The unreality of Sarah Palin’s Alaska – plus some musings on the art of commenting – UPDATE

As the series Sarah Palin’s Alaska continues, with seven episodes aired and a bumper episode to go, many questions were raised, about the narrative and about what we see on the screen. Of course the whole series was planned beforehand and each episode focuses on members of Sarah’s family, always showing her in the best possible light (according to Sarah and her fantasies about herself and her family).

We saw Sarah climbing Denali, fishing, kayaking, shooting anything that moves, hunting, riding ATVs, driving her own car… or have we?

Some of her driving raised questions, as Piper was sitting in the backseat without a seatbelt, piping in, criticizing Sarah’s driving. Have a look at these screenshots and ask yourself: “Where’s the camera?” (The first two shots are from the first leg of the day’s travels and Piper was sitting in the front, wearing a seatbelt.)

The idea behind any film, fiction or reality, is to make the viewer forget that there are cameras and great number of people involved in each scene. Are we to believe that there are miniature cameramen especially recruited to film driving scenes? This is how it’s usually done:

The car to be filmed is mounted on a low towing dolly and pulled by a camera truck. For safety reasons, there may be troopers’ cars in front and behind the car with the “star.”

Alternatively, these contraptions may be used, but the car is then towed by a truck and the cameras operated remotely:

Inside the camera truck there’s a computarized monitor and the director has full control of each camera:

There we have it: a “natural” driving scene. Piper was told to look bored and say something about Sarah’s “driving,” so it would tie in with Sarah’s little narrative about Piper having changed and no longer being enthusiastic about spending time with mom.

Bear in mind that there is a lot of waiting around for all the gear to be set up and any scene has a number of takes. By the time Piper managed to get her lines right she was probably very bored indeed…

Whether Sarah’s car or the giant RV were towed or not, the fact remains that the whole contraption is still a collection of moving vehicles and seatbelts should have been worn. Can you imagine what could have happened if a moose had dashed in front of the whole convoy?

The point of this technical post about a trivial driving scene is to highlight the unreality of this series. There’s nothing wrong with using all the techniques available to film makers in order to achieve a seamless result and grab the attention of the viewers without any distractions.

But the whole narrative is dishonest. This series was put together to show Sarah’s version of reality. She wanted to show that there aren’t any challenges she won’t embrace. Any outdoor pursuit, any highly specialized trade (wow!), Sarah can do it. She assigned herself the task of protecting Kate Gosselin and her brood because she’s a sharp shooter. Kate left the camping site because that was her script. Kate was the vulnerable city girl against Sarah’s fearless frontier woman. She created a tale of hunting in a remote spot, where only one person could be transported on the plane at any one time. The crew with all their paraphernalia must have teleported to that spot, yes? Willow’s boyfriend “sneaked” upstairs, past the whole crew, because he was told to do it. Willow smashed Piper face into the cake because… you guessed, she was told to do just that. Willow’s car “crash” was all fiction, probably filmed with a double.

In the unscripted bits, Sarah Palin used her “travelogue” to issue a number of jabs aimed at her neighbour, Michelle Obama, bloggers… the list is long. These are some of the moments that can be taken at face value – Sarah unplugged. That’s how she unwittingly confirmed the National Enquirer stories about her unruly children.

Another thing she tried to do was attempt to correct her “refudiate” gaffe. She claims that she intended to type “d” and hit “f” instead. What was Sarah trying to type? Redudiate? Repupiate? The fact is, she committed the “typo” on Hannity days before she tweeted it. His voice after she said it barely disguises his embarrassement:

I could go on, but I’m not going to analize each episode from a technical perspective or dissect the narrative of each week’s episode. All I can say is that what Sarah Palin chose to show as a normal family, with their troubles and tribulations, was scripted and acted by her prop family and other unsuspecting incidental actors (cousin Matthew, for one) to make her appear normal and loving in her family life and a superwoman the rest of the time. The only real thing is Sarah Palin in full narcissistic glory and nobody seems to have attempted to stop her. Maybe they tried and failed.

All this idiotic make-believe with the beautiful state of Alaska in the background – just another useful prop.


Some readers pointed out that the driving scene could have been filmed using the same type of set-up as in the program Cash Cab, where tiny cameras are mounted where needed. It’s very possible that TLC did the scene this way, in which case we have to assume that Sarah was really driving while being filmed, not concentrating a 100% and had her 9 year old daughter sitting in the back, unrestrained. It looks bad either way.

The post may not show exactly how it was filmed, but it’s an illustration of how unreal the things we see on TV on a daily basis really are. It’s an encouragement not to take the end product at face value, especially when the narrative is so dishonest.

Unfortunately, there’s hardly anything left on TV that can be taken at face value. Even “live” news reports can be stage-managed these days, but perhaps that’s a subject for another post.


