Palin’s Alaska: Reality show or campaign ad?

This week TLC premiered Sarah Palin’s Alaska, an eight-part series that follows the former governor around her home state.

If Sarah Palin runs for president in 2012, said Matea Gold in the Chicago Tribune, she’ll already have the longest, costliest, and most “compelling campaign biopic” ever made. This week TLC premiered Sarah Palin’s Alaska, an eight-part series that follows the former governor around her telegenic home state as she climbs mountains, hunts deer, bakes cupcakes, and acts like a “chipper frontierswoman.” The show’s producers insist it has “nothing at all to do with the 2012 presidential campaign,” said Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon.com, but that’s laughable. Whether she’s scaling a glacier, cooing over real-life “mama grizzlies,” or talking taxes with Bill O’Reilly via her Fox-built home TV studio, every frame of Sarah Palin’s Alaska is designed to remind viewers that she’s a folksy, multitasking superwoman who, golly gee, just loves America. It’s nothing more, or less, than an eight-hour political infomercial.

But it’s not a very effective one, said Jesse Singal in The New Republic. Her acolytes may think she’s just showing off her natural, down-to-earth charm, but Palin comes across as deeply unlikable and insincere, delivering scripted lines through a plastic smile that’s as unchanging as her immaculate hairstyle. As for Palin’s portrayal of a “rugged outdoorswoman,” it rings a little hollow. Zipping around Alaska in a seaplane, she wows and goshes her way through the wilderness as if venturing outdoors for the very first time. That wouldn’t surprise me, said Kate Harding in LATimes.com. Inching up a rock face in full makeup and with obvious terror, Palin looked as “woefully unprepared” for the rigors of outdoor living as she did for national politics in 2008.

Go ahead and laugh, said Joanna Weiss in The Boston Globe, but Sarah “Palin understands what she’s doing.” While this latest piece of self-promotion may seem “undignified and crass” to liberal critics and old-school politicians, Palin has already proved she has a grasp of the “new media landscape” that no other 2012 contender comes close to matching. Palin has a genius for “making the personal political,” said Troy Patterson in Slate.com, and watching her struggle up that Alaskan rock face, I found it hard “not to admire her tenacity.” Despite a “fear of heights and a paucity of toeholds,” despite—yes—looking faintly ridiculous, Palin just kept climbing. And in the end, she made it all the way to the top.

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