Alaska: Palin’s Great Ad Gimmick?

They call Alaska “The Great Land.” And it is! I should know, I’m from Wasilla, Alaska… or as TLC branded it Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

Okay, I know I said I didn’t want to write about Palin ever again, but the Giffords’ shooting in Arizona (and all the chatter about Palin’s crosshairs map – see previous post) sort of burst that bubble. Sigh.

So, here we go… I didn’t hate the show. Cue: hate mail/angry comments.

Granted, I’ve only seen 3 of the 8 episodes (of what looks to be a one-season show). But I think I got the gist: fishing, bears, guns, hunting, bears, hunting, caribou, Kate Goselin, camping, bears, planes, a smattering of scenic Alaska vistas, gun shop, bears, you-betchas, Fox News, bears. And scene.

I actually kept away from the show fearing my head might explode in liberal outrage if I watched it. But when I finally did sit down and watch an episode (the one where Bristol doesn’t want to club the halibut on the fishing boat), I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Oh, I can feel you turning on me, but stay with me. All the blogs and tweets I’d seen beforehand had prepped me for the TLC show to be an unpaid campaign ad for Palin. So I watched. I waited to hear thinly veiled campaign rhetoric. What I heard was Palin explaining how commercial fishing works; how they have to club the halibut so it doesn’t “hurt it’s own meat” with it’s thrashing; how the fish are the livelihood of the fishermen; and so on. I kept waiting for some analogy about “Obamacare” or taking America back or…anything political to creep in. But it didn’t come.

Then I watched the Kate Goselin episode, which I admit was hilarious. It brought back so many memories of camping in Alaska and also of family coming to visit in the summer and bitching the entire time about how it was cold and rainy. Just because it’s the Land of the Midnight Sun doesn’t mean it’s sunny all the time! Look, was Palin’s dad’s house a bit nutty with it’s antler sculpture in the yard and garage of dead animal skins and bones? To use a Palinism: You betcha! Was it totally the kind of thing you find in Alaska? Absolutely! But was it also totally over-the-top that Palin took them to “bear training” (which I’ve never heard of) before they went camping? Yes!

And that’s the thing about the show as a whole for me. It was over-the-top in certain things– I never once saw a bear in the wild in Alaska, except when I went to the bear observation look-out outside Anchorage. But it also did a really great job of showing the beauty and danger in Alaska. You can hike on a glacier. You can climb mountains. It’s truly a wonderous place!

Now don’t get me wrong, I am no Palin convert. I still totally disagree with her politics. I find her persona to be an insincere act. And I find it deeply troubling that certain segments of America have such a blind crush on her. In these things I am unwavering.

But I did not see a campaign commercial. What I saw was an Alaska commercial.

I know. I know. I can hear you already. What about all the hunting and glorification of trophy kills? What about the environmental impact of the trolling-style fishing she and Todd did? What about all the guns, “reloading” comments and gun shop visits? What about when they showed Palin being filmed for Fox from her in-home studio?

I know. I saw those things, too. But let me tell you something: A rather big majority of “typical” Alaskans are like that and do those things (Fox broadcasts aside). I’m sorry to break this to you, but Alaska is THE gun-toting, happy-hunting, fisher paradise. The South? Texas? They ain’t got nothing on Alaska when it comes to these things.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I do not hunt. I do not own a gun. I do not particularly care for hunting trophies (mounted heads, bear rugs). In fact, I was a vegetarian for 8 years and only stopped for health reasons. So, I totally get that the hunting and fishing aspects of the show would be difficult, if not unbearable, to watch for some. I do not enjoy those things, either. But, if you are going to do a show about reality in Alaska, I’m afraid that is a mainstream, typical and somewhat celebrated part of living in Alaska.

And, unfortunately, so is being uber-conservative. Alaska is such a conservative place I’m surprised The Tea Party didn’t start there! While I was pleasantly surprised that Palin did not mention politics that much (even her Fox appearance was filmed in a way that you could not see the whole conversation and you could not tell what they were talking about), when her personal philosophies crept in they seemed so Alaskan to me that I barely noticed. Let me put it this way, during the 2008 election when an Obama rally in Anchorage attracted approximately 100 people that was considered
a HUGE success! And that’s not just because Palin was on the ballot.

I am not saying that TLC’s show was 100% unbiased. Palin is Palin and her views on the world were in there. But I was surprised to see how much she held back and merely represented different
aspects of real Alaska living. (I was particularly moved by the
woman who lives alone in Kavic who was attacked by a bear and had to survive on her own for several days. That is a straight-up true Alaskan kind of story.) What so many probably saw as Palin’s politics — the hunting and guns in particular — is so much a part of Alaskan life. Really and truly. And that aspect of Alaskan life is not about to change even if many find it offensive. I am not defending it as much as I accept it as the reality there. And the truth is, anyone who agrees with Palin’s politics already likes her, show or no show.

If anything, maybe this can give all of you a greater appreciation for how hard it was for me to be a young, feminist liberal growing up in Wasilla! It ain’t easy being so fiercely blue in such a deeply red (and remote) state!

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