Palin TV show blurs line between politics, showbiz

Thursday, November 11, 2010

LOS ANGELES - It’s unclear exactly who coined that famous phrase “politics is show business for ugly people”, but Sarah Palin sometimes seems to be on a one-woman mission to prove them wrong.

It’s not just that this former beauty queen is a lot better looking than your average political hack. It’s more to do with the fact that the Alaskan’s entire two years in national politics has often seemed to be a cross between soap opera and reality TV.

So it’s no surprise that the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee has now further blurred the lines by starring in her own reality show called “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”, produced by none other than the king of the reality genre himself, Mark Burnett, creator of “Survivor”.

The series, which opens Sunday on the US cable channel The Learning Channel (TLC), shows the politician, who likes to call herself a “mama grizzly”, undertaking some rugged adventures in the state, where she catapulted to fame as the little-known governor who became John McCain’s running mate.

She has since quit as governor and has been working as a right-wing pundit and speaker, drawing attention as the leading proponent of the conservative Tea Party movement in this year’s congressional elections. Her endorsement of candidates and outspoken views have fed speculation that she may run for president in 2012, even as many within her own party see her as a polarizing figure.

Palin isn’t even the first in her family to plunge into the reality genre.

Her daughter Bristol, whose out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy during that campaign gave a first taste of scandal to the family, has in recent weeks been making a name for herself on “Dancing with the Stars”. There’s even talk that the mama grizzly herself may unleash her inner dancer on next year’s show.

For the moment, however, the potential presidential candidate is concentrating on showing viewers actual mama grizzlies in the wild, and the other natural beauties of the remote northern state that she calls home.

But things are never that simple with the pol known as much for her verbal blunders and embrace of new media as her views. She has repeatedly chided the media for reporting about her family, yet clearly feels that there’s nothing wrong with parading the clan in front of the cameras on her own show.

The programme never pretends to ignore the political status of its star. She even engages in political discourse with a FOX News anchor from the private TV studio that the station built for her in the Palin backyard.

But mostly we see her schlepping around the state in a fleet of loud gas-guzzlers, from huge RV’s to all-terrain vehicles and private planes, disrupting the tranquility of the natural vista with her exclamations of wonder.

These facets, too, are unabashedly political.

“Subtextually, Sarah Palin’s Alaska underscores her most essential persona: brave frontier woman,” Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever wrote. “If Palin is going to attempt a 2012 presidential campaign, a warm and fuzzy show about life in Alaska is just another step in brand advancement.”

Karl Rove, George W Bush’s political guru who has traded barbs with Palin in the past, thinks such a strategy will backfire, however.

“I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of ‘that helps me see you in the Oval Office,’” Rove opined recently.

Then again, maybe he’s forgetting all the photo-ops he arranged for Bush so that Americans could see him in the manly avocation of clearing brush on his Texas ranch.

Whatever the political fallout, the show will have to stand on its merits as entertainment, and that may be Palin’s toughest sell.

“Sarah Palin’s Alaska tries to be a lot of things. A travelogue. A wildlife adventure. A family reality show. A political statement. And it doesn’t do any of them well,” blasted Scott D. Pierce in the Salt Lake Tribune.

“More than anything else, Palin’s new show is dull. If you haven’t already fallen asleep by the time they go rock climbing at the end of the hour-long episode, that scene itself is a sure cure for insomnia.”

Filed under: Movies, World

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