TLC's Sarah Palins Alaska

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TLC's Sarah Palins Alaska

Post by 911Dispatcher on Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:34 pm

I've been given grief lately over my disdain with Palins new reality TV show on TLC. Many can't understand why I wouldn't love the free advertising she is giving to the state. Even worse they don't understand how I can't relate to her "trips" and "experiences" because many of the places shes been I've either lived in or traveled to myself. So Mainers can relate, it would be like someone from Maine doing a TV show about how to live in Maine and only show clips from Freeport, Bar Harbor, and maybe a quick trip to Greenville. Here is a perfect statement from a "real" Alaskan.

Last week we learned TLC would not extend Sarah Palin’s Alaska television show. Nick Jans, a writer who lives in Juneau, put perfectly why the news would come with a sigh of relief. He has given his permission to repost his article that ran in USAToday last week. Nick Jans’ latest book, The Glacier Wolf, is available at


Sarah Palin’s Alaska, a TLC miniseries, has been quite a spectacle.
We’ve watched Mama Grizzly mush a dog sled across a glacier; stalk caribou on the tundra; paddle raging white water; and match her frontierswoman sturdiness against Kate Gosselin’s urban diva shtick. In the lulls between action, the ex-governor gushed about family values and her love for Alaska, and threw political elbows. Love or loathe her, this series seems a huge success at projecting the essence of Sarah to the world. And without that myth, what’s left?
However, thousands of Alaskans hold a different view. Those of us who’ve actually lived off the land are less than impressed by Palin’s televised exploits and, more important, by what they tell us about her. Tentative, physically inept, and betraying an even more awkward unfamiliarity with the land and lifestyle that’s supposedly her birthright, Palin deconstructs her own myth before our eyes.

To be sure, packaging and style have often trumped substance in American democracy. From the days of literal stump speeches and catchy but empty political slogans such as “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!” politicians have vaulted into power on the shoulders of charisma and sound bite, projected to the widest possible audience by the best available media. Indeed, Barack Obama’s own ascendance had less to do with his scant political résumé than his ability to light up a teleprompter. You could argue that Palin’s mercurial, tweet-propelled rise is just the latest manifestation of a time-honored tradition. However, Sarah Palin’s Alaska seems to have ushered in a new and troubling era in our democracy: the point where a burgeoning cultural fascination with reality TV and celebrity worship intersected mainstream politics, and the three merged into one.

Since orchestrated reality is about all anyone can expect from Palin — who is uniquely unavailable in unfiltered form to the “lamestream media” — we have no choice but to glean what we can from the offered narrative. Palin is presented as the embodiment of The Great Land itself — tough, unpretentious and aw-shucks alluring. But as she ushers us from bear viewing to bonking halibut, the Palin that emerges just doesn’t live up to her backdrop. You don’t have to be a mountain man to see past the thin veil of smoke and mirrors.
Guided ‘adventures’

From the opening credits, Palin’s not actually leading, as the show’s stirring theme song (Follow Me There) suggests. Instead, she’s tucked far under the wings of professional guides, friends, or family members — in a curious subtext, almost all males.

They instruct and coddle her along, at one point literally hauling Palin uphill on the end of a rope. Even post-production editing can’t hide a glaring, city-slicker klutziness. Most of the show’s escapades bear scant resemblance to the activities of most outdoors-oriented Alaskans. In fact, about half of the Palins’ “adventures” are guided trips aimed at mass-market tourists. You won’t find many Alaskans on those theme park rides, which require no skills beyond a pulse and the ability to open your wallet.

Of course, there are sequences that feature Palin tagging along with working Alaskans. However, posing for hands-on scenes guided by loggers or commercial fishermen (including her husband, who’s obviously a top notch outdoorsman) doesn’t help. Alaskans would be a lot more impressed if she proved she could gut a caribou or set a gill net on her own — skills at which many bush-wise Alaskan women excel — and still keep those immaculately manicured French nails intact.
The caribou hunt episode provides a centerpiece of the series’ excesses, as well as Palin’s ineptitude. According to script, it’s Palin’s turn to replenish the family’s dwindling freezer with wild meat — from an Alaska point of view, all good. But the logistics of the trip defy common sense. Instead of hunting within reasonable distance of home, her party flies 600-plus miles to a remote camp in multiple chartered aircraft. This isn’t subsistence but the sort of experiential safari popular among high-end, non-resident sport hunters. For all that, Palin ends up with a skinny juvenile cow caribou. Boned out, we’re talking maybe 100 pounds of meat, at a staggering cost per pound.

Faced with that hapless animal, this darling of Second Amendment supporters nervously asks her dad whether the small-caliber rifle kicks. Then, even more astoundingly, her father repeatedly works the bolt and loads for her as she misses shot after shot before scoring a kill on the seventh round — enough bullets for a decent hunter to take down at least five animals. (Given Palin’s infamous tweet “Don’t retreat, reload,” we can infer she plans to keep her dad close by.) Later, Palin blames the scope, but any marksman would recognize the flinching, the unsteady aim and poor shot selection — and the glaring ethical fault of both shooter and gun owner if the rifle wasn’t properly sighted. Instead of some frontier passion play, we’re rendered a dark comedy of errors.
Why it matters

This would all be laughable, harmless television if that’s where this story ended. Yet this show and its veneered presentation of Palin is sadly emblematic of American politics today.

Sarah Palin’s Alaska is just back story rather than substance. But when our candidates can also produce poll-tested commercials, trot out ghost-written websites and deliver telepromptered speeches — all financed by unlimited special interest money — Americans are essentially casting votes for fictional characters. This is not an indictment of one Sarah Palin. It’s an indictment of the system.

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