In the Blog
Don’t underestimate the hockey mom
So now that the Canadian election has passed, I’m back to paying attention with a mixture of amusement and utter horror to the ongoing campaign trail south of the border. After the schmozzle that was the Primaries last year, the showdown between Obama and McCain seemed almost in the bag until the Republicans revealed their secret weapon in September: a 44-year-old former beauty queen and mayor and current hockey mom and governor.
The entire continent laughed. Almost immediately the news and comedy media were enjoying a smoergasbord of incredible material, from Palin’s inexperience to her belief that proximity to other countries constitutes intimate knowledge of foreign affairs. Parody shows such as Saturday Night Live didn’t even have to write their own jokes in; Palin herself provided enough ridiculous dialogue that, augmented by Tina Fey’s fortuitous similarity in looks to the governor, the sketches practically wrote themselves.
I group together news and comedy media because the two have been so intimately linked especially for the past decade or so, since the advent of shows such as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and the now defunct Politically Incorrect. Around the time of the last American election, studies showed that people under the age of 30 were getting their news from Jon Stewart and Tina Fey rather than Dan Rather and Larry King. The lack of distinction between news and comedy media went so far as to confuse poor Tucker Carlson, who tried his darnedest to attack Jon Stewart on an epic segment of Crossfire for not reporting the news faithfully, only to be rebuked with the response that Stewart’s responsibility is to comedy, while the news is Carlson’s responsibility. Carlson subsequently lost his job over that one.
I do think that the segment spoke clearly to the seriousness of comedy in matters of current affairs and politics. While Stewart’s, as well as other comedians’, responsibility is to comedy, which absolves them of a certain faithfulness to notions of objectivity and journalistic integrity, the direction of that comedy can be a bit troubling.
First of all, many of the attacks that came out when Palin was first chosen as McCain’s running mate were based in the same misogynistic, classist and moralistic so-called “family values” rhetoric that has driven much of the Republican movement in the U.S. for the last decade. Commentary dedicated to her unwed, pregnant daughter, her improper diction and her questionable ability to run a country while she has kids in the home is just something to which an upper middle class white male, traditionally the candidate for such a position, would not be subjected.
Second, while Palin says some ridiculous things, ridicule is not necessarily enough to keep her at bay. Make no mistake, this woman is scary. Most of the joking commentary seems to be focused on her bumbling speech, her foreseen inefficacy as a leader and her general idiocy. Do not be fooled by the fool at the table: I lived in Alberta when Ralph Klein was voted in as Premier. Again. And again. The thing about bumbling idiots is that they serve a certain down-home appeal. Palin is a woman you might meet at a bake sale or the supermarket. She gives the impression of being on our level, someone we could shoot the breeze with, one on one, you betcha.
So we shouldn’t write off this woman we love to ridicule. And we shouldn’t smugly assume that McCain threw the race with that choice, because there is definitely a method to his madness there. Palin may be inexperienced, but she certainly knows how to throw her weight around. She has been known to hire her cronies, fire her enemies, censor and deface books she deemed immoral, without even reading them first, and to avoid censure for her blurring between professional and personal decisions by corresponding with her colleagues via personal email, which can be disposed of with impunity, rather than government email accounts, which are subject to public access laws, possible subpoena, etc. Put Palin in a position that involves National Security and Houston may really have a problem.
And now she is set to show up right alongside her imitator, Tina Fey, when she guest stars on SNL tonight. I guess after all of the ridicule she wanted to show people she really is a human with a sense of humour about this whole election business. And it is a business, which I suspect is why she is going to show up. She really does like to live up to that pit bull image; she’s not about to show any fear. And this is where the humour ends as a tool of course, because SNL has no responsibility to Left Wing or Right, Republican or Democrat. Their only responsibility is to make something funny. Which may point voters to the issues and problems pertinent to the upcoming election, or it may just make them laugh and say, “You know, at least that Governor Palin can laugh at herself.” Doesn’t matter, as long as it sells.
All of this is not to say humour isn’t a good tool or hasn’t been used effectively during this election. Humour is vital to any movement that has seen so much defeat as the Left has in the past decade in North America. Humour lifts our spirits during dire times and gives us the notion that we aren’t alone, that we can take a gouge out of something we disagree with with the occasional smile on our face. I just think that we need also to recognize that under the ridicule there is a very serious contender who may just—oops!—blunder her way into the Oval Office while we were still giggling away.