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The Palin sensation

Alaska governor is a virtual hit on the Internet and television

Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2008

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has become a pop culture phenomenon.

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Illustration By Chris Ware / Mct Direct
Illustration By Chris Ware / Mct Direct

The former small-town mayor who rose to political prominence in the Last Frontier has made a splash on the world stage since being tapped by Sen. John McCain as his running mate in a historic bid for the White House, generating a tidal wave of attention from the global media and entertainment industries. The woman who once created a statewide stir over her glamour photo shoot with Vogue magazine has in recent weeks graced the covers of some of America's most influential magazines and trashy tabloids, and has become a hot topic for virtually every pundit and comedian on television.

Highest form of flattery

One of the most talked about entertainment stories of the past week was the unannounced cameo by "30 Rock" star Tina Fey portraying Palin in the 34th-season premiere of "Saturday Night Live." The five-minute opening sketch with Amy Poehler as Sen. Hillary Clinton helped the show see its highest season debut viewership since 2001, and an increase of 64 percent of viewers from last year's debut, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The buzz Fey helped create with her Palin impersonation eclipsed the star power of Olympic gold medal record-holder Michael Phelps' debut on "SNL" and has generated speculation as to whether Fey will return to the show again as Palin prior to the Nov. 4 election. The skit - depicting a "nonpartisan message" to end sexism generated on the presidential campaign trail - created so much attention on the Web earlier this week that the popular video sharing Web site YouTube began taking down the clips from the Internet at the request of NBC due to copyright laws.

For those that missed the skit over the weekend, it can be viewed on the network's Web site at www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/palin-hillary-open/656281/.

The "SNL" skit satirizes Palin's image, her conservative political views and a perceived lack of foreign policy experience, with Fey in a Minnesotan accent exuberantly proclaiming, "I can see Russia from my house!"

It was reported by one of her staff members that the skit amused Palin when she saw it on her campaign plane.

Internet killed the television star

Numerous other impersonations of Palin have proliferated across the World Wide Web since she was announced as John McCain's running mate on Aug. 29, from professionally produced parodies to no-budget homemade movies.

One of the first parodies to catch fire on the Web earlier this month was Lisa Donovan's somewhat explicit skit depicting Palin's initial call from McCain as he reluctantly asks the governor to accept the VP nod. Donovan, who produces viral videos under the handle LisaNova, has become one of the most popular directors on YouTube for her many celebrity impersonations and has parlayed her Internet fame into legitimate Hollywood acting roles.

Her initial Palin spoof, available on the Web at www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-QevraCQUc, has garnered more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.

"Don't talk down to me, John McCain. A few years ago I was head of the PTA and now I'm the freakin' governor of Alaska," Donovan says in the video. "I didn't get there by just eating moose burgers and popping out kids."

Another Palin YouTube impersonator is Susan Anna of Grand Rapids, Mich., who has created several videos available at www.youtube.com/user/Fair9. While her costumes and acting ability pale in comparison to other parodies, a spoof of the ABC interview with Charlie Gibson that is spliced with old footage of comedic musician Weird Al Yankovic may amuse some audiences.

A video popped up on the Web earlier this week by an independent filmmaker who goes by the handle baby smith that spoofs a telephone conversation between Palin and McCain about the alleged smear campaign happening in the press; it can be found at www.youtube.com/user/artworkslive. While baby smith resembles Gov. Palin more than some other Internet actors, it seems she took voice coaching from Frances McDormand in "Fargo," helping to perpetuate the myth that Alaskans have the same accent as Minnesotans.

"Piper! Get your tongue off your little brother's forehead right now," baby smith says at one point, referring to a much talked about moment between Palin's two youngest children at the Republican National Convention. "I know. I know it tastes good. One more lick little lady and I swear I will take your rifle away. That's right. No more hunting play dates for you."

Hollywood actress Gina Gershon has also entered the fray of Palin parodies with an exclusive video on Will Ferrell's comedy site funnyordie.com, which generated nearly 1 million hits in its first week.

Prior to stripping down to an American flag bikini and shooting a shotgun in front of an Alaskan backdrop, Gershon says, "I think global warming is P.S. - polar bear s#it. Every day I open my door in Anchorage and it is freezing. End of experiment."

The video can be found at www.funnyordie.com/videos/61410aa4ff.

Also available on the same site is a profanity-laced hip-hop parody that claims to be "recently discovered footage of Sarah Palin rapping;" it can be viewed at www.funnyordie.com/videos/68ac743f18. Like most of the parodies of Palin on the Web, this video lampoons Alaska's governor for her political views, including her stand on the issue of global warming and hunting.

"And while we're at it, f@#k polar bears too. I kill endangered species to get a pipeline to you," part of the rap goes. "You may think I'm harsh, but don't try to deride it, I'd club a baby seal if there were oil inside it."

Capitalizing on capitalism

The Palin sensation has led to much more than just viral videos on the Web. In the few short weeks since she has entered the race, entrepreneurs have created everything from action figures of the governor (www.herobuilders.com) to T-shirts proclaiming "Sarah Palin Is My Homegirl" (www.zazzle.com/sarah_palin_t_shirt_sarah_palin_is_my_homegirl-235360770042574429) .

Multiple Web sites have held Photoshop contests, such as www.fark.com, some of which have been circulated around the globe via e-mail. One site, www.freakingnews.com/Palin-Celebrities-Pictures--2108-0.asp, had a contest where participants morphed the faces of well-known celebrities with the governor's official state portrait.

www.headzup.tv has created a number of spoofs in the Jib-Jab style of mockery, known for using people's photos to make it appear as if they are talking, and has billed itself as "the world's first daily editorial cartoon for video-enabled cell phones." One of those includes a spoof of a Jerry Springer commercial starring the governor, with Levi Johnson, John McCain, "The First Dude" Todd Palin and Sen. Ted Stevens all making an appearance.

The short cartoon directed by Matthew Filipowicz has been posted on the Web at www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8hEXL3T7ls&feature=related.

A long road over a short time

With Palin becoming an overnight sensation on the world stage it is likely her presence will be felt in the media and entertainment industries for the foreseeable future, whether or not she is elected vice president of the United States on Nov. 4. Palin, who has been dubbed "America's hottest governor," has no doubt become one of the hottest topics of 2008.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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