Confession: I have been using several of my last 168 hours to watch multiple episodes of Sarah Palin’s Alaska on TLC. I have a business reason (I wrote a short post over at the website as part of the “Meta-conversation” the show is having). But let’s face it. That’s not the reason I’ve watched at least 6 hours worth of Palin-mania over the past week. I really like the show.
Part of the appeal is purely visual. Alaska is stunning. It would be awesome to watch anyone climb part of Mt. McKinley, fish by two brown bears fighting, trek over the tundra to hunt caribou, or mush up on a snowfield. Then you have to add in that Palin and her family are stunningly attractive too. She’s easy on the cameras even after three shower-less days on the tundra, sporting hunting fatigues, a red bandana and caribou blood.
Speaking of which, it is hard to believe that we were even having a conversation two years ago that she was a diva with her $150,000 borrowed wardrobe. Having watched Sarah Palin’s Alaska, I now suspect that the RNC forced her to wear the new clothes because she is willing to be photographed in a red bandana and fatigues after three days on the tundra. Brushing her teeth after camping on the beach in Nome? Bring it on! This is truly a woman at ease with herself. As she put it, “When critics say what they’re going to say, I can let it roll off my back like a duck lets water roll off its back because I have a great Alaskan family, and there’s a lot of strength in that.” Since Chuck Heath (Palin’s dad) plays a big role in the TV show, you see where she came from. Namely, a guy who has a pile of antlers in his front yard and badgered one of the Trig Truthers (per Going Rogue) that “I know Trig is hers, dumbass. I was there when he popped out!”
There is very little political in the show, which is probably good for her campaign to establish a broad appeal. The only reference to her (extremely ill-advised, in my opinion) campaign against the “Ground Zero mosque” is her mentioning that she Tweeted “refudiate” when she meant “repudiate.” The show hints that her positions are grounded in a pragmatic, business-owning conservatism (she and Todd Palin own a commercial fishing operation). As for her pro-life feelings, that is simply shown in her abundance of children, and then her reference at one point to the fact that 80-90% of babies with Down syndrome are aborted. But not Trig: “You can have your opinion,” she says. “We have ours.”
A few thoughts after mulling over the show. First, I fail to understand why so many women who speak of themselves as feminists are so anti-Palin. Perhaps it’s the abortion issue, or maybe a visceral urban disgust at seeing caribou butchered and trees sawed down (as she points out, where do you think your paper comes from?)
But even if you disagree with her politics, here’s what Palin represents to me: the idea that you can have it all — a big Career with a capital C and many, many children — and not be frazzled or guilt-ridden. Indeed, you can be pretty shockingly happy. Unlike many other feminist icons like Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama, Palin is a completely self-made woman. She took Todd’s name, but she is the reason you’ve heard of it. She also pushed herself onto a national stage while bearing five children. It’s hard to overstate how important this is, but she has been pregnant at least 7 times that she’s mentioned (in Going Rogue she talks of grieving over multiple miscarriages), many of these while in the public eye. With Trig, she bought a pregnancy test in New Orleans because “There was no way I could buy a home pregnancy test in Alaska. The cashiers would know, the people in line would know… The last time I’d tried, about seven years before, one of the [local residents] had caught me at the grocery store trying to hide one in my cart. That was when I was mayor. As governor, I knew that my life was even more of an open book…”
Watching Palin enjoy her children and enjoy her platform is a great antidote to the reality that, as she puts it, “Society has made women believe that they cannot do both — pursue career, or education, or anything else, and still carry a baby.”
Palin certainly is pursuing a career, though which career is unclear. That brings me to my second thought. If she wanted to be president, resigning the Alaska governorship would not have seemed to be wise. Though given our celebrity culture, maybe she is calculating that she can build a better platform through television, books, and so forth. Ronald Reagan gave speeches and radio addresses during his 1970s years in the wilderness, and that ultimately helped him refine his message and build a base of support. As a sitting governor, Palin probably couldn’t have been a regular on Fox News, for instance. But watching Sarah Palin’s Alaska, it’s not clear to me that Palin wants to be president. Hunting on the tundra now, she has a small entourage. As president, she’d have a much bigger one, and shooting a caribou or cutting down a tree would be analyzed as a political act. And she’d be away from Alaska, which, as she puts it, she loves “like I love my family.”
Anyway, it looks like there won’t be more episodes, so we’ll see what Palin’s next act will be. But watching the show reminded me how much people can enjoy their 168 hours — how much you can pack into a full life.