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Sarah Palin: Reality Queen

April 5, 2010

After my last post, here you all were thinking that reality television was just for the undeserving, non-working, fame-grubbing members of society. Depending on your politics, this post won’t necessarily be the one to change your mind. But the fact still remains that Sarah Palin, vice-presidential candidate and former governor traded in a political career for that of a high-flying reality tv star. Of course it is reality Sarah Palin style. We sadly don’t get to see a home-life expose– although who wouldn’t have tuned it to see Levi Johnson drop by for Thanksgiving dinner– but her two (that’s right, two, count em) reality shows help to carefully cultivate the Sarah Palin brand. 

First is the show that screened last week, Real American Stories. A place where Americans from all walks of life share their stories. Because Americans dream big, live big, and help each other up when they fall. This is a story of one nation united. Or so we’re led to believe. The show has Sarah Palin in the starring role as narrator. The show is a collection of interviews that were carried out by other people for other purposes (hence the LL Cool J scandal before the show aired) that are linked together with Palin’s voice over. She also contributes by chatting with some of the interviewees in front of the studio audience. The stories shared are inspirational. As the New York Daily News says, a viewer can’t help but connect with a mother who worries about what will happen to her son who has cerebral palsy after she’s gone. Other stories include a man who threw his helmet on a grenade in Iraq and died several days later, and a woman who saved a stranger from a burning wreck. As a production, the show is disconnected collection. That’s to be expected considering how it was put together. But the political savvy behind it is pretty clear. These values are American values, and American values are Sarah Palin’s values. Why bother trying to win over the media as a political candidate when you can just become the media?

The second show that will soon be gracing our screens is Sarah Palin’s Alaska, where she shows us Alaska’s “powerful beauty” as one of its “proudest daughter”. This is being brought to us courtesy of well-known documentary maker Mark Burnett, according to the Chief Operating Officer of TLC who is producing the show. That is Mark Burnett, creator of that well-known documentary Survivor. There has been much talk about what exactly this show will be showing, but it sounds as though it’s going to be Real American Stories presented with a wintery backdrop. With any luck, this one will also have Sarah Palin conducting the interviews herself. According to Burnett, this combines one of the most fascinating figures of our time with one of the most wonderous places on earth. When the show comes out, I will probably watch it. And I won’t be alone.

Palin already had a following, but is using these shows to increase her appeal and popularity. It will most likely work. The reality show has moved far beyond game playing, fame seeking and glimpses of life. This is the full-fledged emergence of a political tool. With Palin as a conservative Oprah, it only increases her cache if she decides to run for office again. Nobody will remember that she can see Russia from her backyard; just how amazing her Alaskan backyard is, and the inspirational people who fill it. This is not an evolution of the reality (I’m sorry, documentary) genre, but it’s certainly an evolution of how it’s utilized.

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