Sarah Palin Back on TV–What’s the Harm?

Discovery Networks’ announcement of its newest acquisition, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, a documentary series hosted by the state’s former governor, left me feeling conflicted. On the one hand, any mention of John McCain’s running mate provokes involuntary full-body shudders. I spent the presidential election campaign in a state of anxious high alert, wondering what Gov. Palin would say or do next. Wondering, in other words, what further platforms she’d find to display her homophobia (I’m sorry, tolerance for gay and lesbian lifestyles) or to pontificate about being staunchly anti-choice.

On the other hand, should her appearance on something as innocuous as an 8-hour Alaskan travelogue “told by one of the state’s proudest daughters” (according to Peter Liguori, chief operating officer of Discovery Communications) really inspire angst? What’s the harm if Palin coasts on her fifteen minutes of fame a little longer? She certainly wouldn’t be the first politician to delay her  inevitable (hopefully) ride into the sunset.

But here’s the root of my unease: Despite the fact that the series will likely have nothing to do with politics, the idea of Sarah Palin’s Alaska isn’t innocuous. Palin has never really left the spotlight, and the show’s executive producer, Survivor’s Mark Burnett, clearly has no qualms about capitalizing on her political celebrity:

With a dynamic personality that has captivated millions, I can’t think of anyone more compelling than Sarah Palin to tell the story of Alaska … I’m thrilled to reunite with Discovery on this project, which brings together one of the most fascinating figures of our time with one of the most wondrous places on earth.

Whether Palin is “one of the most fascinating figures of our time” is open for debate, but it’s telling that Discovery has shopped her doc to its subsidiary TLC, a cable channel known for reality programs about what The New York Times describes, diplomatically as  “big, small and unconventional families.” In other words, TLC exploits familial “novelties” in shows like Jon and Kate Plus 819 Kids and Counting, I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant and Little People, Big World.  TLC now has a rotating headline on its website proclaiming, “You Betcha! Sarah Palin is coming to TLC,” including video of her guest appearance on the TLC show American Choppers, a quiz entitled “Could You Survive in the Alaskan Wilderness? and a link to photos of the former governor.

Even if Palin  never utters a single conservative talking point during her Alaskan tele-tour, we still know who she is and what she stands for, and Discovery/TLC aren’t shy about using her celebrity to their advantage. While The New York Times’ reporter Brian Stelter notes that environmentalists might take issue with the host’s denial of climate change–not to mention her promotion of aerial hunting of wolves or advocating for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge–for me, Sarah Palin’s Alaska provokes a different conundrum.

By allowing fallen politicians to enter the media spotlight from a different angle–a wholly unpolitical, seemingly inoffensive angle–we’re allowing them to appear declawed, harmless, perhaps even charming. Case in point: former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s stint on Dancing with the Stars, where he seemed bumbling and goofy as opposed to calculating or corrupt (he resigned from Congress in the wake of an alleged money-laundering scandal).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUqL3_uCD4Q

Or, there’s former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who allegedly tried to sell President Obama’s former Senate seat: He’s currently a contestant on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice despite the fact that he’s awaiting trial on corruption charges.

Similarly, Sarah Palin’s Alaska might foster a false sense of normalcy about the host, coaxing viewers to let down their guard and forget her anti-choice, pro-gun, homophobic rhetoric.

I had similar misgivings about Tina Fey’s satirical turn as Palin on Saturday Night Live. Sure, Fey was hilarious, but by representing Palin  as harmlessly befuddled and misguided, would she lead viewers to forget Palin’s ultra-conservative ideology and its threats to women’s,  LGBT, environmental and other rights?

While we could send complaints to TLC about the upcoming show, maybe our best defense against these kinds of “innocent” media infiltrations is to remain alert. We must keep reminding ourselves that even when people like Tom DeLay evoke memories of our fathers trying to learn the quickstep, infamous political celebrities never completely leave the political arena. Sarah Palin won’t disappear quietly into the Alaskan backwoods on a four-wheeler with a team of cinematographers. She’ll be back.

TOP: TLC’s rotating headline featuring Sarah Palin. Screen capture taken Friday, March 26, 2010 at 9am PST.

Comments

  1. Great post! The world will be a better place when Sarah is contained in a reality show – and out of politics.

  2. Thanks, Janis! I feel a bit like Sarah Palin already is the star of her own reality show, but I’m not sure that’ll mean she’s going to be putting aside politics any time soon.

  3. PioneerGrrrl says:

    I’m spooked how much Fey and Palin physically look alike. But I’m certain that Fey is much smarter politically.

  4. Excellent post! I love that you referenced Tom DeLay’s (painful and embarrassing) appearance on DWTS last season.

  5. I view Sarah Palin as a danger – I really do. The Republican base has been eroded just enough that she is considered the head of the party! Seems impossible, doesn’t it? But beneath her cutsy, cheerleader persona is a dangerous woman. She will do or say anything to get herself some press, whether it fosters the growing spirit of hate or not. She give a life when challenged on her comments then couches them in terms of ‘reloading means to vote’ instead of shooting. I sincerely hope absolutely nobody watches her shows. We cannot afford to idolize these idiots and give them all the publicity. Jesse James, Tiger Woods, Sarah Palin, etc. No wonder our children are growing up confused about right and wrong.

  6. I agree with the blogger and posts. People like Sarah Palin, Tom Delay, and Rob Blagojevich are not harmless. They represent the corruption and misuse of the freedoms built into our system of government. My opinion is that each of them is completely self serving and would do or say anything to get what they want. Any mass exposure in the media sends the message that their agendas are worth promoting – their values (or lack of) are implicit in whatever they do. Personally, I cannot find someone who would shoot wolves from a helicopter, or criminalize abortion entertaining, even if they are juggling on top of a rooster – which by the way, is cruel and inhumane.

  7. Sarah Palin was befuddled in reality. Tina Fey just recited Palin’s exact answers to Katie Couric’s answers. I don’t think she presented her as just misguided. She spoke the woman’s actual words!!!

  8. Thank you for this excellent piece. I totally agree,that people like Sarah Palin, Tom DeLay and the like are anything but harmless. Elevating them to celebrity-like status gives them just another forum outside the political to espouse their misguided and damaging views.

    In Palin’s case, there is a lot more at stake. In October of 2008, while Palin was McCain’s running mate, a piece by Belinda Luscombe appeared on the time.com website entitled: Why Some Women Hate Sarah Palin and Luscombe touches on this issue. In a follow up piece entitled: Sarah Palin a Bridge to Nowhere http://www.helenargiro.com/2008/10/sarah-palin-bridge-to-nowhere.html
    the argument goes a step further discussing the danger of Palin being perceived as a spokes person for all women, just because she is a woman and how views like hers’ set our gender back decades.

    Thank you, Ms. Blog!

  9. I completely agree with you, Aviva–the TV program won’t go into Palin’s politics, but by ignoring and glossing over them, it increases her political power.

    For those who want to complain to the network about this show, you may do so at http://extweb.discovery.com/viewerrelations or http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/806038917.

  10. This has been circulating around the internet, twitter esp.: Keep anti-environment crusader Sarah Palin off #Discovery: http://bit.ly/bGQNiV (via @CREDOmobile) http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/palin_discovery2/?rc=tw

  11. Vanessa Goldberg says:

    Thank you, Aviva. Sarah Palin is a fighter for a truly scary (per)version of this country. Casting her in a role as a politically neutral, nature-loving commentator is pernicious and dangerous.

  12. thanks for this blog i just found the Ms. website on my high schools computer and im definintly goin to come back for more :)

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