Arts and Culture

'Sarah Palin's Alaska'

People are watching this thing. And not just for the halibut.

By Steve Burgess 3 Dec 2010 |

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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'A joke we understand up here in Alaska.'

New times call for new insults:

May your accidental death get a million views on YouTube.

May your rejected marriage proposal go viral.

May your reality show air on TLC.

That once-respectable channel is now home to shows like Obese and Pregnant, Toddlers and Tiaras, and now, Sarah Palin's Alaska. And the Tea Party queen is doing a lot better than the other trash. News stories noted that ratings for episode two plummeted 40 per cent from the five million pulled by the debut. But last week's third episode actually gained half a million viewers. People are watching this thing. So I did too. Note to Tyee editor David Beers: I want more money.

Watching Sarah Palin's Alaska is not easy. It's difficult just to look at her. I realize such revulsion does not represent the "return to sanity" urged by Jon Stewart et al. But such is the effect of her polarizing persona. Besides, the show is tedious -- deadly, desperately dull. It's like being trapped on an Alaskan cruise ship hosted by Susan Boyle. Palin and family hop about doing staged wilderness activities while Palin narrates, usually by stating the painfully obvious or simply parroting what some guide has already told us. During these excursions the half-term governor manages to look far more former mall chick than backwoods woman. In the debut episode she and hubby Todd go rock climbing. Despite evident attempts to make it look cute, the sequence was remarkably unflattering -- Palin spends an (edited) hour on a rock face whining incessantly until eventually she is hauled up the cliff like a sack of flour.

Knee slappers

The star of Sarah Palin's Alaska does not generally appear evil or unpleasant. But neither does she come off much better than you'd expect. On the evidence presented here, Palin does not seem particularly bright. In episode two the family goes halibut fishing: "Just for the halibut," Palin says. Then, afraid that her wit may be getting a little highbrow, she adds, "That's a joke we understand up here in Alaska."

Even in this glossy, carefully packaged showcase her essential pettiness creeps through periodically as she snipes at liberal enemies, haters and Joe Mcginnis, the reporter who moved in next door for a few months. And although she seems like a fairly ordinary mom, that's before you consider the circumstances. Working with Survivor/Apprentice producer Mark Burnett, Palin is shameless about using staged family tableaux to roll out her favourite right-wing catchphrases. "Don't retreat, reload," is offered here as heartwarming mother-to-daughter wisdom. You get the impression she'd poison her grandmother just to set up a line about "Obama's death panels." (With his other client, Donald Trump, making renewed noise about a presidential run, Burnett has got a lot to answer for these days.)

The relatively robust audience for Sarah Palin's Alaska is a mystery to place alongside the success of daughter Bristol on Dancing With the Stars. Momma Palin was highly visible on that show too, making her the reigning queen of reality TV these days.

It remains to be seen whether this is a good thing for the wannabee commander-in-chief. Palin's base has been unaffected by the constant attacks on her resume, since the scorn of liberal and media elites merely burnishes her populist credentials. But in entering the sphere of reality TV she opens her family to attack in her natural realm. Bristol Palin's DWTS performances earned the kind of tabloid attention more commonly reserved for Obama's birth certificate. Putting a folksy mediocrity in the White House may not be a big concern in Palinworld. But when you mess around with Dancing With the Stars, you're talking about the kind of votes her followers take seriously.  [Tyee]

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