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The Saga of Bristol Palin and What It Might (or Might Not) Mean

The Saga of Bristol Palin and What It Might (or Might Not) Mean

The votes have been counted, the confetti (and ostrich feathers) have drifted from the rafters, the stage has emptied and the lights dimmed, and a new leader has been elected. 

Yes, Jennifer Gray has won Dancing With the Stars, prevailing over the improbable candidacy of teen mom, famous daughter and dancing juggernaut Bristol Palin. Around Bristol, whose moves were considered by many to be less than scintillating, controversy swirled. How did it happen that, week after week, despite scoring by the judges that left her at the bottom of the heap, she avoided elimination while arguably better dancers were sent packing?

Was this a case of Tea Party advocacy in the extreme?  Did viewers simply admire her pluckiness?  Is this an indictment of DWTS as merely, in the final analysis, a popularity contest and not a recognition of skill?  And, finally, what, if anything, does it mean in that larger dancehall known as the political arena, that Bristol ultimately did not win the contest, and in fact came in third? 

It’s hard not to extrapolate the enthusiasm of Bristol’s supporters (who, according to many reports, voted early and often) into predictions of how they might respond to a presidential bid by her mom, who, despite faltering in her vice-presidential bid and perhaps bringing John McCain down with her, continues to enjoy superstar status in the feverish world of far-right-wing politics.  Apparently, in Bristol’s case, they cared less about how well she performed than they did about, simply, her pedigree.  Will this translate to equally uncritical support of mom, should the Grizzly-in-chief decide to run for the highest office in the land? 

In the final analysis, DWTS is simply frivolous entertainment – asking that the show carry portentous political prognostications on its toned, sequined shoulders is asking a lot.  However, the saga of Bristol serves, in my opinion, to highlight what I consider an oddity in the American weltanschauung – a distrust, if not downright fear, of elitism.  

Elitism, in its pure form, certainly is to be rejected.  It implies people of power and privilege, often unearned, who have no experience with anything resembling the hardships of those struggling with poverty, lack of access, and disenfranchisement, making decisions aimed at serving their own insulated class.  But elitism American-style often is something different.  It suggests a distrust of education, of nuance, of the responsibility of citizens to take the time, and do the work, of learning, really learning about the issues. 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a democracy.”  To be truly informed means not listening exclusively to Glenn Beck and getting one’s information in 25 words or less.  It means understanding that governance requires intelligence as well as character.  To be informed means to have a balanced perspective (and not in the FoxNews sense).  And it means, perhaps, to examine one’s own impulse to want leaders whose abilities are not personally threatening – the inclination to bestow the guy (or gal) with whom it’d be comfortable to have a beer with superior qualities of mind and heart that are not in evidence.   

This is a lot to lay on Bristol Palin, who undoubtedly did her best, however short her best might have fallen in any objective sense.  Bristol herself acknowledged the long shadow of her mother when she commented, “Going out there and winning this would mean a lot. It would be like a big middle finger out there to all the people out there who hate my mom and hate me.”  

No, Bristol, we don’t hate you (at least I don’t).  I see you as a kind of victim yourself, of a celebrity you did nothing to earn except by being born into your family of origin.  What I hate is the thought of image prevailing over substance. Do we honestly think that if Chelsea Clinton had cha-cha’d, pasa-roble’d and jitterbugged with the same degree of panache and expertise as Bristol, the bleeding-heart, tax-and-spend, hate-freedom crowd would have jammed the phone lines?  I doubt it. We progressives are plenty flawed but we can recognize excellence when we see it.

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103 comments

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10:13AM PST on Jan 29, 2011

When the whole Palin V.P. thing started, I felt so sorry for Bristol, as her mother forced her onto the stage, so that she could display her whole family. The poor girl was an unwed to-be mother, and I'm sure, embarrassed, and she didn't have the luxury of being alone in Alaska to mull over her future. Her boyfriend had to be dragged into it also, so that they would look like the perfect family, just a little late in getting married. Disgusting, the mother, Sarah is. And she brags about motherhood!

Since then, Bristol has done what most young people would do -- take advantage of her fame and earn money. I can't blame her for that. That said, I detest phony fame, and the whole culture of 15 min. fame, and so many young people choosing to be "famous", rather than do something wonderful in science or teaching or medicine, and in THAT way, get fame. The fame FOLLOWS achievement, not the other way around. I do not watch reality shows -- why do people want to WATCH others do, when they could DO, themselves?

