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Decoding 'Sarah Palin's Alaska': Top 3 lessons from the debut episode

21239_0257 The claim that "Sarah Palin's Alaska" is a wholly apolitical travelogue-cum-family tableau, meant only to showcase the rugged beauty of our largest state and the just-folksiness of its former governor, lasts about five minutes into the first episode.

That's the point at which we learn that Sarah's enjoyment of working on the "cement slab" outside (naturally the Palins would have nothing so fancy-pants as a "patio") is hampered by the presence of a new neighbor, the writer Joe McGinniss, who's rented the house next door while researching what Todd Palin describes as a "hit piece" on his wife. Sarah explains that Todd's reaction to McGinniss' arrival was to get out there with his buddies and erect a 14-foot-high fence between the properties (as you do), and before I can finish writing "immigration analogy?" in my notes, she clarifies: "By the way, I thought that was a good example, what we just did, others could look at and say, 'Oh, this is what we need to do to secure our nation's border.'"

To be fair, that is the only overtly political remark Sarah makes in the first episode. There's still plenty of campaigning going on, most of it coming via metaphor, innuendo and sled-dog whistles. Sport fishing, for instance, provides an opportunity to empathize with recession victims: "The only thing more frustrating than not catching a fish," says Sarah, "is sitting there watching everyone else not catching a fish."

Negotiating a crevasse-pocked glacier offers an important lesson in unity: "If you're not roped together, you're gonna fall, and you may not stop." And even if she might run for president someday, Sarah Palin would like us to know she's not one of those off-putting, overly ambitious career gals or anything; she still believes in the old adage, "a poor day of fishin' beats even a great day of work."

There's plenty more to decode among the messages "Sarah Palin's Alaska" is sending to everyone else's America, and I'll be doing that each week after the show airs. Here are the top three lessons I learned from this episode:

1. If you don’t belong somewhere, it’s your own fault if you get your throat ripped out.

"You're in their territory," Sarah and Todd remind us more than once, referring to the brown bears that live along the shores of remote Big River Lake. Keeping your distance is not simply a matter of common sense or respect for wildlife, see -- it's a matter of respect for borders and ownership. You wander too far onto someone else's turf, you certainly can't expect a warm welcome, silly! You should be happy to get out alive. (Just in case you missed the fence line.)

2. As long as you exhibit a sense of wonder about it, there is no privilege great enough to automatically make you an elitist.

Some things that render Sarah Palin awestruck in this episode: Pristine lakes; impossibly vast, frozen landscapes; brown bears wrestling; Denali National Park; and the technology that allows her to be a regular Fox News commentator from a television studio in her backyard. As the song goes, one of these things is not like the others.

See also: her folksy amazement at getting door-to-door float plane service, which she claims is just like a taxi for places where roads are scarce: "It is pretty cool that I can just step out in my frontyard and there, on the dock, is an airplane that we get to hop into!" Yes, I imagine that is pretty cool! I wouldn't know, on account of how I'm an elitist who lives in a walk-up apartment in a sketchy neighborhood! But now that I've seen how the other half lives, I think I finally understand Sarah Palin and her down-home fans a bit better: Why would anyone want to pay more taxes to build and maintain roads when you can fly instead?

3. Scaling the face of Mt. McKinley is exactly like politics.

That is, if you're Sarah Palin; you go into it with very little knowledge, only recognize how woefully unprepared you are once you've gone too far to stop, and eventually get as far as you do thanks largely to a far more experienced man coaching you and pulling on your ropes. No wait, I mean you confront your greatest fears, persevere in the face of difficulty, stubbornly refuse to quit, and then rightfully enjoy it when your hard work and determination land you on top of the world! One of those, anyway. The great thing about this show is how it works on multiple levels.

-- Kate Harding

Photo: Sarah Palin checks fishing nets for holes. Credit: Gilles Mingasson / TLC


'Sarah Palin's Alaska': Reality show or campaign ad?

Review: 'Sarah Palin's Alaska'

Comments () | Archives (39)

Know why women (Ms.Palin apart for obvious reasons) don't usually make a successful career in politics ?
Allow me to help.


Is there JUST one female commentator who can speak without sounding like someone from 'Boys In The Band' on a very bad day ? Evidently not.

Don't like Palin, no problem. She probably despises you as well. Everybody has an opinion. But just a note of advice for the future. Whenever you write something that you consider to be 'oh-so-clever', ----Stop - Count to about 50 - Go back and re-read what you have written - Revise it - Never write it again.

This type of juvenile high-school snark is not sophistication. It's merely bad manners. Only that and nothing more.

Great article--just a thought--it's interesting that Palin thrills at brown bears wrestling--however has no problem blowing them away if she had a chance. Also complains about 'no privacy' yet goes to great trouble to develop a 'reality' show. Her mental contradictions exhibit the biggest reasons why she was unfit for Alaska's governor and definitely for VP.

Anyone who thinks Palin was not going to use this show as a political tool has got to be dumber than Palin herself, no mean feat.

