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Gidget Wins The Academy Award! And possible future role.

October 6, 2008

“You like me, you really like me,” is a parody of Sally Field’s acceptance speech for winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in the 1984 film, Places in the Heart. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. It’s the story of a Southern widow trying to run her family farm with the aid of two homeless cotton pickers, a blind man and an African-American man. With great supporting performances by Danny Glover and John Malkovich, the film could be read as a preview of what is coming for the middle class if we don’t kill Wall Street’s mantra “greed is good.” Another famous movie line.

However last Thursday, Field’s line could have been used by Sarah Palin after the premier of The Sarah Palin Show, a made for television drama. The new program is the story of two white folks running for Vice President of the United States, and it’s an instant hit. A white male, played by veteran actor Joe Biden, is cast opposite of newcomer Gidget, the plucky white girl played by Sarah Palin. It’s a role within a role, a postmodern narrative written and directed by Karl Rove. The viewers loved it. Television ratings went through the roof as nearly 70 million viewers watched in awe as Gidget winked and betcha by golly, wowed them. She remained faithful to her script against Biden [who often channels Brando]. The result was that viewers liked Gidget, they really, really liked her. She mavericked us alright, but here’s the caveat: not enough to vote for her, or her running mate, legendary star of Vietnam’s Theater for Social Change and Development, John McCain. A CNN poll found that respondents judged Biden the winner by a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent but calling Palin more likable by 54 percent to Biden’s 36 percent. Just like I said, we like Gidget, we really, really like her. But cuteness has a short shelf life.

I think there is another reason viewers won’t vote for Palin, and it’s not because she is a dullard and can’t speak like a real person off-script. [Few actors can.] No, it’s not that. As a burgeoning actress in a leading role, I believe there is something viewers detected that spooked them when Palin delivered her lines straight into the camera. It’s what film editor Walter Murch calls the “unanticipated collisions of things.” It can be images that collide, or an actor’s look on-camera that collides with the dialogue being spoken – it’s that certain something we don’t have a word for in English, but we see it nevertheless.

For example, ever watch The Manchurian Candidate, the 1963 version staring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury? If you haven’t, rent it. The answer to viewers’ subliminal fear of Palin may become manifest if we view her through the lens of Angela Lansbury, the real Manchurian candidate in the film.

Hal Hinson, Washington Post staff writer, wrote on February 13, 1988 that the film, “which takes off on McCarthyism and the anticommunist hysteria of the ’50s is the story of Raymond Shaw (Harvey), a Medal of Honor winner who is brainwashed by Soviet and Red Chinese officials.” In other words, while the bad guys say they are against communists, they are communists themselves. Sound familiar? Laurence Harvey plays Raymond Shaw, an assassin destined to kill an American presidential candidate. However it’s Angela Lansbury’s performance as Raymond’s mother that drives the action. Underneath her warm motherly smile is a cold-blooded narcissist who sacrifices her only son in order to gain access to the U.S. presidency. Angela Lansbury’s performance is riveting and viewers intuited that she was a monster. For my money, Palin’s performance against Biden was powerful and scary at the same time. When she looked into the camera and told viewers that she was prepared to be President should something happen to McCain, she never looked more radiant. I also believe viewers got a glimpse of Palin’s hunger for power and it collided with the carefully packaged image of Palin as a hapless buffoon. Viewers seem more wary of her now than ever. As well they should be, they’re on the hook for nearly a trillion dollars to bail out Wall Street all the while being told by Congress and the President “this one’s for you, baby.”

As an American Indian, I also want to know how Palin thinks she and McCain would clean up our environment, reduce green house gases and find ways to reinvigorate Indian tribes so our youth would have other options for employment rather than joining the military. According to a Boston Globe article in 2007, “at least 18,000 of the 22,000 Native Americans currently in uniform had been deployed at least once to Iraq or Afghanistan…. That was as of July 2007. While Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and American Indians account for only 1.5 percent of the total population in the US, our percentage of men and women serving in Iraq remains higher than for mainstream Americans.  According to the Department of Navy’s Historical Center website here, “Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. The reasons behind this disproportionate contribution are complex and deeply rooted in traditional American Indian culture. In many respects, Native Americans are no different from others who volunteer for military service. They do, however, have distinctive cultural values which drive them to serve their country. One such value is their proud warrior tradition.” Hum? I wonder could there be another reason for the warrior tradition?

As a parent of a native son, shouldn’t Palin want to ponder this assertion, just a bit? Could it also be the lack of economic opportunities on Indian reservations that drive men and women into the military? And why are natives still coded as warriors in the 21st century who must defend the nation-state against their enemies? Ugh. But understanding Palin’s position on this issue is a bit tricky. In Thursday’s debate she said she’s against flying the “white flag of surrender,” a line repeatedly used in classic Hollywood westerns. In the 1940 film, Santa Fe Trail, Ronald Reagan used this line when talking about being overrun by the Sioux. So, is Palin with Custer and the Seventh Cavalry? Or does she buy into the warrior rhetoric and believe Natives must simply continue to die for their country to show how super patriotic they are? It’s hard to know.

As for me, I sincerely hope that Palin’s son will not be sacrificed, as so many other natives have been these past 6 years in Iraq. But if you’re expecting her to tear up about it, don’t. She is a believer in her own will to power. And of course, God’s will. Dog gone right!

One thing that is also certain. Gidget and her sidekick, the Maverick, will continue to lose TV ratings because viewers intuit something is wrong with their script. It lacks focus. Perhaps it’s the inherent character flaws, or the raw ambition to power, or the lack of a plot that scares them.

But cheer up Gidget fans, there’s always another television season. I predict Gidget will go on to become a great star. At the very least she’ll land a radio talk show host gig, much like Rush Limbaugh’s. You betcha!

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