Was a vote for Bristol a vote for Sarah?

Bristol Palin’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars, one of America’s most popular TV shows, sparked a lot of outrage. Whether it was by die-hard fans of the show, political commentators, or average Joe’s in the blogosphere, her appearance and eventual third place finish in the finale were deemed news-worthy stories. At the same time the finalists were being determined, Sarah Palin’s Alaska also premiered on TLC, which features the entire Palin family, including Bristol.

The highest premiere ever for TLC (5 million viewers), Sarah Palin’s Alaska, as noted by many, is part tourism ad for Alaska, and part campaign documentary. In the vein of TLC’s other popular shows, Alaska follows the Palin family as they embark on “typical” Alaskan adventures – their everyday “reality.” Yet the commentary provided by Sarah, in the personal interview format, proves that this show is not merely about Alaska and her family. There are political references peppered throughout the show, from protecting our border with a fence just like the one Todd built, to a mama grizzly bear protecting her cubs, to Palin popping over to her brand new studio next to her house where she can have a quick TV interview with Glenn Beck.

While I am not studying politics at CCT, these two shows have fascinated me this semester. After watching a few of Bristol’s dances (with Sarah in the crowd and at the studio) and both episodes of Alaska, I tried to sort out my thoughts and confusion.

Sarah Palin is a politician. Throughout my life, politicians have shunned celebrity, protected their children, and viewed their celebrity as a consequence of being a politician. The Clinton’s, Bush’s, and Obama’s have all pled with the media to not photograph their children and have given TV interviews sparingly. A quick search of People.com shows that Chelsea Clinton was only featured on their cover twice, once when President Clinton was running for the democratic nomination and once for her wedding (and she did not grant any interviews). Members of the Palin family have been cover stories multiple times. Is Sarah Palin using her politician status to become a celebrity– and is that the ultimate goal?

This argument has Lose Weight Exercise, since Sarah Palin quit being the Governor of Alaska (her only claim to “political fame”) in order to focus on making money from speeches, appearances, interviews, and TV shows.

But what if she is really on the cutting edge of political campaigns? Is she showing the public how politics is going to be done in the 21st century?

Obama may share similar sentiments with Palin in the respect of using celebrity for political benefit- he appeared on The View to make sure he was reaching as many constituencies as possible. Political beliefs aside, is this a scary change?

Politics has become entertainment. We laugh at various scandals (restroom sexual propositions, affairs with flighty video producers, people misspeaking). We turn on the TV or radio to not be informed, but to be entertained. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have amassed a following (215,000 people appearing in Washington, DC for a Rally to Restore Sanity/Keep Fear alive) by merging entertainment and politics.

What will happen in the next few elections? Will reality TV shows become the new campaign video? Can you imagine choosing a President, not an American Idol, Next Top Model, or Dancing with the Stars champion, via a reality TV competition?


 

Colleen Valentine

Colleen is a former CCT Graduate Student.