Palin, who studied journalism at her various colleges, does not have a law degree; this seems to matter not all. Because, a source notes, what she does have are a “telegenic personality, wide appeal, and common-sense wisdom,” all of which “make her a natural for this kind of format.”
It’s probably true! And if you are familiar with Sarah Palin and/or with the moral aesthetics of reality TV, nothing about this turn of events will likely be terribly surprising to you. But it’s worth taking a moment to consider why, precisely, it’s unsurprising.
It’s a common thing, now, to point out the “revolving door” that filters staffers of presidential administrations to other industries, and vice versa. The revolving door with Wall Street. With Silicon Valley. With lobbying firms. With the “private sector” in general. But there’s also the door that gets less angst-ed about, not because it’s any less problematic than its counterparts, but because it’s so deeply embedded in the logic of an election system that takes so many of its cues from American Idol: the revolving door between politics and television.
Palin, having lost the election but won some hearts, became a commentator on Fox News. So did Mike Huckabee. Van Jones, President Obama’s former Special Adviser for Green Jobs, is a regular on CNN. So is Donna Brazile, a political strategist and the former interim Chair for the Democratic National Committee. And on and on. And, certainly, it makes sense: Who better to offer expert commentary on the daily doings of American politics than the people who have been in the trenches?
But. Now we have Palin, moving not just from politics to talking-about-politics, but from politics to something-that-has-nothing-at-all-to-do-with-politics. Here she is, channeling Reagan and Schwarzenegger and Fred Thompson and Sonny Bono, in a door that filters people not just between campaigns and TV news, but between campaigns and pure entertainment. Palin Judge Judy-ing herself is, of course, only the latest example of candidates, and former candidates, feeding—and feeding from—the reality TV-industrial complex. Tom DeLay on Dancing With the Stars. Donald Trump on The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice.
It’s no surprise, given all that, that The Huffington Post expressed ontological confusion about what Trump, as a candidate, is. Nor is it a surprise that this particular campaign season has given us a series of debates that are so dramatic—and so reliant, for their narrative tension, on the culling of their stars’ own numbers—as to read as installments of Survivor. Palin’s new show is a cashing-out answer to Barack Obama’s appearance on Running Wild With Bear Gryllis, and to Hillary Clinton’s appearance on Broad City: It is recognizing, just as the reality-TV industry does, that screen time—whether it speaks to the American superego or the American id—is its own kind of currency.