Sarah Palin’s Alaska & Persona Politics

(Originally published here. I don’t think it opened many minds, unfortunately.)

Disclaimer: This post is not an endorsement of Sarah Palin or her politics. If you are allergic to Sarah Palin, proceed at your own risk. This is an attempt at an objective dissection of episode 1 of SPA.
It’s not too late to look away.
You’ve been warned.

(Before I begin: I want to analyze this tv episode the way I do book reviews, and one of guidelines for that is I try not to read the author’s mind. I have read a lot of authors say that there’s nothing they hate worse than a reviewer imputing authorial intent that they know is untrue. So I try to focus only on what is presented to me on page or on-screen, in the current work and sometimes in past works, and as part of an existing cultural conversation.)

The USA today is immersed identity politics and the confusion of celebrity with leadership. 2008 showed clearly how these two things can be used as a path to power. Can 2012 be any different? Within that context, let’s look at Sarah Palin’s Alaska, a reality/travel show (episode 1 recap here) produced by Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin has almost unprecedented name-recognition, but also a very high disapproval rating. Any celebrity will agree that there is no such thing as negative publicity, and Sarah Palin’s task as a politician is to flip that disapproval rating. There is a core of disapprovers who will never be moved, but there is a much larger group in the middle that can be.

A reality show is an almost perfect way to do this (and I can almost hear the other 2012 contenders gnashing their teeth in envy.) Sarah Palin is beamed right into one’s living room, or you are beamed into her backyard, and you get to meet the idealized Sarah Palin persona. As Pacific John noted: “This is Politics 101: define yourself to the voters before the primary.”

So who do we meet? Based on episode one, Sarah Palin’s Persona (SPP) is first and foremost a mom. She is a mom like you, mom that is watching TLC on Sunday night. She is laid-back but doesn’t let her teen cross the line; and she, like you, is super-busy and can’t always give her kids all the attention they want; she knows that guilt that all busy moms feel. Summer in Alaska is short, and they try to cram in all that they can in that short time. A subtext for childhood right there.

SPP* is a regular person. She & Todd have to do most of the work themselves; they have a concrete slab in their yard, not a manicured lawn or a fancy patio. She does her Fox News videos sitting in front of an actual window, not a green screen, with only Todd as her tech, and with a hand-lettered cardboard sign outside saying “Live Filming.”

SPP has fortitude. A journalist moves in next door to spy on them; they deal with it by building a fence. Sarah asks Todd “Why us?” and Todd says “Why not us? We can take it.”

SPP loves Alaska, and by extension, America. America The Beautiful. One can almost hear, unsung song in the background: From the mountains … she will stand beside her and guide her through the night.

SPP will go where the challenge is. They live near a mountain that draws climbers from all over the world, yet her father has never climbed it. Her daughter backs out, and she doesn’t nag or lecture, just accepts it. But she will rise to the challenge. It scares her, but with Todd’s encouragement, she does it.

Speaking of Todd, his persona is to be SPP’s rock, her source of strength, her source of wisdom. Todd is the role model for how men can support Sarah. He is not emasculated or whipped by being her husband. TPP is strong enough to stand back and let Sarah go first, to encourage her, and when it’s his turn he makes it look easy (he catches the fish, he climbs the cliff easily). Strong men are not threatened by SPP.

SPP and TPP are just like you. They don’t know better than you, they don’t lecture you, they don’t blame you, they don’t look down on you, they don’t want to save you from yourself or from junk food. They are down-to-earth, they have common-sense, they are positive, they are strong, they are happy, they are fun, they are everything great about America The Beautiful, they are clear as water and just as wholesome.

This is Sarah Palin’s Persona. Watch her on tv, see her run in 2012.
Figure out how to offer something tangibly better or guess who the maligned bitter knitters clinging to their guns and religion who don’t think clearly in times of uncertainty will vote for.


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