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Sarah Palin's Appearance On Saturday Night Live - Another Bad VP Choice

Palin's Decision To Go On SNL Helped the Show and Hurt the Candidate


Throughout her vice presidential campaign, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has lambasted what she called "the liberal media elite" for ganging up on her, misrepresenting her, and generally mocking what she stands for - Joe Six-Pack, soccer moms, and Main Street America.

So when it was announced that Governor Palin would make an appearance on Saturday Night Live, a sketch comedy show that has parodied her throughout the fall of 2008, it was both odd and intriguing that the GOP candidate would enter the lion's den of liberal television comedy in an attempt to co-opt the political satire that some say punctured her hockey mom image.

If she hoped her appearance on SNL on October 18, 2008 - 17 days before Election Day - would significantly reverse her downward poll numbers, it did not. Palin's attempt to get in on the jokes made at her expense seemed like a bad idea, and her lines were unremarkable without a memorable quote among them. Worst of all, she appeared absolutely complicit in the show's portrayal of her as more sexy than substantive and more party girl than policy maker.

Sexism and Palin's Campaign

Is it fair to characterize her treatment at the hands of the SNL cast and writers as sexist if she was satisfied with her on-camera depiction? If she's comfortable with her image as a 'hottie' and feels neither subjugated nor objectified by the experience, is it wrong of us as female viewers to claim sexism on her behalf? Although Palin considers herself a feminist, she has repeatedly said she never experienced gender bias while growing up.

She lacks sympathy for those who perceive themselves as victims of sexism. Having previously characterized Hillary Clinton's complaint of media sexism as whining, Palin was quoted as saying that this attitude holds political women back from achieving progress.

With all the gender-specific references Palin herself has invoked (high heels, lipstick, etc.) it's a tough call at this late stage of her campaign to say whether sexism is an issue, but it wasn't always this way. When words, nicknames and phrases initially started surfacing that denigrated her on the basis of gender, accusations of sexism were made by Republicans; even a few Democrats associated with the Hillary Clinton campaign backed these claims.

Some of the most popular and most apparently sexist remarks were:

But Sarah Palin's much-anticipated appearance on Saturday Night Live on October 18, 2008 didn't simply show what Newsday described as her 'sense of humor.' It also showed her willing complicity in portraying herself as 'hot.'

"You Are Way Hotter in Person"

As this partial transcript of the show reveals, in a portion of the opening segment involving SNL producer Lorne Michaels, actor Alec Baldwin, and Governor Palin (whom Baldwin believes is former SNL cast member Tina Fey impersonating the governor), Palin had no problem with being vilified for her political background and then fawned over for her sexiness:
Alec Baldwin: Hey, Lorne. Hey, Tina. Lorne, I need to talk to you. You can't let Tina go out there with that woman. She goes against everything we stand for. I mean, good Lord, Lorne, they call her... what's that name they call her? Cari... Cari... What do they call her again, Tina?

Sarah Palin: That'd be Caribou Barbie.

Alec Baldwin: Caribou Barbie. Thank you, Tina. I mean, this is the most important election in our nation's history. And you want her -- our Tina -- to go out there and stand there with that horrible woman. What do you have to say for yourself?

Lorne Michaels: Alec, this is Governor Palin.

Sarah Palin: Hi there.

Alec Baldwin: I see. Forgive me, but I feel I must say this -- you are way hotter in person.

Sarah Palin: Why, thank you.

In a later sketch during the show's Weekend Update segment, Palin 'refuses' to do a musical number she'd previously agreed to, and Amy Poehler steps in to voice a rap song that mocks Palin, her running mate John McCain, and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. As the Toronto Star described it:
The later musical send-up included references to Palin infamously saying she could see Russia from Alaska, and Palin's desire to "shoot a motherhumpin' moose eight days of the week."

"All the mavericks in the house put your hands up," Poehler sings and Palin dutifully raises her hands.

The Cheap Gender Joke

To its credit, SNL's brilliant political satire throughout the presidential election cycle of 2008 has rarely gone for the cheap gender joke. When they have tackled sexism, they've done so with an insouciant, in-your-face approach as illustrated by Fey's memorable commentary, "Bitch is the New Black."

So the decision to do the cheap gender joke in the opening sketch of the October 18 show indicates two things:
1) The sexism was deliberate and intentional, and
2) Palin understood she'd be described as 'hot' in the sketch and approved it.

The long road that led a popular and long-running late night comedy show to mock the MILFyness of a vice presidential candidate who became a ratings goldmine began with Palin's own historic nomination as the Republican Party's first female running mate. It seemed a given that SNL would bring back former head writer Tina Fey to portray Palin; many media observers had already commented on their striking resemblance.

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