Depending on your politics, Sarah Palin’s Alaska is either an enchanting visit to a beautiful state and a lovable family, or a cloying reality TV show that could also be considered the world’s longest political biomercial. If you haven’t watched, the show features the tireless Palin in practically every shot, and deals with every aspect of her life from disciplining her children, cooking dinner and teasing her husband to huntin’ bears, shootin’ caribou and clubbin’ halibut…things she apparently does all the time in between high-profile junkets to the lower-48 to sell books and influence American politics.
The first episode drew the largest single-show audience ever recorded by TLC…a cool five million on the Nielson ratings. The audience was clearly not universally charmed because the second episode saw an abrupt 40% drop-off in viewership, down to three million. Since then the ratings have been respectable but choppy, hovering near the threes. A heavily promoted attempt to recapture the magic by teaming Palin with fellow reality star Kate Gosselin (of Kate Plus 8) has fallen short, failing to deliver the big ratings hoped for by the network.
The Gosselin episode was clearly designed to cast Palin in a favorable light by making Kate look like a whiny, wimpy “city slicker” in contrast to Sarah’s fearless outdoorswoman. Although the whole theme was as transparent as the “good guy/evil villain” shtick in professional wrestling, fans of the show ate it up and delighted in mocking Kate Gosselin while praising Sarah Palin, who has moved past cult heroine and is now a goddess in the minds of many conservative Americans. (The Freepers “watch the show together” every week and record hundreds and hundreds of adoring comments during the airing of each episode. Critics and occasional doubters of Palin-power are indignantly booted off the thread.)
Social conservatives love to gloat over how “liberal heads are exploding” during each episode…whether Palin is clubbing fish, shooting bears or downing caribou. I’m not actually aware of any liberal heads creating messes on the carpet…though it seems Aaron Sorkin’s head did get pretty overheated at the gratuitous caribou killing. In fact, I doubt if most liberals could stand to watch more than a few minutes since every episode features a solid hour of Sarah Palin’s voice indulging in typical Sarah Palin inanities and circumlocutions. (I had to look up online coverage to write this article…I honestly tried to watch the first episode but found it unendurable.)
The bigger question is not if Sarah Palin is exploding liberal heads, but rather if she is exploding her own political career with all this exposure. She recently defended her version of political celebrity (Palin’s Alaska, Dancing with the Stars, etc.) by saying, “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in Bedtime for Bonzo, Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”
Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I’ll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.
The point is not “He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true. The point is that Reagan’s career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn’t in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn’t in search of fame; he’d already lived a life, he was already well known, he’d accomplished things in the world.
Now THAT is how a really tough lady takes a club to somebody…just for the halibut.