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Sarah Palin Meets Seinfeld: Politics and American Television

David Lavery

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Images from AP, NBC

In the run-up to the American mid-term elections the first week in November 2010, the Politico website ran a controversial story: "Next for GOP leaders: Stopping Sarah Palin," an anonymously-sourced "Republican establishment wants to prevent Palin from running for President because she will lose" article.

As Michael David Gross observes in a Vanity Fair expose, Palin "injects herself into the news almost every day, but on a strictly one-way basis, through a steady stream of messages on Twitter and Facebook. The press plays along."[1] So it should not surprise us that the former half-term Governor of Alaska and John McCain's Vice-Presidential running mate did not take the piece lying down. The famously vacuous Palin responded with an e-mail to the Daily Caller website.

Why, you may be asking, is this of interest to Telegenic readers on either side of the Atlantic? Because the author of Palin's e-mail — almost certainly (as Gross shows[2]) not Palin herself — drops a Seinfeld reference:

I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers . . . really, they are . . . I've seen it myself . . . but I'll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these "facts" to an "anonymous source" and I'll give you more. [emphasis mine]

From Seinfeld, The Master of Its Domain.

For those not fluent in Seinfeld (I am well aware that the series never really caught on in the UK), the designation "anti-dentite" appeared in the next to the last season of "television's greatest show" (according to TV Guide)—in the episode entitled "The Yada Yada" (8.19), the one in which stand-up comic Jerry is offended (not as a Jew but as a comedian) that his dentist, Tim Whatley (Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston), converts to Judaism and begins spouting Jewish humor and dropping Yiddish phrases. In retaliation, Jerry engages in a bit of dentist humor, and the following exchange—between Jerry and his customarily deranged wacky neighbor Kramer—results.

Now, even if we did not know Palin's utterance are the fictional collaboration of one or more ventriloquists, we would have been suspicious that a a political candidate who, in a famous 2008 interview with Katie Couric, was unable to name a single thing she read could have pulled off such a witty, ironic pop culture allusion. Which is not to say that Seinfeld fans came only from the left. As Sarah Dunne and I would note in the preface to our Seinfeld collection, the incredibly-popular-in-the-US sitcom did have Republican fans:

'Even some conservatives loved it: Rob Long, offering his tribute in the right-wing organ National Review, found Seinfeld, a series that inspired laughs at the expense of the handicapped, the homeless, the elderly, the retarded, suicides, abortion, and a variety of minorities, the near-perfect culture wars antidote to obsessive PCness.' (3)

"Palin's" Seinfeld reference, however, part of a list of possible crimes "she" might accuse the press of—homophobia, molestation, tax evasion, puppy-abuse, chain smoking, porn production—incongruously situates an imagined, non-sensical PC bigotry alongside real wrongs. To what end? The dropping of a Seinfeldism was clearly meant to make its author seem cooler, more hip.

The political right in America famously cannot do humor. Remember the disastrous Half-Hour News Hour, 24 co-creator Joel Surnow's presumed riposte to The Daily Show?

Jack Bauer was funnier. And the right is especially inept at irony, as I am reminded whenever I watch my ultraRepublican, fundamentalist next door neighbor stare in puzzlement at my "Republicans for Voldemort" bumper sticker.


But they can do parody. Watch the last few seconds of this walk-and-talk with Palin in which her shtick lapses into self-satire and she seems to break the fourth wall and acknowledge that she is performing a character.

And if that character becomes President of the United States, she will be the first POTUS to have already starred in her own reality television show.

from The Learning Channel

[1] Palin, Morris observes, has become "the only politician whose tweets are regularly reported as news by TV networks. She is the only one who has been able to significantly change the course of debate on a major national issue (health-care reform) with a single Facebook posting (in which she accused the Obama administration, falsely, of wanting to set up a 'death panel')."

[2] In Gross' "Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury" we learn that author/blogger/media publicist/screenwriter Rebecca Mansour is the primary Palin ventriloquist.

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