The Magazine

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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After all, Sarah Palin’s Alaska shares the network’s schedule with shows like Ton of Love (“go inside the lives of three morbidly obese couples”) and The Man With Half a Body (“meet .  .  . Kenny whose body ends at his waist and who walks on his hands”). Would John Adams feel comfortable exhibiting his children next to Toddlers and Tiaras, which follows families on their quest for “sparkly crowns, big titles, and lots of cash”? Would Abe Lincoln look diminished if he shared a marquee with I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant? Would William Jefferson Clinton feel at home next to Sister Wives, which explores “the complex daily life of a polygamist family”?

Okay, bad example on that last one. But Rove’s point is taken, and Palin might do well to listen, since her negatives, in poll after poll, are higher than most other politicians’, and since, as the Daily Caller’s Jon Ward just reported after speaking to nearly two dozen key Tea Party activists who universally adore her, even her own supporters have reservations about her becoming president.

Still, the show isn’t about “gravitas,” an elitist lamestreamer word, much like “meme.” Rather, it’s about freedom. Because as Sarah says in the show, she’d rather be free than in some “stuffy old political office.” Part of her appeal is that she has always been a Real Person, not some jive politician. And Real People detest politics, which she proved by barnstorming the country for months, endorsing 64 different politicians in front of Real People. Besides, she just left political office, why would she want to sit in some different stuffy ol’ political office? Unless it was the Oval Office. I think even she’d have to admit that that would be pretty flippin’ cool.

Gravitas, it’s safe to say, is the enemy of freedom. And freedom is about motion—being in it, staying in it. On the show, this involves seein’, and doin’, and experiencin’ things that don’t require a “g” on the end of them, such as shootin’, and rock climbin’, and snow machinin’, and clubbin’ halibut over the head (“let me see the club, you look crazy,” says Bristol to her mom when they do the deed on a commercial fishing boat) and media-critiquin’ and BlackBerryin’, which Palin gets caught doing even in the midst of wilderness adventures.

The premiere episode’s big set piece involves a salmon fishing expedition in which the Palins pack into a boat, looking like tourists in bulky life-jackets while holding their spinning rods (any serious recreational fisherman would carry a fly rod, though that might be my fishing elitism talking). Just as wherever there are cameras, there are Palins—in addition to her Dancing with the Stars chores, Bristol just cut an abstinence/safe-sex public service announcement with renowned meathead The Situation, from MTV’s Jersey Shore—wherever there are salmon, bears will be found. As two bears fight some 30 yards away from the Palins’ boat, it’s a nice break for Palin, so that she can shoehorn as many “Mama Grizzly” references into the conversation as possible while oohing and ahhing at the bears, thus helpfully reminding us of the symbolism.

When the Palins return home by float plane (all but Todd get skunked in a river so thick with salmon you could practically have walked over them), they are disturbed by the sight of Joe McGinniss, the invasive author who decided to report out his biography of Palin by renting the house next to them for the summer. Sarah says that her husband and his buddies built a 14-foot-privacy fence, much like we “need to do to secure our nation’s border.”

Other than a few forced goofball throwaways, such as the one above, the show rarely becomes overtly political. But with the introduction of McGinniss, who rightly serves as the heavy, one is reminded of Palin’s singular talent as a politician. It is why, in addition to her personal magnetism and charisma and ability to rile up often inchoate populist ire, she appeals to such a large swath of conservatives. And the reason is that no matter how annoying Palin is—no matter how jingoistic, no matter how shameless a headline-hunter, no matter how likely to sound like a 15-year-old Twitter-head (“SWEET diversion from politics! Dancing W/The Stars party in r livingroom tonight w/friends who r lovin’ this change of pace 4 Sweet Bristol!”)—she still manages to elicit often irrational hatred from politically motivated enemies who are even more annoying than she is. 

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