The image that surfaced yesterday was shocking. A celebrity walking across a Kmart parking lot in L.A. snapped by the paparazzi. She was wearing trendy layered T-shirts, tight jeans, and platforms higher than Lindsay Lohan at a glue-sniffing convention. Her hair was done, her lips were glossed, her sunglasses were on. All the tabloids were talking about her outfit and just how skinny she looks. Look at how much weight she’s lost! Maybe there’s an endorsement deal in her future? But this wasn’t a pop star with a ridiculous YouTube video or a starlet with a new show coming out on the CW any minute now. This was Sarah Palin, a woman who just four years ago ran to be Vice President of the United States of America.
Sarah Palin is now nothing but a celebrity. With this picture, Sarah Palin transformed from a political figure to a popular one, and the move she made next only solidified that. Her next book wasn’t going to be a follow up to Going Rogue, her political memoir about becoming the Governor of Alaska and running for the second biggest office in the country. No, she is writing a fitness and diet book. This is not what a politician does. She should be writing a policy tome or crusading for the causes she believes in. She should be stumping and fundraising and wearing conservative pant suits and Old Glory pins. Sarah Palin, meanwhile, goes to Dancing with the Stars to support her daughter, a celebrity in her own right. It appears as though the Palins are now closer to Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian than Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. Palin even had a reality show of her own. She appears on Fox News to comment on political issues, but she doesn’t do it as an elected official anymore. Her visits to cable news are the same as when Ben Affleck shows up on Real Time with Bill Maher to push his liberal agenda.
At this point, George Clooney and Sean Penn, who have been aggressively lobbying for relief in Darfur and Haiti respectively, have more of a political agenda than Palin. She didn’t move to DC to be closer to the seat of power, she moved to L.A., the other two-lettered town that is full of power — but the power of the entertainment industry and the celebrity industrial complex. She isn’t running for office and she wasn’t invited to the Republican National Convention this year. She didn’t even attend.
This is odd because she came into our lives purely as a political figure. It wasn’t like Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger who were famous first and then got into politics. Palin was plucked from obscurity up there in Alaska and thrust into the national consciousness. The immediate fascination with her had more to do with this narrative — the attractive female governor suddenly shoved into the spotlight — than anything of substance in her life. She brought with her a life like a reality show; her teenage daughter was pregnant out of wedlock to a no-good man who wanted to pose for Playgirl magazine and her husband was still trying to shake the specter of Troopergate. Then came Tina Fey and her impression that brought the candidate off of the convention stage and into the pop cultural arena.
Once Palin and John McCain lost the election, it seemed like she would still be famous in the political sphere, as governor of Alaska. Then she quit. Then she wrote a book. Then she got the reality show, and now she’s dithering around L.A. shopping a fitness book the day after her “skinny shots” hit the tabloid press.
This is a first. Sarah Palin is truly unique for being the first to use legitimate political clout and presidential politics to make herself into a B-list celebrity rather than the other way around. Her involvement with politics is as tangential now as any other celebrity’s; she doesn’t hold office and is more interested in pursuing gigs that will cultivate her fame and popularity than getting the voters to back her. Al Gore, after he lost his campaign, also took to the movies, but that was An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary about climate change, which has more to do with politics than whether or not Bristol will survive doing the Paso Doble this week.
Welcome to the brave new world, Sarah Palin, because you are officially a celebrity and we’re not quite sure what to do with you. Should we continue to pretend like what you say about issues matters any more than a Real Housewife? Should we give you a show or an acting role? Are you ready to be the next Bachelorette? One thing is for sure though. If you ever do run again, someone is going to have to remind you of when the McCain campaign smeared Obama for being a celebrity. He wasn’t even the one emailing his diet book plans to People magazine.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Miguel/Rocstar/FameFlynet]