The Making Of Willow Palin

by Rob Walker

Everybody said the Sarah Palin show would be boring. In fact, Sarah Palin said so. Just a few minutes into the first episode, while complaining about unwanted next-door-neighbor Joe McGinniss (who goes unnamed), she declares the author will be “bored to death” observing Palin and family going about their business. That’s a strange thing to say at the top of a multi-part television series about watching Palin and family going about their business. But that is the media genius of Sarah Palin: She wants to be perceived as dull, regular folk, someone who spends her days doing nothing more remarkable than riding in a prop-plane to a pristine fishing spot, or popping into the backyard TV studio to do a segment on Fox — just like everybody else in America.

I didn’t have a chance to watch the show until last night, via DVR, and I would like to point out that there is one element of it that is potentially not-boring: Keep your eye on Willow Palin. Overshadowed to date by her famous teen mom/danced-with “star” sister Bristol, Willow is ripe for her breakout moment. The 16-year-old is a somewhat shadowy figure in much of the premiere, sullen and sulky and plainly miserable. But the foreshadowing is obvious in a scene that begins with Palin, barefoot and in shorts, hoodie draped over a T-shirt, boning up for “some Fox News hits” on a computer in a corner of her kitchen. Evidently she’s camped out in this space to keep an eye on Willow, who, she tells us, would rather “socialize” than do housework. Just then, Willow saunters by, a teenager in cutoffs escaping chores and the spotlight, leaving the cameras to record her Daisy Dukes ascending a staircase. Her would-be partner in, uh, socializing is kid in a baseball cap named Andy. If the Palins’ life were a sitcom, Andy would be the guy brought on to play the Levi Johnston character in the pathetic final season, after the original actor left to embark on a failed career in movies. Needless to say, Andy instinctually heads for the stairs, too, but Mama Grizzly heads him off: No boys up there!

Andy’s lonely longing is palpable. He perches on the couch to assess the situation. The girl is in her room, up there. Mom is in the kitchen, down here. He hits on a plan. He’ll simply sneak upstairs. Who will be the wiser — apart from this cable network crew that is making a television show that he is in, right now? “Andy? Come here,” yelps Palin, as though disciplining a hound dog, which I suppose she is. This gambit fails, so she phones her daughter, one floor away. “What?” snaps Willow.

Palin says she will count to three, but doesn’t. Still she sort of prevails: No, Willow won’t come back, but here is Andy, skulking down the stairs and back to the couch. And there he sits, gazing like a domesticated animal at what I take to be Willow’s bedroom door. I have a hunch that Andy’s going to need to show a little more moxie if he wants to socialize with Willow; the Palin women seem to prefer more take-charge suitors. In any case, I assume the point of this segment is supposed to be that Sarah Palin balances work (Fox News hits) with masterful mommery (keeping the boys out of her daughter’s bedroom). But it comes across a little different: Willow is in heat.

Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little crass: Let’s just say she looks like a handful. That was my read, at least. And this morning, on cue, I see that Willow is in fact making “news” of her own, attacking some random badmouther of the show on Facebook as a “faggot.” Presumably this will get spun by Palin as evidence of (boring!) family-values loyalty, merely a feisty and self-possessed young woman defending her clan’s prime-time reality show — just like everybody else in America. Fine, fine, nothing unusual about that. But face it, this is more proof that the Palin media machine is flawless: There’s always just enough blatant, heat-generating titillation to suck you back into the vortex of dull propaganda. Thus I’m certain to watch one more episode, at least, waiting out the travelogue material and recitation of Palin homilies for fleeting clues about the future of that Hot Willow Mess.

Rob Walker is the author of Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are.