Saturday, March 6, 2010

UAF Palin Summit

In honor of "Women's History Month" the Sociology Department at UAF kicked off a series of panel discussions last week, with the first one examining Sarah Palin "as a social and political phenomenon"
"Sarah Palin was a “first” in many ways including the first female Alaska governor and first female Republican VP nominee."
Featured in the panel lineup was a couple faculty members: sociologist Sine Anahita and political scientist Jerry McBeath; and also special guest The Alaska Muckraker, creator of Mudflats, flew up from the big city to sit in and offer her perspective. I got my little fan-boy on by meeting with her over coffee afterward, and enjoyed her super nice company for an hour before she migrated back South, indulging in the rare opportunity to schmooze with one of the few fellow bloggers I've crossed paths with. Pictured here is my cameo with Mudflat mascot Brian the Moose leaving behind some mighty big ol' nuggets.

The hour-long discussion was a tightly delivered exchange of questions and comments, as the participants gave an extremely rich range of informative, feisty and funny observations. Given their respective backgrounds all three had unique takes on our home-grown heroine, leaving aside interpretations on whether or not she's starring in a drama, mystery horror or comedy.

Anahita offered up an interesting angle with her theory that the historical categorization of women in a virgin/whore traditional dichotomy has evolved to accommodate the comparatively new role in politics by recasting them as either "ball-busters" (as in the emasculating portrayals of Clinton, Pelosi etc.), or what she termed "bimbo-ization" represented by the hyper-femininity and obsessive attention to superfluous and comparatively petty cosmetic details about Palin.

MacBeth keyed in on Palin's effect on fortifying and energizing the social-conservative base, and in turn McCain's attempt to piggy-back this by shoring up the woman's vote with her VP. He also noted the influence of what he termed the "selectorate" - party leaders and activists that function as de facto gatekeepers into the political leadership elite.

There was acknowledgment of the issues of sexuality and charisma versus actual attention to Palin's qualifications and policy positions. This has been a stone in my clown-shoe as an editorial cartoonist since the pro-Palin side has been furiously counter-spinning the largely false narrative that any attack on Palin is motivated by sexism and bigotry. Also the obvious point was made on the demographic shift and consequent role on-line social networking sites and alternative media has and will continue to play on dissemination of information. This in no small part was one of the underlying reasons many websites came into existence - providing perspective and countering biased opinion with facts is a virtual ongoing circus act when it comes to trying to ferret out the reality of Sarah Palin.
A perfect case in point in how the media is effectively hand-in-glove crafting a distorted image is in the revelation on how NBC aurally airbrushed audience reaction to Palin's recent appearance on the Tonight Show: according to someone present at the event applause and laughter was for the most part fabricated in the editing bay to present viewers with a completely dishonest portrayal of her reception.

The panel event was only marred in retrospect by the banning of photographs, which as an individual I was personally happy to oblige - but afterwards I found out the from the ripples of a disgruntled UAF Sun Star photographer tweet that the fundamental right and responsibility to report on public events held on a university campus was compromised. This is a tough call to make, especially given the rise in threats to individuals who have to deal with harassment and potential violence from unhinged members of the opposition. But entering into the public/political realm and participating in news-worthy events carries responsibilities and rights that don't extend to anonymity, and it's a calculated risk when wading into the muck that some of it will stick, and some of it will really stink.

While it's been over a month now for my self-imposed ban on cartooning all things Palin (a calculated risk given the reoccurring fountain of material), and couple months before that was the last time I bothered to dip my pen in that particular well, this presentation briefly aroused the reflexive cartooning gag instinct (which has been internalized and dealt with accordingly). Still, it recalled how wayyyy back in October of 2008, Palin let one out of the bag that confirmed suspicions that, aside from being a Novelty Politician of the North, she would be eminently out of her league on the national stage and her vendetta of ignorance could actually have far-reaching negative consequences on policy:
"Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? [...] You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not."
That statement alone did it for me.

The original version of this image included one of those ubiquitous Nutrition Information Panels - but the details about empty calories and saturated fat(heads) wouldn't have been legible enough to bother. This panel (appearing in the latest issue of the Ester Republic) actually coat-tailed an earlier variation which ran in the News-Miner, which brings up one of the more frustrating things about doing editorial cartoons. Besides having to spend time staring at pictures of Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck while doing reference sketches, the very nature of dealing with topical references dooms the material to being quickly dated out of relevance. So while it's particularly challenging to peg a panel for a monthly publication, the flip side is it potentially benefits from having more time to improve upon the initial concepts.
Did I mention that this is my last Palin panel?
No really, I swear...

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