Friday, 7 January 2011

Sarah Palin's political mashings: The "twenty second soundbite rule" employed in a reality TV show

By Kathleen

Nick Jans is a highly respected Alaskan writer who through his descriptive accounts in numerous books and articles has tempted many people into experiencing the vast wilderness that is Alaska. He also angered more than a few over the years when he tackled various issues which included criticism of the plan to build new roads in remote areas of Alaska at the expense of those living in the lower 48 states. .

In October 2008 Jans was more than critical of Sarah Palin’s small world view when he criticised her as someone “who believes that climate change isn't our fault; is dead set against a woman's right to choose; has supported creationism in the schools; and was prayed over by a visiting minister at her church to shield her against witchcraft.” In the Salon article he describes Palin as a...
“...poseur, a genuine Alaskan -- of a kind. The kind that flowed north in the wake of the '70s oil boom, Bible Belt politics and attitudes under arm, and transformed this state from a free-thinking, independent bastion of genuine libertarianism and individuality into a reactionary fundamentalist enclave with dollar signs in its eyes and an all-for-me mentality.”

Above all, Jans believes that Palin does not represent all Alaskans – characterising the typical people who voted for her as the people who...

“...forage at McDonald's and Safeway in their hunter camouflage, and make regular wilderness forays up and down the state's limited highway grid with ATVs, snowmobiles and airboats in tow behind their oversize trucks. Sometimes I imagine I can hear the roar echoing across the state, all the way to the upper Kobuk, where easements for the highways of tomorrow are already staked out across the tundra.”

In the 2008 article Jans exposes Palin for what she is, an opportunist who adapts and changes herself according to the winds of change. He pokes at her affected change of accent during the election campaign and ponders that the McCain campaign “has hijacked our state for political purposes, much to the chagrin of the tens of thousands of Alaskans who loathe what she stands for.” I would say that he has her pegged and clearly knows her well. Be sure to read the entire article.

Yesterday Nick Jans wrote an article for USA Today titled “What Palin’s show says about us” in which he claims that “the Palin that emerges just doesn’t live up to her backdrop. You don’t have to be a mountain man to see past the thin veil of smoke and mirrors.” He confirms that the series presents Palin as something that she is not and that as far as many Alaskans are concerned Sarah Palin’s Alaska is not the success that it has been touted to be. It is true that Palin, as many have noted, is all rhetoric and no substance, but mainly Jans astutely observes:

“To be sure, packaging and style have often trumped substance in American democracy. From the days of literal stump speeches and catchy but empty political slogans such as "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!" politicians have vaulted into power on the shoulders of charisma and sound bite, projected to the widest possible audience by the best available media. Indeed,Barack Obama’s's own ascendance had less to do with his scant political résumé than his ability to light up a teleprompter. You could argue that Palin's mercurial, tweet-propelled rise is just the latest manifestation of a time-honored tradition. However, Sarah Palin's Alaska seems to have ushered in a new and troubling era in our democracy: the point where a burgeoning cultural fascination with reality TV and celebrity worship intersected mainstream politics, and the three merged into one. Since orchestrated reality is about all anyone can expect from Palin — who is uniquely unavailable in unfiltered form to the "lamestream media" — we have no choice but to glean what we can from the offered narrative.”

His point is that Palin, despite the “comedy or errors”...

...displayed by her in the show, is being offered up as an “Alaskan frontierswoman” in much the same way as she was presented as a “hockeymom” during the election and that this factor is a charge against American politics today. He closes with the thought:

“This would all be laughable, harmless television if that's where this story ended. Yet this show and its veneered presentation of Palin is sadly emblematic of American politics today.
Sarah Palin's Alaska is just back story rather than substance. But when our candidates can also produce poll-tested commercials, trot out ghost-written websites and deliver telepromptered speeches — all financed by unlimited special interest money — Americans are essentially casting votes for fictional characters. This is not an indictment of one Sarah Palin. It's an indictment of the system.”

We live in an era of mass communications; information can be found easily and readily. It’s almost too simple and as a result we can become bogged down in images and sounds which ultimately may lead to confusion as we struggle to make sense of “what it all means” and essentially what impact the information we have available to us has on our own well being. Politicians understand and frequently manipulate this confusion. Some, like Sarah Palin, (or more likely the people pulling her strings) are more shrewd and adept at using media to even further conflate this confusion and as a result they are free to construct their own narratives, regardless of whether they are true portrayals or not.

Palin hates media

As a former Governor, who may or may not have Presidential ambitions, Palin’s entry into the reality TV field has further muddied the waters between what is real and what is fabrication or mere embroidery. The message seems to be that it doesn’t matter that she is not a policy wonk because coming from Alaska she is not a part of the Washington elite and so substance of that kind does not matter.

Television and the internet have largely replaced newspapers as the go to sources for information and entertainment. Politicians know that their designed and tested commercials which influence public opinion play a significant role in the outcome of elections.

Americans during an election cycle are bombarded by political soundbites on a constant, seemingly endless basis, paid for by special interest groups who have the most money and can vie for the most coveted spots during the most watched programmes. Sarah Palin’s Alaska recorded against the sublime and magnificent backdrop that is Alaska is littered with her political mashings which are discharged at regular intervals and seem to last for approximately twenty seconds – just like a commercial for her political view. Those twenty second fragments are important as Palin understands that she has just that amount of time in which to get her point across without losing her viewers attention.

That she is as subtle as a proverbial sledgehammer does not matter because her aim is to be controversial. To guarantee her views are discussed. In part, Palin employed her reality TV series as a free political commercial. The series may have won just as many floating people to her cause as it has isolated others but in the end I doubt whether such new support can be translated into effective votes as such people are fickle and not likely to expand Palin’s support base.

Sarah Palin's "twenty second soundbites" are missing the mark as the public becomes more tired of her "proverbial sledgehammer" and her frequent gaffes. The concept employing a "fictional" reality show for political gain may be an "innovation", but it's a failure for Sarah Palin.

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