermine the 2020 election, first via a plot involving illegitimate electors, and then by claiming phantom election fraud.
Giuliani may be something of a laughingstock, but he is not a cute old politician whose career is finished, he’s the subject of criminal inquiries that range from violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act to meddling in the 2020 election. (Giuliani disputes these allegations.)
But the real horror of Giuliani’s unmasking is that it actually isn’t shocking at all. Shows have been laundering the reputations of unsavory politicians, sometimes inadvertently, for years.
Jimmy Fallon says he now regrets bringing Trump onto “The Tonight Show” in 2016 and chummily ruffling his hair. (“The Tonight Show” airs on NBC, which owns NBC News.) Shows such as “Dancing with the Stars,” which appeals to a red-state right-wing voting bloc, have been much worse. Fox News’ racist demagogue Tucker Carlson was treated like an everyday celebrity, with his acolytes tuning in in droves to vote for him to keep dancing. The series pushed those boundaries to the limit when it brought on former Trump spokesman Sean Spicer, to national protest. Though the show managed to survive that choice (and Spicer lasted much longer than producers anticipated), longtime host Tom Bergeron, who publicly criticized the show for casting Spicer, was fired.
Spicer’s casting seemed to cross a line, with many Americans arguing he moved the Overton window of acceptability when it came to public lying. But even Spicer never attempted to steal a presidential election.
Like “DWTS,” this is not the first time “The Masked Singer” is playing with this kind of fire. In the spring of 2020, viewers were treated to the surrealist image of former vice presidential candidate former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin being unmasked in a very uncomfortable and jarring scene. Palin had also not tried to steal an election; she was more a precursor of things to come. Her unmasking was thus less a catalyst for protest and more a moment of profound confusion. Who decided this was a good idea?
Which brings us back to Giuliani, a man embroiled in multiple ongoing investigations. What on earth were the “The Masked Singer” producers thinking? Giuliani in a fuzzy costume isn’t fun, nor is it good entertainment. This is beyond a lapse in judgment. It borders on moral turpitude. No wonder two of the judges walked off.
Clearly, this rehabilitation trend has truly gone too far. It was concerning enough when “American Idol” invited White House advisor Kellyanne Conway’s daughter Claudia on their show last year in a move that felt exploitative, at best. Fox and “The Masked Singer” may have thought a desperate move like this could help the show stay relevant. Instead, it looks more out of touch than ever.
To be clear, the Giuliani scandal is unlikely to end the “Masked Singer” series (or any of its dystopian weirdo spinoffs). However, it should be a wakeup call for fans. Is this what we want on our televisions? Like with the election, we have a choice here. Turn it off.