Friday, October 24, 2008
The Meta-Metamorphosis of Sarah Palin
Remember Sarah Palin's hilarious appearance on Saturday Night Live last weekend?
Yeah, I didn't think so.
The truth is that Palin's SNL cameo was, by almost any reasonable standard, entirely uneventful -- shocking only for its complete lack of shock. I'm not sure what most people were expecting, but given her reputation for self-satisfied feistiness I think it's safe to say that Sarah Palin-as-barely-there-window-dressing probably wasn't it. Think about it: the woman who's been a weekly punching bag for a bunch of New York City wise-asses who can barely hide their disdain for her finally gets a chance to turn the tables and take a few shots of her own on national television and what does she do? Nothing. She talks to Lorne Michaels, shakes hands with Alec Baldwin, doesn't even speak to Tina Fey -- who's been personally responsible for the merciless mocking which many believe has helped to cement her image as a worldwide laughing stock -- but instead allows Fey to shoot her a look of absolute contempt, and throws her hands in the air for an "Alaska Rap" that makes MC Rove's little dance a couple of years back look like Chris Brown.
Sure, the writers likely had plenty of say in just how Palin would be used on the show -- but she's a candidate for the second highest office in the free world. Don't think for a second that she couldn't have flexed some muscle to ensure that she'd come off less like a wallflower and more like the kick-ass Vice Presidentrix holding her own in the lion's den against the snooty liberal onslaught she regularly rails against in small towns across America.
She could've done that. She had the chance -- not to be rude or vicious, but to be sharp and assertive -- and yet she didn't take it.
Because no matter what she says to the robotic throngs of Joe Six-Packs who show up at her rallies -- no matter how strenuously she demonizes the so-called elitism of those Times-reading pseudo-intellectuals on the coasts -- make no mistake: She loved every second of being on Saturday Night Live.
She couldn't get enough of hearing the audience laugh.
It thrilled her to no end to shout, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"
She got wet when Alec Baldwin stroked her hand and spoke to her in that soothing tone.
Sarah Palin was, in a word, starstruck -- both by those around her and, yes, by herself and how far she'd come. There she was, living out her Small Town TV Reporter/Miss Alaska Pageant fantasy of being on one of the biggest entertainment stages in the country, surrounded by celebrities. And she was the hottest thing there -- the belle of the ball.
We know this because according to SNL costume designer Tim Broecker, Palin was somewhat of a prima donna, upset that producers wanted her to wear the same kind of red skirt suit that Tina Fey's dead-on impression of Palin wears each week -- the kind Palin herself wore when she first hit the campaign trail. As it turns out, however, Fey's parody may not be so dead-on anymore, at least not when it comes to the way she dresses. Put simply, Tina Fey's version of Sarah Palin's fashion is so September, and Palin saw no reason to go back to that frumpy look, even for a comedy bit -- not when she'd worked so hard and spent so much of the Republican National Committee's money over the past few weeks to carefully cultivate a new image as America's Next Next-to-Top Executive.
By the way, now might be a good time to remind yourself of that whole Obama-Paris Hilton comparison that John McCain shamelessly pushed earlier this year and marvel at how the entire McCain campaign has become one constantly constricting Ouroboros of bald-faced hypocrisy.
Sarah Palin honestly thinks she's a star -- a pop culture icon. She now believes her own hype.
That pandering and sloganeering and droppin'-her-g's garbage? That's all a means to an end. I have no doubt that Palin actually buys into the crap she's shoveling -- that she's a True Believer in the power of Joe Six-Pack and a lockstep warrior for nonsensical neo-con values. It's just that over the past several weeks, it's become glaringly obvious that Sarah Palin's primary concern throughout this campaign has always been Sarah Palin. Like the proverbial ingenue, she was plucked from relative obscurity by a sad, aging once-great looking for that last shot at glory -- a guy convinced that her youth and vitality would be just what he needed to finally thrust him into the big time. And like the Hollywood ending that you could've seen coming a mile away, the ingenue quickly outgrew the one-time father figure and realized that he was actually nothing more than an obstacle on her own road to fame and fortune. Just like John McCain now at least partially blames Sarah Palin's shallow ignorance for his spiraling political fortunes, make no mistake that Sarah Palin -- in a breathtaking lack of gratitude -- likewise blames McCain's doddering buffoonery for hers, which is why, if you pay close attention, you can see that she's already subtly distancing herself from her running mate in what some are saying is an effort to sow the seeds of a personal run for the presidency in 2012.
As he often does, Bob Cesca cranked out a pretty entertaining piece for the Huffington Post recently in which he heralded the death of what he calls "Larry the Cable Guy Politics"; the idea being that for years Republican mainstays like George W. Bush have been playing dress-up, pretending to be just your average uneducated dumb-asses in an effort to ingratiate themselves to the real uneducated dumb-asses they rely on to keep them in power -- the same way comedian Dan Whitney has assumed the entirely fraudulent persona of "Larry the Cable Guy" because it's made him really, really rich. Cesca likens it to the meta-performance of Mark Wahlberg playing Eddie Adams playing Dirk Diggler playing Brock Landers in Boogie Nights. But now comes this little twist: that Sarah Palin, despite actually being a hockey mom and working off the premise that she's just Jane Six-Pack when trying to sell herself and her "vision" to NASCAR America, in reality doesn't think of herself as average at all. She in fact sees herself as a fashion plate, some hyper-hottie in a tight leather blazer and knee-high black boots, someone worthy of a $75,000 shopping spree at Neiman Marcus. Sarah Palin is now everything she ever dreamed of being: Sex and the City, right down to the "city" part. Sure, publicly she rebukes and ridicules those cosmopolitan urbanites in their bustling elitist hubs, but she knows damn well that she can't buy Valentino and Louis Vuitton at the Wal-Mart in Wasilla -- and if you don't think that Sarah Heath Palin has always fantasized about wearing Valentino and carrying Louis Vuitton, I've got a bridge to nowhere I want to sell you. She may still be a backwater dingbat, but she's now a very well put together backwater dingbat -- which I'm willing to bet has convinced her that she's no longer a backwater dingbat. If this is true, then it would mean that Palin has essentially ascended to the same position as George W. Bush and her GOP benefactors: she's only playing the part of the rube and is, in fact, secretly talking down to every one of those pick-up-driving Toby Keith fans who show up to her rallies -- the Dickies-clad folk not lucky enough to have won the Miss Vice Presidential pageant and been scooped up to a life of charter jets and appearances on Saturday Night Live.
But the new and improved Sarah Palin is more than just a simple case of someone taking on a part or putting on airs -- "lipstick on a pig," as it were.
I don't think Charlie Kaufman himself could've dreamed up a more Victor/Victorian mobius strip of meta-fiction than Saturday Night Live sticking the real Sarah Palin into her old red skirt suit to play Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin.
It would be enough to make your head spin were we not already talking about a woman whose willful Extreme Makeover had transformed her, ironically, into the very thing she purports to despise.
Of course, I'm not sure that -- as with everything Sarah Palin has shown us to date -- all the folksy indignation wasn't just bullshit anyway.