Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Night in Alaska -- Do You Want To Go To There?

A huge brouhaha is frothing out in America, and we don't know quite what to think about it. I'm sure you know what it is -- the premiere tonight of TLC's eight part series Sarah Palin's Alaska. "You Can See Sarah Palin's Alaska from Your Living Room" says the TLC website, in a funny riff on politician Palin's infamous remark about Russia during the 2008 Presidential campaign. Admit it, it's funny.

So what is Sarah Palin's Alaska? Is it a merely a travelogue of America's 49th state, a look at a wild and wooly lifestyle and terrain that is as exotic to most of us as the surface of the moon? Would producer Mark Burnett of Survivor fame have done this if Palin hadn't been able to turn her unsuccessful Vice Presidential run into a not-going-away-anytime-soon brush with full-fledged celebrity? It's clear that this effort revolves around Palin's public image, and that's where the kerfuffle lies.

Do you love her, or do you hate her?

If you love her, there'll be no missing this series, unless you just plain hate grizzly bears, salmon or the great outdoors. If Sarah's your gal, you'll 100% buy in to the image presented here, just another gun-toting housewife/ex-Governor living in Alaska, minding her own business, talking folksy, raising a brood of kids and embodying everything some Americans think is lacking in the rest of American women. You'll savor every word coming out of her mouth.

If you hate her, you'll think this is a blatant media manipulation, a paid political announcement where -- surprise! -- the politician is the one getting paid to appear. You'll think that this is the longest and most partisan commercial ever made for a woman who will certainly figure prominently in 2012's Presidential election. You'll put your fingers in your ears to avoid hearing her distinctive, simplistic delivery.

If you are a television network like TLC, you'll be thanking the stars that somebody like Sarah Palin came along. TLC -- one time known by their full name The Learning Channel, they're hardly that now -- is a network that thrives on celebrating American life's unusual nooks. TLC success stems from a multi-pronged slate, with sideshow-tinged series showcasing families with dozens of children (the product not of mere fecundity but a religious sect that promotes mega-childbearing), families of little people (TLC's on to a different series now that the Roloffs are done), Kate Gosselin and her big family (even as the marriage dissolved before our eyes), disturbing cases of hoarders who can't get out from under their own junk, tattoo artists, polygamous wives, child beauty queens (ala JonBenet Ramsey), mean people telling people that their wardrobe is ugly (What Not to Wear), and in possibly an amusing irony, a couple of shows that promote wedding gown sales and makeovers.

After the rich pageant of TLC family-oriented programming, can anybody think mating is glamorous? There are also a few cooking series, baking reality shows where cupcakes create blood feuds, and another one where women seem to be pretty smug about not knowing they were pregnant until they suddenly go into labor. These shows are not even all bad, or even mostly bad. They're all of a kind, though, and you can call it many things but it sure isn't Learning. P.T. Barnum knew exactly what he was doing, as does TLC. (I don't want you do think I hate all these shows; I think Michelle Duggar seems like a very sweet woman, and she has a delightful laugh. I like her.)

What this means, really, is that Sarah Palin has found a home, and a really good one, on TLC. What could be better than a woman who's a genuine attraction, love her or hate her? Palin's appeal is almost an amalgamation of TLC's programming philosophy -- and let's not pretend that there is really any philosophy at work other than trying to get ratings -- which seems to be attracting viewers by waving a crazy quilt of provocative lifestyles in front of the audience and hoping they'll, watch. Palin is perfect bait for this. Her followers will follow, her haters may avoid but maybe not before taking a peek at the woman behind the curtain, and TLC is the winner either way. I'm also frightened enough of the American voters at this point to say that Palin may personally come out a winner here, too, in just the way she's planning it. Would I petition TLC to not run the show? On what grounds? Annoying host? It's too late to put this genie back in the bottle; let her run and watch or don't watch. Me, I'm going with anything but Sarah Palin's Alaska, but that's me.

It's amusing (almost) that at just the point when the country is still digesting the bitter cuppa dispensed by Tea Party followers in the mid-term elections (and thanks again to all the folks who couldn't even be bothered to get out and vote -- see what happens??), that there's another Palin-related controversy brewing. Is the terpsichoreally-challenged (at least according to the Dancing With The Stars judges) Bristol Palin (with partner Mark Ballas) being saved from banishment from the show because of desperately-dialing fingers of the Tea Party? With right wing bloggers urging their readers to vote for Bristol, is it a tsunami of conservatives who'll help her dance to victory? Do you care? I don't, but at least I'm happy some billionaire hasn't rigged the system -- or has one? If it's just a bunch of evangelical kids dialing or texting, or old white men who don't know Medicare is a government program picking up the phone, that's cool. Silly, but cool. (You also might enjoy reading this article on the subject by Marisa Guthrie from The Hollywood Reporter, from Thursday.)

Pick your poison tonight. Dexter on Showtime -- getting really good, too! The Walking Dead on AMC -- also terrific! Boardwalk Empire on HBO -- still very interesting but getting more admiration than can't-miss-it vibes out there now. Great Migrations on Nat Geo! Or maybe even an ex-V.P. candidate showing the broadcast equivalent of home movies....


Jane said...

What an Excellent Post! Although no amount of desire to see the splendor of Alaska could make me want to tune in to see the pin-headed folky Sarah. Every time I hear her voice, I think of William F. Buckley spinning like a gyroscope in his grave...over what has become to the Grand Old Party of Lincoln. Oh well nevermind, a much more interesting topic is what TLC has mutated into. I was thinking the other day, that TLC is almost the Weekly World News of Television. Where else can we go to still see a special on vestigal twins, tumors embedded with teeth, and people that speak in tongues! It's my guilty pleasure, that's for sure!

Lisa said...

I agree about TLC -- it's a TV sideshow, without a doubt. Needless to say, I do tune in, there's something sometimes soothing about it. Even the wedding dress show -- like looking at life on a different planet than mine!