About six months ago I irritated an acquaintance of mine by saying "Why the fuck is Sarah Palin still relevant?" I was surprised at his irritation, never realizing his right leaning tendencies (something I flippantly dismiss as his spending too much time socializing at the gun range). Obviously, I needed to search a little deeper into her phenomena instead of just dismissing her as a sideshow bozo that John McCain needs to be slapped for because he brought her into the circus spotlight.
This isn't a quote that recently appeared in a blog but are the words of H.L. Mencken from his essay "The American Tradition" which he penned in the 1920's. It is a scathing indictment of those who believed in what he termed the "so called Anglo-Saxon tradition" in America. Unfortunately, I believe to have found my answer to Palin's relevancy in the continued belief and perpetuation of the myth of an American tradition. One based on herd-mentality and herd-morality.
I tried to force myself to watch Sarah Palin's Alaska, the infomercial on the misnamed TLC. I made it through parts of two different episodes while suffering inexplicable feelings of guilt and dirtiness. I suppose I would have enjoyed the show for the high camp that it is if I didn't expect this person to run for president in the next election. What I did see was an effort to promote Sarah as the torch bearer for a mythical America.
Her strongest point for myth perpetuation has to be her looks. She has a white bread face that seems easily copied through excess makeup, generic designer glasses and a "going to the prom" hairdo (Her daughter Bristol's line). It is an every white woman look that probably wouldn't be too hard to replicate on a mannequin.
But this mannequin can shoot! She's a modern day Annie Oakley, a chip off the ol' John Wayne block, you betcha', the supreme defender of our sacred second amendment, or at least the out of context "to keep and bear arms" segment. In one episode she goes hunting for caribou with her father, who keeps talking about what a good shot "my daughter Sarah Palin" is. In the other episode she goes camping with Kate Gosselin (I had to look up who she was) and her family. In order to fit gun shooting into the episode, Kate and Sarah go to a bear safety class which showcases Sarah's commitment to the Constitution by showing her gun prowess.
She's got the look, she's got the gun, and yet she is still all about family. I guess you wouldn't need to see the show to know that her poor family would be dragged in front of the cameras to glorify Mama Grizzly's dedication. What a sage mother she is when she calms a daughter who slips on a hiking trail by shrieking at her, "It's no big deal!" That shriek ended one viewing session for me.
I looked for the human behind the smoke and mirrors and the closest glimpse happened when Sarah was backing up a kayak under a glacier shelf and said, "Beep, beep, beep. Just like George Costanza". This was shown to invoke a "just like you" moment. But I fear a person with a "just like me" persona in a position of great power, especially the person exposed when Katie Couric played Toto and pulled back the curtain to reveal a poorly educated woman that is packaged as the embodiment of an American ideal. Unfortunately, Toto couldn't get to the inner curtain where those that market the mannequin are hiding, even though it's possible that it wouldn't have mattered. We, the people (read as, "we, the viewing public"), are like a before-brains scarecrow that loves to be seduced by illusion.
I, again, go to Mencken and his essay "On Being an American": "In other lands, at worst, there are at least issues, ideas, personalities. Somebody says something intelligible, and somebody replies. It is important to somebody that the thing go this way or that way. But here, having perfected democracy, we lift the whole combat to a gaudy symbolism, to a disembodied transcendentalism, to metaphysics, that sweet nirvana. Here we load a pair of palpably tin cannons with blank cartridges charged with talcum-powder, and so let fly. Here one may howl over the show without an uneasy reminder that someone is being hurt."
Ah, but over the last two days that uneasy reminder is ever-present. Will this spur us into a reevaluation of this gun- toting American tradition? Who is going to play injun and b'ar in the woods? Those in Tucson were unwillingly chosen for those roles. Alas, we seem to love the illusional American tradition too much. We seem unable to grow out of it, embracing and finding an aberrant comfort in our ignorance. I believe Palin will survive this, hopefully, scathed. The possibility does exist that she will escape unharmed, the beneficiary of our national Alzheimer's, our looking forward to the next act of the show. How else can one explain W.'s two terms?