Decoding 'Sarah Palin's Alaska': What have we learned?
So we have come to the final two episodes of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” not only for this season but forever. Now is a time for reflection on all of the totally apolitical life lessons we’ve learned from the rugged wilderness, experienced guides, and wise elders of the 49th state. Plus all-new footage that was too boring to run before!
1. There are only two ways to appreciate wild animals: Slicing them open and anthropomorphizing them to make vaguely defined political points.
In the penultimate episode, we watch Piper squeal excitedly over frolicking sea lions as Palin remarks, “I have a beautiful sealskin purse.” It's the circle of life, kiddo. Later, in the recap episode, we get to relive all of the caribou-hunting, halibut-bludgeoning, and salmon-dismembering good times of the season -- including never-before-seen footage. Hooray! Watch as Palin mounts caribou antlers, tours a den of taxidermy horrors and learns about curing fish heads.
But animals aren’t just for killing in “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” because the live ones also make handy, albeit strained, political metaphors. We’ve all heard about Palin’s beloved mama grizzlies seven or eight thousand times -- even when they were technically mama brown bears -- but did you know that adult muskoxen will position themselves around a baby at the first sign of danger, creating a protective circle? Palin proudly tells us that she recently used that image in a political speech about “how we should be as a society,” although she does not specify who the baby and adults are in the scenario. She just tromps toward the herd and declares, “I’ll be the mama muskox!”
2 . Technology is what’s really wrong with America.
After her scuba-diving brother retrieves some gold from the bottom of the sea, Palin takes Piper to have it turned into jewelry for Grandma Heath. Watching a man pour the recently melted metal into a mold, Palin explains that she expected the operation to be more high-tech, but no, like seemingly every other job in Sarah Palin’s Alaska, it’s the far more exciting “hands-on, blue collar work.” Later, Todd Palin is similarly psyched about the clicker a Department of Fish and Game official uses to count salmon by hand. How awesomely low-tech is that?
Husband and wife seem to agree: Alaskans don’t need no stinkin’ computers! That is, apart from the ones that transmit Palin’s FOX News commentaries. Those are actually really useful.
3. Sometimes kids do listen to their parents.
While panning for gold on a beach near Nome (and making a weak effort to discourage Piper’s fantasies of selling it on EBay for “something thousand” dollars), Palin asks their guide, “Does it come down to who works hardest or who’s luckiest?” “Both,” he tells her, as I boggle at hearing Palin acknowledge that luck might play even the tiniest role in an individual’s accumulation of wealth.
The moment is predictably fleeting, though. When asked what was the greatest life lesson she learned during the course of her mother’s reality show, 16-year-old Willow replies: “You have to work hard to get your money. And then the more money you have, the more things you can buy. Like a new car. I don’t know.”
The proud mama muskox laughs. “No, that’s a good answer.”
-- Kate Harding
Photo: Sarah Palin. Credit: Gilles Mingasson / TLC