The only scenes from Sarah Palin's new reality show I've seen, seem about as "real" as Cher's strangely ageless appearance in publicity shots for her new movie. I remember running into Cher at a Hollywood Club back in the late 1980s and feeling a little weirded out by whatever she'd done to her face. Up close it seemed immobile already. I always admired her tenacity and individuality, but that whole Hollywood (and elsewhere now) clinging to youth with botox and plastic surgery thing can be pretty unnerving when it either isn't done right or is done too much.
As John Stewart pointed out in one of his reactions to clips from Palin's "reality" show, shots of her acting like an awestruck kid seeing her supposed natural habitat as though for the first time. He said it'd be like him giving people a tour of his New York and shrieking and holding his ears because car horns were honking.
All of which got me thinking about a documentary I caught part of on the Ovation channel the other night about the "Factory People"—i.e. Andy Warhol's hangers on in the pre-getting-shot-by-Valerie-Solinas (full disclosure, she lived in the commune I was sort of the head of in DC after she got out of prison and the asylum! a much longer story, for a book more than a blog post) period.
What struck me was that a lot of the early Warhol flicks were basically "reality shows" and have a lot in common with the kinds of "reality" shows my thirteen-year-old likes, like that whole "Jackass" thing that's also been turned into films, or shows with aging hotshot skateboarders or BMX X-game champs etc. doing stunts that could get them killed and often get them, or members of their entourage, hurt badly, but always getting a laugh (not from me!).
The shifting cast of people that made Andy's "Factory" their playground, and work place, most days and/or nights and appeared in his films were enocouraged by Warhol and his associates—and each other—to emphasize, and act out, their most outre (and often self-destructive) traits on film, or anywhere for that matter, and the more extreme the better, just like the Jackass and Bam and etc. shows my boy watches.
The illusion of "reality" is pretty much what any photographer or documentarian knows, as do the rest of us these days, a result of editing. All the skate videos my son watches and is awed by are zippy edits of lots of attempts to do amazingly difficult physical moves. All you have to do is get a tres ("tray") flip right once and it's immortalized on film.
Palin, it seems to me, is doing the same deal. As Cher and those who take her route, do as well. Which is—make characterizations out of either people's expectations—or their own, or both—of who they are or what they're about. Sometimes the result is amusing, sometimes, entertaining, even engaging, but a lot of the appeal is watching to see what's gonna happen next, what outrageous thing they're gonna do or say or wear or attempt or seem to pull off.
Pailn's act at the moment seems to be working for someone, as she pretends to be something she isn't, and diminishes all expectations and then surpasses the low expectations that creates. She's mastered the art of seeming victimized by almost everything and then becoming the champion of those victimized like her, by a snooty "lamestream" media that belittles her for claiming to care about her state and her country and her party but then quitting her job running that state because she sees the opportunity to make much more money and fame without having to bother with the consensus of voters and fellow government workers and the whole imposition of democracy at work, and then basically identifying anyone who isn't [woops, meant is] an American who supports her beliefs and politics as not "real" "Americans" contributing to a big portion of the divisiveness in the country she says she cares about, and the same to her party (a good number of the candidates for her party she endorsed ended up losing and keeping the Senate Democratic, etc.).
It's all show biz. It's just that the amateurs have taken over the asylum again, much as in the "Factory" days. The culture and the society go through phases like that from time to time—where craft and professionalism and the qualities necessary for creating the best of something are looked down on and a kind of faux "realism" is preferred (not the "real" realism, ala the early periods of movements that get co-opted, like a lot of The Beats or Hippies, or Punk or Grunge, early one, but the faux type exemplified by Palin's new show, or for that matter her ongoing show of "just folk" phoniness).
Some last longer than others. Let's hope this one doesn't last too long.
[PS: And this isn't to say I didn't dig Warhol's movies, or some of his super-and-not-so-super-stars. I even liked Valerie and we became pretty good friends, as much as she was capable of, especially with a man.]