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R U Lovin’ Sarah’s Alaska?

From governor to TV star.

Nov 29, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 11 • By MATT LABASH
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Just how Sarah is Sarah Palin’s Alaska, her new hit reality show on the TLC network? It’s soooo flippin’ Sarah, as Sarah would say. And it’s soooo Alaska, which Palin pronounces “A-LASK-ahhhh.” She repeats this on the show over and over again, as though we might forget where she’s from otherwise. She says it in that chirpy honk that, to her legions of fans, represents the music of Mom, apple pie, and flyover country. To her legions of enemies, it is the sound of gum smacking and syntax breaking. As Palin intones in the show’s opening, “A-LASK-ahhhh—I love this state like I love my family.” Except that she didn’t give her family up after governing it for two-and-a-half years, so that she could get a Fox News contract, and make 100 grand per speech, and write two books in a year, and drag her entire family onto a tacky reality show.

R U Lovin’ Sarah’s Alaska?

But see, that’s a media meme, used by the kind of annoying people who use words like “meme.” It’s a cheap shot that’s symptomatic of the shoddy cynicism that suffuses the Beltway elites and does not embody the spirit of Alaska, or the spirit of Sarah. Because what the “lamestream meee-deee-uhhh” (as Sarah calls them so often that she’s abbreviated it on her Twitter feed to “LSM”) doesn’t get is that when you love somebody, even if that somebody is the state of Alaska, you set them free. Sting sang that. He’s a really smart guy, even though he’s not from Alaska. So Palin will probably end up tweeting him, just like she perpetually retweets the wisdom of her other intellectual influences like the Constitution, Tito the Builder, and Ronald Reagan, who said, “There r no easy answers, but there r simple answers.” Except that the Great Communicator couldn’t communicate through Twitter, so that unlike Sarah, he actually had to use “are.” (Thank God those days r over.) 

But back to Alaska, since that’s what this is about. It’s hard to tell sometimes where Sarah ends and Alaska begins. The Last Frontier of Alaska is as wild and untamed as Sarah Palin’s ambitions. So it makes sense that Sarah loves Alaska, because loving Alaska is like loving herself. And that’s what Sarah Palin’s Alaska is really about: self-love.

It’s also about reality, though Palin rejects the reality-show label, considering it more of a travelogue/love letter to Alaska. And she’s correct that it bucks many reality-show conventions. Though I’ve only screened two of the eight episodes, there are, sadly, no hot tub make-out sessions. There are no drunken fistfights. Husband Todd does not walk around in the requisite Ed Hardy T-shirt, and no back tattoos are evident.

And though the show is produced by Survivor’s Mark Burnett, giving it a slick upmarket feel, little 9-year-old Piper is not voted off the island, though perhaps she should be for double-dipping a beater in a bowl after licking cupcake batter from it. She also precociously calls her mother “Sarah” when trying to get her attention—no easy feat, as Piper relates, since Mom is constantly on her BlackBerry, issuing Facebook and Twitter edicts, lamestream-media beat-downs, and editorial reprimands such as, “Press: why use this Bachmann pic in LEADERSHIP story? Ur 2 transparent.” (While many suspect Palin wants to be president of the United States, she writes as though she just wants to be president of Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center.) 

On the other hand, her show is very similar to other reality-television fare, in that there are plenty of artificially constructed moments. The eldest Palin daughter—Dancing with the Stars contestant Bristol—is taken to a shooting range so that Sarah can “remind Bristol what it’s like to pull the trigger.” But it’s fairly obvious when Bristol asks if the recoil is going to hurt and mistakes a clay pigeon for a mosquito that the reason she needs “reminding” is because she’s rarely if ever pulled a trigger at all. Likewise, there are gobs of forced dialogue in order to set up Palin’s bumper-sticker lines (she tells Bristol, with the -subtlety of a skywriter, “Don’t retreat, just reload”). She also repeatedly makes unlikely pronouncements, such as that Denali National Park is 9,400 square miles while New Hampshire is only 9,200 square miles, sounding less like Sarah Barracuda than Sarah Wikipedia.

A future show will feature a guest appearance/camping expedition with TLC reality-show cousin Kate Gosselin, star of Kate Plus Eight and the National Enquirer, whose claim to fame is her fertility, her bitch-on-wheels temper, and a spectacularly ugly divorce. So one could see how Karl Rove, one of several conservative, non-lamestream media Palin critics who’ve reared their heads of late, has a point when suggesting that the American people might expect “a certain level of gravitas” in someone who’s considering running for president, and that starring in your own reality show might not be the ticket.

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