Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The unreality of Sarah Palin's Alaska

As the series Sarah Palin's Alaska continues, with seven episodes aired and a bumper episode to go, many questions were raised, about the narrative and about what we see on the screen. Of course the whole series was planned beforehand and each episode focuses on members of Sarah's family, always showing her in the best possible light (according to Sarah and her fantasies about herself and her family).

We saw Sarah climbing Denali, fishing, kayaking, shooting anything that moves, hunting, riding ATVs, driving her own car... or have we?

Some of her driving raised questions, as Piper was sitting in the backseat without a seatbelt, piping in, criticizing Sarah's driving. Have a look at these screenshots and ask yourself: "Where's the camera?" (The first two shots are from the first leg of the day's travels and Piper was sitting in the front, wearing a seatbelt.)

The idea behind any film, fiction or reality, is to make the viewer forget that there are cameras and great number of people involved in each scene. Are we to believe that there are miniature cameramen especially recruited to film driving scenes? This is how it's usually done:

The car to be filmed is mounted on a low towing dolly and pulled by a camera truck. For safety reasons, there may be troopers' cars in front and behind the car with the "star."

Alternatively, these contraptions may be used, but the car is then towed by a truck and the cameras operated remotely:

Inside the camera truck there's a computarized monitor and the director has full control of each camera:

There we have it: a "natural" driving scene. Piper was told to look bored and say something about Sarah's "driving," so it would tie in with Sarah's little narrative about Piper having changed and no longer being enthusiastic about spending time with mom.

Bear in mind that there is a lot of waiting around for all the gear to be set up and any scene has a number of takes. By the time Piper managed to get her lines right she was probably very bored indeed...

Whether Sarah's car or the giant RV were towed or not, the fact remains that the whole contraption is still a collection of moving vehicles and seatbelts should have been worn. Can you imagine what could have happened if a moose had dashed in front of the whole convoy?

The point of this technical post about a trivial driving scene is to highlight the unreality of this series. There's nothing wrong with using all the techniques available to film makers in order to achieve a seamless result and grab the attention of the viewers without any distractions.

But the whole narrative is dishonest. This series was put together to show Sarah's version of reality. She wanted to show that there aren't any challenges she won't embrace. Any outdoor pursuit, any highly specialized trade (wow!), Sarah can do it. She assigned herself the task of protecting Kate Gosselin and her brood because she's a sharp shooter. Kate left the camping site because that was her script. Kate was the vulnerable city girl against Sarah's fearless frontier woman. She created a tale of hunting in a remote spot, where only one person could be transported on the plane at any one time. The crew with all their paraphernalia must have teleported to that spot, yes? Willow's boyfriend "sneaked" upstairs, past the whole crew, because he was told to do it. Willow smashed Piper face into the cake because... you guessed, she was told to do just that. Willow's car "crash" was all fiction, probably filmed with a double.

In the unscripted bits, Sarah Palin used her "travelogue" to issue a number of jabs aimed at her neighbour, Michelle Obama, bloggers... the list is long. These are some of the moments that can be taken at face value - Sarah unplugged. That's how she unwittingly confirmed the National Enquirer stories about her unruly children.

Another thing she tried to do was attempt to correct her "refudiate" gaffe. She claims that she intended to type "d" and hit "f" instead. What was Sarah trying to type? Redudiate? Repupiate? The fact is, she committed the "typo" on Hannity days before she tweeted it. His voice after she said it barely disguises his embarrassement:

I could go on, but I'm not going to analize each episode from a technical perspective or dissect the narrative of each week's episode. All I can say is that what Sarah Palin chose to show as a normal family, with their troubles and tribulations, was scripted and acted by her prop family and other unsuspecting incidental actors (cousin Matthew, for one) to make her appear normal and loving in her family life and a superwoman the rest of the time. The only real thing is Sarah Palin in full narcissistic glory and nobody seems to have attempted to stop her. Maybe they tried and failed.

All this idiotic make-believe with the beautiful state of Alaska in the background - just another useful prop.


Some readers pointed out that the driving scene could have been filmed using the same type of set-up as in the program Cash Cab, where tiny cameras are mounted where needed. It's very possible that TLC did the scene this way, in which case we have to assume that Sarah was really driving while being filmed, not concentrating a 100% and had her 9 year old daughter sitting in the back, unrestrained. It looks bad either way.

The post may not show exactly how it was filmed, but it's an illustration of how unreal the things we see on TV on a daily basis really are. It's an encouragement not to take the end product at face value, especially when the narrative is so dishonest.

Unfortunately, there's hardly anything left on TV that can be taken at face value. Even "live" news reports can be stage-managed these days, but perhaps that's a subject for another post.

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