What to make of Vanity Fair’s latest smear piece on Sarah Palin (October 2009), previewed in the magazine this week?
The title itself is slimy. “Me and Mrs. Palin.” It’s meant to make you think there are cougar-like revelations inside. Take a look at Mark Seliger’s photo of Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin’s boyfriend. He’s lying back in a chair, his hand curled into a kind of fist over his abdomen, his head turned aside dreamily, with Mrs. Palin’s face photoshopped just above. The title reads, “Keeping up with the Johnston.”
Johnson (without the ‘t’) is slang for the male organ. I don’t need to elaborate. Taken together with the insinuations in the text that Mrs. Palin preferred her daughter’s child to her own, the smear is clear enough.
Mind you, the actual dirt dished is weak stuff.
Mrs. Palin pouts when she loses.
(Presumably Vanity Fair editors do tap dances?)
Todd Palin smuggles beer into the house. The couple fight. They threaten divorce.
Yawn. That’s what married people do.
But wait, there’s even more. The kids do a lot of the cooking. The older kids help the younger kids. Oh my. What fiends. What glass-eating, baby-making monsters.
They let their kids do chores? Sheesh. Hang them!
Don’t they know real “family values” means parents should slave for children so that children never learn to take care of themselves? “Family values” means helpless, dependent children, so teachers and counselors can have harder jobs and state social workers can take over their guardianship and create yet another disenfranchised group that’s dependent on the state.
And on another point, who invented the hideous word “kids” for teenagers? There was a time not to long ago when girls of 16 and 17 were mothers and boys of that age were working at adult jobs.
Dear Vanity Unfair, the piece says more about you than about the Palins or the wretched adolescent who’s figured how to make babies out of wed-lock and then trash the grandparents who let him into their home.
What will the baby feel when he grows up and reads what his father said about his grandparents? And how will dad himself feel when he’s more of a man?
So much for the sensibilities of a certain type of liberal.
Of course, it serves the Palins right for being decent enough to have the little mutt in their house in the first place. Personally, I would have horsewhipped him, not fed him.
Still, the real culprit in all this is not a mixed-up eighteen year old. And it’s not even Vanity Fair. The culprit is a culture that foists this sort of thing on the national psyche as if it’s any kind of journalism. There’s toilet paper I know that has higher standards. The culprit is anyone who likes gloating over this kind of humiliation of people in public life.
After all, humiliating someone psychologically isn’t very different from humiliating them physically. In some cases it’s much worse. The CIA has figured that out. Why can’t we? Instead, we’ve fostered a media that’s essentially pornographic — it pries, strips, sexualizes, humiliates, taunts, and intimidates people to feed the public’s voyeurism. And it does it also to display its own power as king (or queen) maker.
Humiliating people from a pleasurable sense of one’s own unbridled power is the definition of sadism. What’s “liberal” about that?
Liberalism demands better advocates and journalism needs better practitioners.
Nor is there anything liberal or journalistic about turning children against the adults in their lives, to score cheap political points. It smacks of the tactics of communist saboteurs and of the Hitler Jugend.
This isn’t just about selling magazines at any cost.
It’s deeply ideological.
Go back and look at Todd Purdum’s earlier Vanity Fair piece on Sarah Palin (August 2009), snidely titled, “It Came from Wasilla.”
- “Sarah Palin is the sexiest and the riskiest brand in the Republican party”
- “dressed all in black; no red Naughty Monkey Double Dare pumps tonight”
There’s no mistaking the sexist and classist tone of the piece.
And then this piece of disingenuity:
“the surprise pregnancies, the two-bit blood feuds, the tawdry in-laws and common-law kin caught selling drugs or poaching game — give her family a singular status in the rogues’ gallery of political relatives. By comparison, Billy Carter, Donald Nixon, and Roger Clinton seem like avatars of circumspection”
Billy Carter was registered as a foreign agent of the Libyan government and was investigated by a Senate committee. He liked to urinate in public. Donald Nixon was the conduit for routing money and information to Nixon over some seriously questionable deals, including Watergate. Roger Clinton served a year in jail for cocaine distribution.
They’re avatars of circumspection next to the Palins?
So what’s the real reason for so much venom?
The answer to that can be found in the same September issue of Vanity Fair in a piece by Michael Wolff with the incredible title, “Blame America (and Jesus), for Jaycee Dugard kidnapping.”
Starting from that, the piece goes on to imply — none too subtly — that belief in the divinity of Jesus is somehow linked with kinky sexuality.
I kid you not.
As an experiment, I suggest you try substituting a few other religious figures for Jesus and see whether you’d be able to get away with it, as Vanity Fair apparently thinks it can.
How about “Blame India (and Krishna) for sex-trafficking in Mumbai slums”? How does that grab you?
Or “Blame Saudi Arabia (and Muhammed) for pedophilia?
(Oh sorry, looks like we already do a lot of that).
Here’s a good one. What about “Blame Israel (and Moses) for sexual torture”?
[Note: the paragraph above is satire meant to deride Vanity Fair's bigotry — no offense is meant to Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Krishna, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. However, offense is meant to Vanity Fair.... for terminal idiocy and obvious bigotry.]
Here’s a part of the Wolff piece (with my highlights):
"It’s an American Gothic thing — or, by any other name, a white trash thing. On the fringe of communities across the country there is a mutant culture: trashy, marginal, uneducated, unhealthy, and nutty. People cluck about it, and are fairly careful to avoid it, but are, too, remarkably laissez-faire towards it. This is partly because white trash means…white. And partly because, in America, a white man’s home is his castle (no matter how much debris is in the yard), and you just don’t ask too many questions (and because so many homes in America look like the homes of sex offenders).
And partly because of Jesus.
If Phillip Garrido ranted about there being no God, if he passed out atheist tracts, instead of bizarre-o Jesus-saves stuff, he would likely have been carted off years ago. But Jesus saves you not just from your sins but from public opprobrium. It may not make you any less weird in people’s eyes, but it makes you part of a protected class of weirdos. Jesus is an acceptable refuge for the sex offender. God knows, Jesus may even incite the sex offender.
No matter. If you believe hotly enough in Jesus, you’re a good American — at least for all the other weird Christians with piles of crap in their backyards, which is a considerable demographic."
There you have it. The real reason why it’s just fine to trash Sarah Palin is because she’s a lower middle-class white Christian from a small town.
So here’s what I want to know.
What sort of liberalism and what kind of democracy despise the race, religion, and culture of the majority of the people in a country?
And if we can’t answer that to our satisfaction, should we stop using words like liberalism and democracy for whatever it is that rules America today?
Lila Rajiva [send her mail] is the author of the ground-breaking study, The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media (MR Press, 2005), and the co-author with Bill Bonner of Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (Wiley, 2007). Visit her blog. All responses to email are posted at my blog in the comment section after the relevant article, with personal information omitted to ensure privacy.