So why am I commenting on a ridiculous subject like "Dancing with the Stars" and Bristol? Think I've wasted a lot of time.

1:36PM PST on Dec 19, 2010

I can't argue with you Lindsey. You have choosen to be kind. Kim Jong Un has his problems too I'm sure.As an retired pro performer and as a parent I just will have to disagree with you.
As for having the baby that was her choice. As for becoming a spokesperson for not having babies that was her choice too.
I think all these 7/24 Palin magazines, TV shows and daily news items are going too far for a political candidate. It is bad enough to have news as entertainment rather than truth, now we have fake entertainment trying to run our country. Frankly it's depressing. It all reminds me of the experiments where they kept showing people the same picture over and over again until they got use to it and then they liked it. If that's the case I'm for Snookie or the Hilton girl.

5:48AM PST on Dec 17, 2010

Linda, I feel sorry for any child who was forced in her teenaged years to have her private problems become extraordinarily public knowledge due to her mother's job. Your own comment is evidence of that: "...but having a baby in spite of her mother's support of abstinence only...." Because Sarah Palin's support of abstinence-only programs isn't something that her children should be blamed for. As if Bristol's pregnancy is somehow more heinous on her part because of her mother's position on the issues.

I'm very thankful that when in my own teenaged years I had problems with my boyfriend or did things that embarassed me terribly I had the advantage of being allowed to suffer privately and not to have the whole world sniggering at me. Yes - I feel sorry for any child put in that position.

Criticize Bristol's dancing all you like - as you said, she chose to put herself on national television for that competition (and she's not a good dancer by any means). But that's not what I'm talking about when I say that I feel sorry for her.

8:56PM PST on Dec 16, 2010

Lindsey, I used to watch DWTS fanatically and really was surprised and disappointed to see "poor Bristol" on that show at all. You want me to what? feel sorry for her making $100,000 an episode when she is not a star of anything but having a baby in spite of her mother's support of abstinence only and when Bristol's *day job* is promoting abstinence hilariously for a program supported by Candies shoes, a shoe made famous by hookers? DWTS is noted for drawing a large Republican audience and so they always have some well known Conservatives participate but they were in the past actual stars of some kind. She is now an adult and she chose to try and dance and she didn't do very well or look very good trying. That's what happens when you choose a public life. It's public. Then again she could have done something smart like go back to school and learn a trade but why bother to learn to be good at anything when you can just cheat? Let her take responsibility for her bad choices.

10:07PM PST on Dec 15, 2010

Obviously, you don't watch DWTS.

The audience can vote and, if they're determined to do it, they can "cheat" by registering multiple email identities and use more than one phone to "vote"....it has NOTHING to do with talent!

10:03PM PST on Dec 15, 2010

Good show. Very impressed by Bristol's improvement throughout the competition. BTW, don't see how she could be called a "loser" when she beat nine other dancers - some with previous dance experience. As to her having had sex before she was married, so did you, and your daughter did, too!

1:36PM PST on Dec 15, 2010

She IS a loser because she's been exploited, not only by her idiotic mother but by the media. NOBODY would give a fig about this girl if it weren't for her mother and, in five years, we'll all have mercifully forgotten everyone in that meaningless family.

11:24AM PST on Dec 15, 2010

Poor Poor Bristol...she was a loser!
It kind of runs in the family, doesn't it?

7:47PM PST on Dec 14, 2010

Oh, for heaven's sake, Minkie - what does Bristol Palin's weight have to do with anything (or even the fact that she had premarital sex - as if most teenaged girls in this country haven't had sex?) She's just a kid who's having to deal with a heck of a lot more very public stress in her life than most of us could have handled at her age. Don't like her mother's politics (and I imagine you don't, as many of us don't)? Then go after her mother. The children of politicians shouldn't have to suffer for their parents' shortcomings.

7:09PM PST on Dec 14, 2010

Hey guys, take a look at that picture AGAIN. LMAO!!!! IT LOOKS LIKE OBAMA WITH BRISTOL OVER HIS SHOULDER!!!! DOESN'T IT???

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