Sarah Palin: You Betcha!

Does anyone still care about Sarah Palin? The straight talking, gun toting, all-American woman, who rose to fame in 2008 as the candidate pundits claimed would ‘save’ the McCain Presidential bid, has since been marred by waves of bad publicity that have seen her popularity shrink from a massive 93% approval rating, to just 38%.

Despite her growing insignificance as a viable political candidate, Nick Broomfield, the darling documentary-maker of Channel 4, has made a film that attempts to expose the truth about the real Sarah Palin. Broomfield travelled to Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska and attempted to track down Sarah’s friends and family so that he could try to understand the person behind the headlines.

The bright lights and strip malls of Wasilla, Alaska

I was interested to watch this film, as I was studying US politics during the 2008 election, and had researched much about her popularity, the cult of personality that surrounded her, and had witnessed her terrifying rise to power in the Republican camp.

I wanted to see how Broomfield, a clearly left-leaning, middle-class, educated English filmmaker would deal with documenting the life of a thick-as-mud, ultra-conservative, evangelical Alaskan politician. There was surely always going to be an undeniable bias against Palin in this film.

However, much to Broomfield’s credit, he does attempt to go in search of a positive view of Palin as the film begins. He visits her parents, who seem friendly and accommodating and tell him of their daughter’s life-long competitiveness and her focus on success. He visits old friends who appear to sing her praises as a charismatic, committed lady who, when you talk to her, “makes you feel like you are the only person in the universe”.

Yet soon this façade of positivity begins to crumble away. Those same ‘old friends’ who first sung Palin’s praises then begin to reveal how they were betrayed by her, stabbed in the back, “thrown under the bus” as soon as she was done using them.

There is a lot of bitterness, a lot of love lost between the Palin family and many individuals in the Wasilla community. Over the course of the film we learn how Sarah Palin’s quest for political power turned friends to enemies, splitting the town’s allegiances in two: those who blindly supported Palin and those who were terrified of her. Broomfield found that few residents were willing to speak out against Sarah Palin, fearing for their jobs and their reputations within the tiny town.

'Nice lady... genuine smile... l'kill ya like that'

We also learn how Sarah, as soon as she was elected as Governor of Alaska, used her power to threaten her ‘enemies’, such as her ex-brother-in-Law Mike Wooton, whom she and her family attempted to ‘run out of town’ because he divorced Sarah’s sister. This ‘troopergate’ scandal was just one of the examples of the small-town feuds that Palin brought to the Alaskan capital during her time as Governor.

Throughout Broomfield’s various interviews with Sarah’s old acquaintances, we also follow his fruitless attempts to gain a meeting with Sarah herself. He turns up to several book signings and then to an event in Oklahoma which advertises a ‘Q&A’ with Palin. Despite Broomfield’s determination to meet with Palin, he is ultimately unsuccessful.

The screening that I attended of the documentary, at the HMV Curzon in Wimbledon, also included a Q&A with Broomfield after the film. It was interesting to hear first hand how he gained access to the secretive community, which he put down to pure persistence. The filmmaker told how both himself and his film crew were largely treated with suspicion during their stay in Wasilla and consequently they kept a predominantly low profile during filming.

Broomfield also informed us that after asking Palin an unauthorised question during the Q&A event in Oklahoma, his film crew were removed from the auditorium and beaten up by Palin supporters in retaliation. Though this never made it into the film, in my mind it only cements the worrying power that Sarah Palin still holds over some American followers.

Even though Palin’s mainstream political career is essentially over (having been replaced by a slightly more educated but equally petrifying look-a-like by the name of Michelle Bachmann), her celebrity is not yet dead. She still maintains support from Evangelical groups and from Conservative business leaders such Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers.

Can you spot the different between Palin and her political replacement, Michelle Bachmann? Nope? Neither could I.

Ultimately, this film provides an interesting insight into a very alarming figure as well as the worrying trend in American politics which focusses on politicians’ backgrounds, religious beliefs and how good they look on camera rather than their suitability for government. The film may not be particularly ground-breaking, since it doesn’t offer up any stories that hadn’t been heard of/hinted at before but it is certainly provides for an informative, often humorous 90 minutes.

Sarah Palin: You Betcha! is being played on More4 on 27th December.

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