Do you love your freedom?

Those of us who spend a lot of time on the internet encounter many different things. Some sites are simply functional or informative. Others express opinions and invite debate – or not.

The blogosphere, by and large, involves some degree of debate. In recent months, sites like the Huffington Post have changed the way the comments are moderated and that doesn’t sit very well with the more outspoken readers. Some sites have rules, others don’t.

The diversity in approach to comments around the internet made me think of how things are on our very own Palingates. When I started it all those months ago, I was an avid reader of Palin Deceptions, a very moderated blog, and I thought moderation was the “in” thing to do. So I clicked on the corresponding alternative when setting up the blog parameters. It lasted about one week. I couldn’t be bothered to moderate the comments and didn’t see the point of it. The moderation feature came off and things ran very smoothly until a certain spammer reared his head. Long excerpts from a critique of Don Quixote were posted hundreds of times on several threads. I have nothing against Cervantes (far from it), but these comments were posted as an attack on Palingates, with the single aim of disrupting the discussions. Blogger didn’t offer appropriate tools to solve this problem, so we deleted the spammy comments manually and switched to Disqus.

We still don’t have moderation, but can cope with malicious attacks without having to waste time and without interrupting the discussion. It was a very good decision. The threads became more fluid, the debate more dynamic and the number of people joining in multiplied over the weeks. Trolls don’t last very long and there’s no need to ban anybody for dissenting opinions. Commercial spammers are swiftly dispatched and our readers are spared some very corny jokes and raunchy videos from a Swedish site, among offers for laptops, IT solutions and anatomy enhancing products.

Just as a matter of curiosity, these are our internal rules:

  • Spammers and malicious impersonators are banned. Malicious impersonators are those who appropriate regular commenters usernames and post comments that confuse the discussion. Others post under several different monickers in an attempt to validate their previous comments. These are called out, but not necessarily banned. Once their game is up, they leave on their own accord.
  • Comments containing personal contact details are deleted. In the case of our own regular commenters, it’s for safety reasons and anybody who wishes to get in touch with each other via e-mail is encouraged to contact Patrick, who will facilitate it. Contact details for third parties are not published if there’s a risk of backlash against the person concerned. Media, government bodies and organisations contacts are OK.
  • Flagged comments are considered and discussed a case at a time.

The opinions of the blog owners are expressed in the main articles and the comments posted through Disqus express the commenters personal opinions. The responsibility for main posts rests with the named authors and the responsibility for Disqus comments rests with each individual. There is a note on the sidebar explaining this.

On very rare occasions, comments are flagged as inappropriate. We look at each case as they arise. We have to balance some things out before making any decisions. If we delete a particular comment, will it affect the flow of the conversation? Are we disrespecting someone’s opinions? In the convivial atmosphere at Palingates, sometimes a “just for fun” moment can create a conundrum for us. We have many journalists visiting the blog, looking for solid information about Sarah Palin. The numbers are bound to grow after we won the award for best political blog. If a comment or a picture attached to a comment is posted for fun but would make a wrong impression, we think it’s better if it’s not there. In such cases we always contact the person who left the comment or picture to explain why we have deleted it.

We understand that our lack of rules may be confusing at times, but it’s very difficult to establish criteria that’s waterproof. Most of the time things work very well.

We don’t have filters, but every now and then Disqus decides to swallow random comments for no good reason. When we spot these, they’re quickly approved. Considering that we have over ten thousand comments each week, sometimes it’s a bit tricky to keep on top of Disqus’s idiosyncrasies… 99.9% of the time, if a comment disappears, it’s not due to moderation.

Palingaters are very busy people and the comments come in thick and fast. It’s a very mixed bag. We have networkers, link providers, deep thinking people, irreverent people, short commenters, lurkers, occasional trolls, you name it, we have it. Seriousness, snark, humour, concern for each other are all present every single day and provide the unique flavour of Palingates. I’ve noticed that when Sarah Palin or her “perfect” family are particularly irritating, the tone of the comments changes slightly and the language becomes a bit blue. Again, each comment is considered individually and addressed from the point of view of adding to the discussion or not. I also noticed that when things get too heated, people post soothing youtube videos, which are much appreciated as a mental health break.

Of course this amount of freedom is not to everybody’s taste. The trolls themselves don’t know how to cope with it. They come from sites where people are ordered “to leave my blog, motherf&*%#r!,” which would never happen on Palingates.

We love our freedom and on the rare occasions when we have to look at a comment more closely and make a decision, we always ask ourselves if we are suppressing ideas and opinions. An open forum shifts some of the responsibilty regarding how things are presented, but we’re still responsible for the overall “image” of Palingates.

Let me finish on a light note. Poor Track went all the way to Eye-rack to fight for the 1st Amendment and it would be very sad if we didn’t show how much we love our freedom and value the freedom of others…



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