Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sarah Palin's Utopia of Wasilla

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"Wasilla: The Meth Capital Of Alaska." That's the title of a post by Andrew Sullivan, who quotes an article from the Juneau Empire.

Now, it this fair game? Is it an issue for the presidential race?


Obama is from Chicago (if not originally), and Chicago obviously has its problems, but he hasn't romanticized or mythologized Chicago the way Palin has her hometown. Indeed, Obama has spent much of his life, including as a community organizer, working to solve those problems.

In contrast, Palin emphasizes her small-town origins and values, praising them as if Wasilla were the very essence of America. "I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town," she said last night. "I grew up with those people. They're the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our food, and run our factories, and fight our wars. They love their country in good times and bad, and they're always proud of America." (Presumably, if you aren't from a small town, you don't work hard, don't love your country, and aren't proud of America. That was the implicit message, the last part a dig at Michelle Obama.)

This is, of course, calculated self-promotion. In romanticizing and mythologizing Wasilla and its inhabitants, Palin romanticizes and mythologizes herself. John Mellencamp wrote a great song about small-town America, but that was a statement of personal preference, one with a certain irony to it. What Palin is doing is using Wasilla for her own political purposes, turning a small town in Alaska into a Norman Rockwell utopia. And, as with all utopias, her Wasilla literally doesn't exist. It's a Wasilla of the mind, a Wasilla of her own fictitious storytelling. She wants to be seen as an ordinary hockey mom from a town with "real" people and "real" values, that is, she wants to be seen as "authentic," but there is nothing real or authentic in what she says. In actual fact, the real Wasilla, the one of which she was mayor, is hardly the utopia she makes it out to be.

Does she deserve any of the blame for the fact that Wasilla is the meth capital of Alaska? Maybe, maybe not. I'll let others delve further into her hometown's seedy underbelly.

However, she does deserve to have her romanticizing and mythologizing of Wasilla -- as well as of its inhabitants and values, and of herself and her values -- called into question and exposed for what it is: a convenient narrative to bolster her alleged "authenticity" and an implicit (and sometimes quite explicit) attack on everyone not from her little utopia (and mainly Obama).

The real Wasilla, you see, has a serious drug problem, and no doubt other such serious problems as well. In that sense, it's actually a very real place dealing with the very real problems facing communities all around the country, from the largest cities to the tiny hamlets. I suppose I would respect Palin if she were honest about her hometown and its inhabitants and values, if she showed that she recognized and understood the problems and had spent her time in public service, like Obama, working to solve them. Instead, she concocts fiction and uses it to sell herself, attack her opponents, and reopen the culture wars of the past.

Like the rest of her party, she is a divider, not a uniter -- and, last night, she drove in the wedge.

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  • So is it like, "Hey, you're wrong Sarah; these aren't Norman Rockwell characters -- they're methheads" or is it more like, "yeah, Sarah, these are the hardworking folk that grow the food, build the stuff, and cook up the meth that people eat, use, and enjoy in the urban areas"?

    By Blogger pholidote, at 7:50 AM  

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