Notes from the Perimeter

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Sarah Contradictions: I Went to High School with Sarah Palin!!

Well, not exactly. I’m not actually acquainted with Sarah Palin, the vice presidential candidate. But I do know that just about every high school has its Sarah Palin, and her I know well.

The Sarah Palins of this world are born with an abundance of good looks, bubbly energy and steely ambition. They might not excel in the classroom but they earn As in getting what they want. They’re not the Mean Girls – that would be too obvious – and they’re usually not the Rich Girls who toss away twenty versions of every outfit you wish you had a single one of, ski in places that require helicopters, and drive cars that are better than the Principal’s. No, the Sarah Palins are Just Like Us but better: prettier, savvier, and more fun. While it’s easy to detest the Mean Girls and Rich Girls, it’s impossible not to admire the Sarah Palins: after all, we think, with just a twist of the genetic deal we might have been her.

But we’re not. And we never will be. Because down deep the Sarah Palins are actually not like most of the rest of us. They belong to a class all their own: absolutely ruthless egos wrapped with a pretty ribbon. They see the world in terms of what they are entitled to have, not what they have earned… and what is not within their long reach becomes disposable and valueless. They’re not actually smart since smart suggests an understanding of the world that is nuanced and complex, and that sort of vision just complicates things for our Sarah Palins. Theirs is the straight path: from most popular eighth grader to Homecoming Queen to marrying a Most Likely to conquering whatever kingdom they covet. No obstacle can resist their determination for one simple reason: the Sarah Palins are never wrong.

If every desired end justifies every means, then there is no such thing as a mistake. If she steals your boyfriend, well, she couldn’t help it if he fell in love with her. If she needs to misconstrue her record in order to win class president, well, records are open to interpretation. She is free from doubt, remorse and self-examination. She doesn’t struggle with philosophical questions like “Who am I?” She knows precisely the answer to that question since who she is and what she wants are indistinguishable. Her goal is to make certain that every metaphorical crown, from Princess of the May to Mother of the Year, is hers for the wearing.

So what’s the problem? We elected our Sarah Palin Queen of the Entire School so why not vote for her for VP? The issue, as I see it, is one of quality. Take away the cheekbones, the flawless skin and glossy hair, the confident delivery and vague but brilliant smile, and what do you have? In high school you’d have a girl who, in looking for the world in her own reflection, can’t see beyond her own perfect nose. Ambition unadorned isn’t sexy – it’s just plain embarrassing (when it’s not scary). Relentless drive, the kind of drive that obliterates subtleties on its journey toward the top of the mountain, can make itself up into a glorious package but all the lipstick in the world can’t change its true essence.

Don’t get me wrong. While most Sarah Palins are beauty queens, not all beauty queens are Sarah Palins. The difference is maturity. In other words, at some point we grow up. Maybe a faint miasma of high school lingers around most of us, no matter how far we come. That feeling of being on the outside of the Magic Circle, looking in at the Chosen Ones, is indelible. Which, maybe, is why we are so ready to project our own longings onto the smooth surface of a face unmarked by the wisdom gained through sacrifice, contemplation and compassion.

They might look good and sound good, but the essence of the Sarah Palins of the world is mediocrity. And that’s nature’s little trick on us: we need eyes that can see beyond the bone structure, the perky rhetoric and charming manipulations and perceive the meanness of mind and spirit that lies beneath. A tiara is not a halo. Sarah Palins make great beauty queens. They are not the stuff of heroes.


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