Once upon a time, the people in this country engaged in the writing arts strove to pen "The Great American Novel." Now, it would seem, the new goal is to write the script that will help some celebrity make the biggest fool of her or himself. Enter the Palins of Alaska, the perfect pawns for such shenanigans.
First it was mom Sarah -- former half-term governor of Alaska and failed vice-presidential candidate -- with her "Sarah Palin's Alaska." Now it's dad, Todd, with something called "Stars Earn Stripes." He's up against some tough family competition, but he does have some experience.
Remember how the whole Palin family, Todd included, took fellow reality-TV star Kate Gosselin on the camping trip from hell and made her cry in "Sarah Palin's Alaska?" This was some reality writer's perfect "two-fer."
Granted, it does not appear all that hard to make Gosselin cry, but that just made the job easier. Take someone who doesn't want to go camping in the first place, send them out camping in the wet, get their small children soaked so they can deal with a tent full of madness, and then ridicule them for not enjoying all of this...
Can you say 'made for TV'?
The show only got better when the writers and producers took the star and National Rifle Association darling Sarah Palin herself out to demonstrate she couldn't shoot straight. You could almost hear the writers laughing with each missed shot.
From Sarah Palin's Alaska, you might think the Palins would have learned something, and they did: We can make money by making fools of ourselves on television.
It's not the lesson normal people might have taken from this experience. Normal people might have concluded that if you're getting burned by the fire, you might want to move away from the fire. But the Palins are clearly not normal people.
Sarah's eldest daughter Bristol is out there on TV now, using her son, Tripp, and her sister, Willow, to beseech the media to pay attention to her. She uses the new reality show "Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp" to complain how she just can't get away from the paparazzi.
Aren't the Palins and the paparazzi sort of the definition of a symbiotic relationship? The Palins aren't exactly out there attracting attention because they have the next big idea for America. They can't even get the old ideas straight. Remember Sarah talking about Paul Revere "ringin' those bells ... to send those warning shots and bells" during last summer's "One Nation" bus tour, which was about what exactly?
All of which brings those dreaded paparazzi who pursue those in the public eye, because there isn't much of a market for photos of Todd Smith or Sarah Doe. If you get a reality TV show and attack the media for pursuing you, the odds are good they will only pursue you more, although this clearly isn't guaranteed. If you've seen any of "Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp," the paparazzi appear to be falling down on the job. Why, there are Bristol and Willow in a California coffee shop whining into their double mochas about how hard life is, and there's not a paparazzi in sight.
Washington Post television critic Hank Stuever makes fun of all of this, saying:
"Life's a Tripp" stumbles blindly over the ghostly rubble and ruined format of what was once commonly known as a reality show: there are sport utility vehicles in which to ride; boutiques in which to shop; Starbuckses in which to argue. There are microphone packs clipped to waistlines and bra straps. There are staged conversations during which one idly examines one's split ends while the other person is talking. There is the furnished Beverly Hills mansion, redolent in its "Bachelorette" and Simpson-Lachey decor, smelling faintly of failed enterprises, pool chlorine and compromised souls.
Memo to Hank: Don't you get it? The ghostly rubble is the only there there. What you are watching is some other writer's personal joke played out on television. There are people making a living playing a game called, "What can I get a Palin to say this time by writing it into a script?"
And now we've got Todd joining the fray. Yes, that's right, Papa Palin has finally signed on to do TV in his own right.
Apparently having acquired a taste for the limelight while playing sidekick to Sarah in Sarah Palin's Alaska, he's headed off to Hollywood to join the cast of something NBC calls "Stars Earn Stripes."
"In this fierce, entertaining and emotionally charged new competition honoring America's armed forces, nine celebrities will gather at a secret training facility where they will be challenged to execute complicated missions inspired by real military exercises," NBC says. "From helicopter drops into treacherous locations to long range weapons fire, these stars will be tested physically, mentally and emotionally -- and emerge in awe of the men and women who do such tasks on behalf of our country every day."
This show is going to be so "fierce" it requires not one, not two, but three celebrity producers: Mark Burnett of "Survivor" fame, David Hurwitz from "Fear Factor," and Dick Wolf from "Law & Order." What Wolf, who has produced some pretty good dramas over the years, is doing mixed up with reality-TV specialists Burnett and Hurwitz is hard to say. Maybe he just wanted to get in on the fun, or maybe he bought NBC's pitch about the charitable benefits of the new show.
"...This extraordinary show will donate money raised through the competition to veterans' charities," the network says. "Committed to hiring recent vets onto the crew, 'Stars Earn Stripes' hopes to inspire other employers throughout the country to make similar commitments to our returning heroes, not to mention proving how impossible their service missions really are."
Actually, their service missions are not impossible. America's military elite train and train and train some more to ensure that the exact opposite is true. Maybe NBC missed what happened in Abottabad, Pakistan in May of last year when Navy Seals did what Osama bin Laden thought impossible. Bin Laden turned out to be dead wrong, so to speak. He seriously underestimated what highly trained professionals can do.
Trained professionals can do things you or I or Todd Palin can't, which is the whole point of these reality shows -- letting the amateurs fall on their faces in the unsuccessful effort to do what trained professionals do. This is nothing but a twisted, modern-day version of vaudeville slapstick. The only criticism an Alaskan might make is that Todd Palin is miscast.
He's a former winner of the Iron Dog, the 2,000-mile snowmachine race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks for godsake. He can ride. He has proven it.
There's more unbelievable reality packed into the short television commercial MacAskill starred in for Volkswagen than in any of the phony "reality shows" on TV these days. It's pretty entertaining stuff.
But what's obviously even more entertaining in America these days -- or more saleable as entertainment, at least -- is watching people make fools of themselves, and at that the Palins are proving masters. Let's all enjoy a laugh at or along with them (does it really matter which?) and remember the words of the movie "Cabaret":
Alaska Dispatch encourages a diversity of opinion and community perspectives. The opinions expressed herein are those of Craig Medred and are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com