Wednesday, November 25, 2009

That’s Show Business

People who are suddenly trapped in the glare of the media spotlight find out very quickly that, as Aaron Sorkin noted, the time it takes to go from a media darling to a Letterman punchline can be clocked with an egg timer. Case in point: Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska. She’s been very good at blaming the press for her public image since the day she was pushed on the stage in 2008, and she has done very well in exploiting it for pity and profit.

If there is a vast media conspiracy to bring Sarah Palin down, it’s not because her ideas are too “dangerous” or “revolutionary” for the mainstream media to handle or even acknowledge. It’s because she made the decision to mix politics with celebrity and that’s a tough act to pull off. As I used to tell my acting students, you can be an actor or you can be a celebrity; you can’t be both.

Sarah Palin has chosen the celebrity path. She may have gotten into politics for all of the right reasons — to improve the lives of her fellow citizens and make Alaska a better place — but the limelight killed that off, and she willingly traded off her political capital for the money she could make selling books, touring the country in a big bus, and getting her picture on the cover of Newsweek. People flock to see her and buy her book whether or not they agree with her views on the issues; most of them probably don’t know what they are or are unable to articulate them. In doing so, she’s sacrificed any coherent political foundation for the thin veneer of fame. There’s nothing wrong with that; a lot of people get off on that kind of thing. But she shouldn’t try to convince us that she did it unwillingly, and she can’t blame other people for giving her the attention she craved. (Nor can she complain when she says something beneath contempt and gets raked over the coals for it.) It’s like hearing a celebrity whining about not having any time to be “themselves.” It’s too late: that’s who you are.

To quote Leo Solomon, “There’s never an egg timer around when you need one.”