Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why Reality Television Doesn't Transfer to Real Life

I finally finished watching every episode of TLC's "reality series" Sarah Palin's Alaska. The show received huge ratings on its debut episode last November, but as the curiosity factor abated, the viewership dropped and the show was not renewed for a second season. On some anti-Palin blogs (which I have links to in the left hand column), some of the criticisms were very vicious. While I don't see anything remotely presidential about Sarah Palin, I don't think she's a bad person. During the 2008 campaign when she underwent a compressed vetting process, I felt then that she was born to be a reality show personality. She and her family are telegenic, with enough family dramas to make even the fictional Walker family on Brothers and Sisters look boring. When she quit the governor's office in 2009, I was certain that she would have her own reality show at some point.

Having now seen this series (I don't have cable, so I had to wait until it released on DVD), I can say that Sarah Palin has found her calling in life. Its not politics. She's a reality show star! In this series, she's likable, funny, and her love of Alaska comes shining through. There were many sweet moments with her family, particularly her youngest daughter, Piper. I loved when she laid down the law regarding no boys being allowed upstairs when her teenage daughter Willow invited a boyfriend over to the Palin mansion. He actually tried to sneak upstairs, even though cameras were present. Like he could actually get away with that.

This series works as a great travelogue for the state of Alaska. Each episode showcases aspects of Alaska and what it offers. Within the eight episodes, you'll see the Palin family go fishing for halibut (I had no idea that fish was so huge! It was hilarious to see Sarah take a baton to beat the halibut senseless) and salmon, camping, hunting for moose, watching bears, logging, panning for gold, trekking across a glacier, rock climbing, mushing with huskies, flying seaplanes, whitewater rafting, majestic helicopter rides, skeet shooting, ATV riding, and regular family downtime.

After eight episodes, though, I can understand why TLC decided not to renew for a second season. They pretty much covered all that one can do in Alaska and there was no need to spend any more time on this travelogue. Also, the show was rather kind of boring. With all that is known behind the scenes about Palin's petty vindictiveness (which makes for great drama), none of that is on display here. Palin and her family are on their best behaviour, so its all about love, love, love. We don't see any fights or arguments. The most insulting comment that is made was when Bristol called her mother "prom hair." Perhaps most surprising to me was Sarah's comments when Kate (of Jon and Kate Plus Eight infamy) decided that she couldn't hack camping out in Alaska's wilderness. Palin was not petty, mocking, or nasty in her comments. She was quite charitable. Why can't we see this side to her in the political sphere? Why can't she be more charitable to the Obamas?

If Sarah Palin and her family were truly this likable, she would not have the kind of critics that she does. After all, when she was first elected as governor in 2006, she was able to work with the Democratic minority in the Alaska legislature. It was not until her selection of the 2008 Vice Presidential nomination that she pandered to the worst elements of the conservatives, where everything is black or white, if you're not with us, you're against us. This unnecessarily created enemies where none need exist.

When I was part of Sarah Palin's Facebook page (before I got banned), I was stunned by how her fans were unable to look at things with reason. Any critique of her statements that did not make sense was viewed with hatred and censorship. You couldn't engage in a meaningful debate with her fans, because they don't tolerate reality. Whatever their beloved Quitter Queen says is TRUE! Pointing out the falseness of her "Truth" means you're a "hater"! Even more stunning is that her fans think that if you criticize her positions or statements, or if you say that she is not presidential, you're afraid of her because she'll become president. Nope. I have no fear that she'll be president, because even the Republican establishment does not like her. She's toxic to the party, but the Republicans are in a bad position. There are far too few wealthy people to ever win elections in the U.S., so they've had to rely on the base of ignorant, morality-obsessed social conservatives to win the elections for them. Since the end of the Bush years, this group has become uncontrollable to the point that no presidential candidate can afford to alienate the true believers (the teabaggers) if they hope to pick up their support after Palin decides not to run or she fails to win the nomination.

I know that I baffle my liberal friends when I say that I like Sarah Palin. But liking her as a person doesn't mean that I would ever vote for her. People need to realize the complexity of humanity. Also, Sarah Palin needs to realize herself that she was not meant to be a political leader. The universe found a way to give her what she really wanted: fame and fortune. That's all she really wanted: to be famous. Just like Madonna, who wanted to be famous by any means necessary. Madonna dreamed of being a famous actress, but she couldn't act. She found her calling in music and is the biggest female artist of all time. There's nothing wrong with that. People just need to realize where they fit into the grand scheme of things. Palin lacks the discipline, intellect, and experience to ever be a credible leader in the political realm. She's perfect, however, for the reality television era. She's a pop culture phenomenon who can milk money out of the whole "famous for being famous" category of celebrity (like Anna Nicole Smith or Paris Hilton). If she plays her cards right, she can fill the niche left by Elizabeth Taylor, who made news for decades despite not having starred in a film in years.

This Memorial Day weekend, Palin has received press attention for her planned RV trip to visit several historical sites on the East Coast, starting in Mount Vernon and ending in New Hampshire (seen as a political move). I think its all part of a big tease, though. I don't get the sense that Palin is serious, because she has to know that she can't hack it as president if she resigned her governorship mid-term (following a pattern of quitting colleges and jobs). Her star is fading, though. After her disastrous speech in the aftermath of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Palin has kept a low-profile. Her reality series is also cited by critics as a bad move for someone hoping to be president. No one can view that show and walk away thinking that she is in anyway "presidential material." Her non-stop chatter comes across as annoying. Her husband doesn't speak much, but after hearing him I can understand why. He's far more soft-spoken than his wife.

My advice to Sarah is to enjoy her fame while it lasts, but leave politics to the professionals. Also, she should drop her cultural warrior persona and be more like the way she portrayed herself on her show. She avoided making political comments for the most part, though she still had a few jabs thrown at the media and bloggers.

For the anti-Palin bloggers who still find something every day to blog about her (and when they don't, to repeat their old obsessive complaints about her), this reality show wasn't a bad thing. How often do we get to see Alaska portrayed on television? Her show was the best travelogue on Alaska that I've ever seen. I'm ready to book my Alaska vacation right now! I would love it even more if Sarah Palin was the tour guide. She knows how to elicit laughs, and that's a good thing.

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