Thursday, 25 February 2010

Sarah Palin, "master practitioner of identity politics, was outranked by Andrea Friedman" - TIME

sp punch
Picture by Francisco Caceres

Time has an excellent article by James Poniewozik looking into Sarah Palin's cartoon war. The article makes an opening reference to the film Annie Hall and Marshall McLuhan, which I'll quote for context:

In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen's character, Alvy Singer, is standing in a movie line, listening to some blowhard intellectual hold forth about media scholar Marshall McLuhan. When the loudmouth cites his own academic credentials, Singer produces the actual McLuhan to refute him: "You know nothing of my work!" Alvy 1, Egghead 0.

Palin posted on Facebook that the scene was "another punch in the gut." This time, however, Palin's outrage prompted not an apology but a smackdown, from Andrea Fay Friedman, a Family Guy voice actress — who actually has Down. "My parents raised me to have a sense of humor," she said. "My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes." Ouch. Cartoon 1, Politician 0.

The Family Guy scene was a personal shot — but at Palin, not Trig. Friedman's character was assertive, intelligent and confident (and a young woman, not an infant boy). Palin seemed to be defending neither her son nor the disabled generally but herself, a public figure whom a cartoon had the temerity to poke fun at.

But what's more important is the way Friedman bested her supposed defender: by beating her at her own game. As a public figure, Palin is the embodiment of the "I have Mr. McLuhan right here" argument, taking her authority not from policy papers or résumé credentials but from her biography.

Palin is a master practitioner of identity politics, with an ironic twist. When it comes to social issues or the academic canon or civil-rights legislation, it used to be conservatives who would chafe at liberals playing race, gender or other such oppressed-group cards. With Palin, though, conservatives have a champion who uses group identity — rural, female, military mom, special-needs mom, etc. — as her seal of authenticity. But against Family Guy and Friedman, Palin, for once, was outranked by someone enlisting her own biography and personal experience. This time, Palin was not the McLuhaner but the McLuhanee.

Now, Palin and her defenders could argue that Friedman is simply one woman with Down and cannot decide for everyone — disabled or not — what is and is not offensive. That response, by the way, would have the advantage of being correct. But it would also implicitly undermine Palin's claim to authority. She would then be just one more military mom, one more teen mom's mother — one more hopeful pol looking for attention.

I find it really wonderful that Poniewozik went further into his analysis of Sarah Palin's identity politics, extending it to the other weapons in Sarah's arsenal, in addition to her special needs credentials. He clearly debunks her claims of "talking the talk and walking the walk" as if her personal circumstances gave her ultimate authority to pontificate on just about any subject.

Andrea Friedman called Sarah Palin's bluff on special needs. Let's hope more people will do the same about the rest of her personal experiences so she can finally sit down and shut up.

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