Decoding ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’: Spoiled by family love


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Having watched three full episodes of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” I am still amazed that Palin seems to interact with her family the exact same way she interacts with the American public: by continually saying anything that will appeal to her fan base, regardless of how frequently and spectacularly the facts contradict her interpretation of reality. Or, in the case of the most recent episode, how frequently and spectacularly her own children do.

1. This is America, and we speak English! No, seriously, we do.


As 9-year-old Piper assembles the ingredients for cake from a mix, Sarah becomes concerned about possible excessive egginess and tells her to recheck the instructions. After Piper confirms that she’s done everything correctly, her still dubious mother glances at the recipe and does a double take. “It’s in Spanish!” Well, no wonder her red-blooded, American, hardworking, tax-paying third-grader can’t figure out how many huevos to include! Except ...

Piper: No, it’s not. [Points at the box to distinguish it from the imaginary one Sarah just read.] “Three eggs.”

Sarah: Oh. You’re right.

2. What every teenage girl really wants is the gift of a loving family -- or a car.

Right from the beginning of the episode, Sarah repeatedly reminds us that Willow’s 16th birthday is on or about the Fourth of July, so there will be a grand, patriotic Palin party to honor the middle child in front of her extended family and Mom’s camera crew. Isn’t that thrilling? Won’t it make Willow feel special? “We don’t want the kids to be so materialistically spoiled,” Sarah says, “but we want them spoiled in terms of knowing what family love and camaraderie and teamwork is all about. So a party like this, with all the family together and celebrating her birthday, it means a lot to us.”

Well, all of us except Willow, who tells the camera, “I don’t like birthdays, personally. I don’t like attention on me.”

As for not being “materialistically spoiled,” Willow reports that she got “some clothes” and “some money” for her birthday, “but I really wanted a truck. I don’t know why my parents didn’t get it for me, ‘cause I’m a really good kid!” Sing it, sister. I was a ridiculously well-behaved honor student, and I must have asked for my own horse, like, 100 times, but my parents never came through. Twenty years later, I’m still trying to figure that one out. 3. Hard work is the only path to success in life, unless your parents bail you out.

The main storyline in this episode is about 21-year-old Track demonstrating that he’s ready to take over his father’s salmon fishing business. Sarah explains, “It’s very important to remember that the more successful fisherman is gonna be the harder working fisherman. The harder you work, the more money you’re gonna make, the more fish you’re gonna be able to pick. That, again, is a life lesson that so many should and could be learning.” Ahem, poor people. Did you catch that?


Unfortunately for Sarah, the folks who could stand to learn that lesson include her firstborn, who’s shown sleeping in while that voice over plays. Here are some other things Track does to prove he’s prepared for adult responsibility: flattens a tire on his father’s boat trailer and doesn’t think to mention it to anyone, much less change it; leaves an unholy mess in the boat shed, which his parents and baby sister eventually clean up; makes a mistake that almost loses him a net full of salmon; back-talks his father repeatedly; catches very few fish.

At one point, Todd starts bossing his bumbling son around -- which Track appreciates about as much as being woken up to go to work -- and I think we’re meant to see this as some sort of universal coming-of-age father/son tension. But since the whole episode has reinforced the message that Track is basically lazy and incompetent, I was cheering for Todd all the way.

Nevertheless, Sarah says at the end, “We’re really proud to have learned that our son was ready to captain the site and take over.” Um, I guess that happened off-camera? Or maybe it’s just that if you’re Sarah Palin, what matters is the words you choose to repeat ad nauseam, not how people actually behave.

“I’m very blessed to get to be a part of this lifestyle,” she says in a final voice over. “You know, it’s all about family for us, and it’s all about teaching kids a strong work ethic, and being together, and being productive.”

When you hear something like that over shots of Sarah snuggling her adorable youngest child, the older kids looking cheerful and attractive and the Alaskan wilderness being all fierce and majestic, you almost want to believe it.

-- Kate Harding