Kate, I sense some passive aggressive tone in your article here. Whether you love or hate Sarah Palin, this show will encourage more tourism to Alaska where others can see first hand the beauty of the Great Land. You have not been to Alaska and your cheap shots at this show only prove how frustrating it must be to live in that apartment wishing you could walk outside to a float plane by your house. It is very common up here and you do not know that. I kayak on lakes near my home and have to dodge float planes all the time with residents who live along a lake. Although Sarah lives in a large home, there are plenty of modest homes with float planes in the waterway by the house. The lessons I learned from your article is you are jealous, petty, and more interested at being mean spirited rather than just watch the show for entertainment. You take it too seriously. But, she is laughing all the way to the bank. So no matter what you think of Sarah Palin, she is living the American dream. And, she is here to stay for a long time. I am just happy to see more exposure for Alaska to encourage others to visit this beautiful state. Before you go taking anymore cheap shots, visit my state at least one time and spend some of your money here rather than at the local deli by your apartment. Time for me to go for a snow shoe hike and watch the sunrise this morning. Oh, we do have sunrises in the Anchorage area and I do not have an igloo so you can take that stereotype and put in in your deli sandwich. Ciao!

It does not matter if you do not post my previous comment. My message to you was delivered and you have the facts.

Palin is a 100% RACIST Domestic terrorist!Everything is about money. This 1/2 gov. nit-wit should move to Iran, although you can't see it from Alaska!

You forgot #4 - TOD IS HOT!

ms harding is even better at condescending to her apparent inferiors than she is at tracking shows....this flair for condescension is clearly the key to her brilliant journalistic career and explains why sarah palin is such a loser....


First Facebook now this!!! Loved It!!! Simply Brilliant!!! What a unique and marvelous way to undermine her detractors and go directly to the people!!! This woman is amazing!!! Keep on under-estimating her. RUN SARAH RUN!!!

What I have learned from two years of being tortured by Sarah Palin:

1. No amount of money makes up for a lack of class, but 20 million does eventually land one in the dreaded "elite" class, with or without that college degree.

2. Family values is a loose term that means having a lot of children and raising them in a hit or miss manner, then forgiving their indiscretions (sins if done by anyone on the left) because 'that's what families do.'

3. Having a PAC in your name means you don't have to give more than 10% of the funds raised to actually support candidates. Who knew that you could use it to pay for jets, nannies, and speechwriters? When a charity calls me, I do not donate unless 80% of the funds actually support the charity. But, then, for Sarah, charity begins, and ends, at home.

4. Being Sarah Palin means never having to say you're sorry, let alone defend your comments about the President or anything else.

5. Being Sarah Palin means that you are a legend in your own mind, and that your marching orders to the new Congress will be heeded, or else!

I am a liberal democrat who watched Sarah Palin's Alaska on Sunday night. I didn't look for innuendo in the things that Palin said or in the show itself. I find it ridiculous anyone could think there were hidden, political messages in everything Palin said. I enjoyed the show for what it was. Eighty percent of the hour, showcased Alaska and its beautiful scenery. I can honestly say I enjoyed Palin on a personal level and I can understand why so many women feel threatened by her. I can also understand why her own party threw her under the bus. Palin is a straight forward thinker...she looks for a solution to every problem and truly believes there is one if she applies enough effort to find it. Basically, she doesn't complicate things. No wonder her fellow Republicans (and most Dems) have issue with her. Imagine Government doing common sense things and resolving issues without months of debate and spending millions of dollars. Too, ask yourself if you could make a 30 year relationship work like Palin has with her husband. Hardest job on the planet is being married to the same person for a significant length of time. I'll continue to watch and hopefully continue to grow to like Palin and her family (I already love Alaska).

Meh, 2/10

Note to Kate Harding: That creepy author next door was there to do some stalking and a hit piece, just like this crappy left wing blog post.

The lesson I came away with from Kate Harding's critique of Sarah Palin's show is that Ms. Harding is a jealous shrew who apparently lives an unfulfilling life.
Love or hate Sarah Palin why the armchair bitterness, Kate?
You look very petty.

Did Sarah Palin say the show was going to be apolitical? If it was about her life, then given her career, it seems obvious that there would be some mention of politics. But I watched the show and it didn't seem political at all. Just a few references...but so what? The show is ok. On par with the Osbournes. Would Ms Harding expect that show to never mention music?

Actually, speculating on what messages were political is a little out there...but is something that would actually make the show more fun to watch...so I thank Ms Harding for sharing her paranoid thoughts.

I would have normally said that this type of program would wreck the chances of anyone running for President. However, I have to remind myself that the American people (at least the Alaskans) have already elected this woman into a position of power and authority, which rather predictably she defaulted on half way through her term because as she said in the program, she would rather be in the rugged outdoors than stuck in a stuffy political office which cramps her freedom. If America wants its image to the world to be represented by a superficial cheerleading bimbo who loves firing guns at wild animals, then so be it. But don't be surprised if a few years after that China is referred to as the worlds only superpower.

While I would not vote for Palin for anything, I consider that it is a bit of a reach to expect Any politician to describe things without a possibly political metaphor.

meaningful and beautiful article Sağlık

I must not be elite and liberal enough to get from "Alaska" what is meant to be taken from it, for I missed all the political innuendo and coded messages pointed out in this article.

Or, perhaps, we weren't watching the same program.

This writers' obviously dislike of Mrs. Palin is the one clear thing to be taken from this article.

Oh gosh, Kate! I can't wait for next week's "decoding." I always let the LA Times do all my thinking for me.

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