Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jan Whitt on 'Going Rogue: An American Life'

Jan Whitt, a professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado, has written an essay which examines "the historical context, the literary impact, and the social implications" of Sarah Palin's 2009 memoir Going Rogue: An American Life and "addresses the place of autobiography, memoir, and personal essays in the political arena." It's a fairly substantial treatise, published in Sunday's edition of American Thinker. Here are some excerpts:
Although several of the candidates in the 2008 presidential race published memoirs-including Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama-one of the most provocative narratives was published after the election and seems to provide evidence that its author might again run for political office. Going Rogue reached the top of the nonfiction bestsellers list and sold more copies than even Palin's supporters could have predicted. After an initial print run of 1.5 million copies, HarperCollins announced a second printing of 1 million more. In November 2009, sales of Palin's memoir surpassed I, Alex Cross by James Patterson; Under the Dome by Stephen King; and The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Although Nielsen BookScan said Going Rogue sold 469,000 during its first week (not the 700,000 that HarperCollins claims), company spokespeople explained that Nielsen BookScan did not include sales at mass market retailers such as Sam's Club and Walmart. "If the 700,000 figure is accurate," Jefferson Barbour writes, "that places Palin's memoir ahead of Living History, the 2003 memoir by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton" ("Sarah Palin's ‘Going Rogue' Hits Number One" n.p.)

Some immediately dismissed the book's success because Palin employed a ghost writer (how much of the memoir was really hers?); others because retailers such as Target and Amazon sold the book at bargain rates; and still others because conservative groups bought advance copies of the book. However, few acknowledge what her fan base understands: Going Rogue provided Christians, conservatives, heterosexual parents, political aficionados, middle-class women, rural Americans, and others an opportunity to see their own lives in print and to celebrate someone who represents them with courage and without apology.

Often ridiculed by others, individuals in some of these groups identify with Palin when she and members of her family are attacked for their religious beliefs, for their emphasis on family, and for their accents and regional phrases. This empathy is but one reason for their belief in her and the stories she tells in Going Rogue. Scott Payne of the Washington Examiner warns:
Each time liberals like Robert Gibbs take a moment to mock the know nothingness of Sarah Palin, they reinforce a stereotype about what it means to be liberal to precisely the voters they have the hardest time reaching: the ones in the middle of the country . . . With each barb they hurl her way, liberals participate in a self-fulfilling prophecy that only serves to reinforce feelings of alienation amongst more rural voters with whom Palin continues to have an overwhelming degree of support. And the more those stereotypes are reinforced in the current national climate-a climate that puts most Americans on the other side of the Obama administration on things like the Arizona immigration law, provides the President with his lowest approval rating amongst independents to date, and economic confidence continuing to sink-the more Palin and her camp come out on the winning side of the national debate. ("Democrats and Sarah Palin" n.p.)
When Going Rogue hit number one, Barbour wrote, "Sarah Palin has been the butt of many jokes since making her debut on the national stage late in 2008, but someone out there must like her" ("Sarah Palin's ‘Going Rogue' Hits Number One"). Evidence that Barbour's calculated understatement is correct may be partially indicated by the record number of Republican and conservative women (they are not always one and the same) now seeking public office. Palin's example and her support for candidates she considers worthy say a great deal about the pink elephant in the room.

Read Professor Whitt's full discourse on Gov. Palin's first book here.

- JP

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