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Palin and “P0rn” Part 1: Don’t Hate Sarah Palin Because She’s Not Afraid of Her Beauty

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When you've been blogging about the “Sarah Palin” phenomenon for a year and a half you notice something: when someone asks "Is Sarah Palin _______?" the answer, whatever the question, is usually "no."

Julia Baird's article in the current Newsweek recalled this theory when she reprimanded everyone to stop ogling Republican women.

There seems to be an insistent, increasingly excitable focus on the supposed hotness of Republican women in the public eye, like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Michelle Malkin, and Nikki Haley — not to mention veterans like Ann Coulter. The sexual references are pervasive: they come from left, right, and center, and range from gushing to highly offensive. Harper's* asked, “Is Sarah Palin Porn?” as others quizzed the former governor about whether she had breast implants.

Right Wing News compiled a list of the hottest conservative women in new media. Playboy even ran an outrageous piece titled “Ten Conservative Women I’d Like to Hate F–k,” which read like a sick attempt to make rape cool. “We may despise everything these women represent,” wrote the author, “but goddammit they’re hot. Let the healing begin.”

Moron.

I didn't see any analysis implied by (one of) her title(s) "Why We Sexualize GOP Women," though Gloria Steinem's Women's Media Center offers one. A corollary question seems also studiously avoided by anyone doing these sexism-watches: what do you call it when Republican women, or any women, sex themselves up, or sign on to being sexed up in the service of something else? Like, say, winning a political campaign for top office in the world's most powerful nation? Since the announcement of Sarah Palin for VP in 2008, not only feminists but the voting populace in general have been grappling with these questions of sexism, objectification, and one's own participation in being on display, like never before.

It's funny reading this in Newsweek, which has been raked over the coals by socially confused conservatives for its own "sexist" Palin covers. Who could forget the ignorant mountain/molehill conservative screamers on FOX, crying "sexism" because Newsweek didn't retouch my favorite cover photo? In the upside-down universe of Neo-PC Conservatopia, showing natural beauty, and thus one's humanity, is now "sexist." Every woman, they said on FOX, should be mortified by that cover. (Weren't.)

Then, there was the infamous cover photo originally taken from Runners World. Oh, the wails of "sexism" we heard from conservatives, suddenly sounding like the same feminazi threats they believe are policing their thoughts and destroying the very fabric of humanity with our calls for the end of gender inequities.

From Palin's own Facebook entry:

The Runner's World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness – a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation. The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention – even if out of context.

This charge of sexism rings hollow, coming from someone paid to bloviate by Prince bin Talal of NewsCorp, whose own country does not allow women to drive, much less vote, or run for public office, or appear in public alone.

Was the Newsweek cover mean-spirited, below the belt, relevant to nothing, and a cynical (albeit successful) ploy to sell print copies of magazines? Yes. "Sexist"? No. Palin posed for that campy Runners World photo shoot of her own volition, of her own agency.

But is Sarah Palin p0rn, or not? If the Oh Crap theory is correct, we already know the answer. A better question is, do people make porn out of "Sarah Palin" or the Sarah Palin public image? Obviously, the answer to that is "yes." 

Jack Hitt's hit fluff — in the June '10 Harper's, not The Atlantic — doesn't answer what it purported to ask, either, though he did manage to write a money shot. While Mrs. Palin saw sexism in the Newsweek cover, Hitt sees in it the same pR-n Palin saw in Levi Johnston's Playgirl poses:

She seethes at the mention of her daughter’s old boyfriend, Levi Johnston, cattily characterizing his Playgirl photo shoot as “aspiring porn.” Her Facebook updates are as bitchy as those of any fourteen-year-old girl. And her treacly tweets are classic examples of what the philosopher Daniel Dennett calls “deepities” — vagaries that can easily pass as profundities ….

She can also do, by her own standard, some “porn.” She showed off major leg in a racy spread in Runner’s World, wearing a pair of tight, short shorts, with an American flag chucked on a chair like a sweat towel. In other pictures, she wears skin-tight leggings and assumes saucy “warm-up” positions. For her fans, it was an issue to keep in that special place where Mom never looks. When Newsweek ran the tight-shorts pic as a cover image, Palin swiftly denounced it as “sexist.” But she recently showed up at John McCain’s side in Arizona and thrilled her followers by wearing a black leather jacket, cut in butch style, with zippered accents defining her breasts. Palin knows her fan base, and she knows what they want: a brief tour of Google reveals dozens of Photoshopped Palin fantasy images — and it’s clear that they’re not posted by her enemies.

Oh, the act of defining "Sarah Palin's breasts." Ah, the fortunate jacket that got the honors, the one that sends site stats through the roof, the one Ms. Palin made look so, er, showstopping; no, not "butch" at all but rather femmed-out biker-girl.

As for those p0rn-based Photoshop fakes with Sarah's noggin on them, an old email sig of mine reads: "All photos SFW, no fakes/photoshops, ever." Their persistent demand in trade determines, in part, what kind of images I'll put on my own site for both lofty feminist and practical reasons. Who wants a bunch of catcalling repressives trolling one's site for nonsense?

This brings us to the central question of this post: how do you theorize-so-you-can-talk-about-it all those second wave concepts — "objectification," "ogling," "the gaze," "sexism" — when the object embodies such in-yr-face agency? When the objectified individual is running for governor, senator or VP? When the objectified subject wink-winkies at the voting populace or steers movement conservatism from behind Facebook or uses the word feminism to argue against women's physical autonomy while so evidently comfortable in her own skin?

I enjoy this about Sarah Palin or at least the consumable, tabloidable, retweetable "Sarah Palin" image. She's got "it," she knows it, and she's not afraid to strut it. If it shows in a body-hugging leather jacket, or a t-shirt at a horse race, in a form-fitting shimmery dress suit at a VP debate, or in Naughty Monkey red pumps that still have people like J. Hitt fidgeting two years later, then great. If it doesn't show, equally great; she doesn't seem to give a dern about it, either way.

Like it, hate it, be turned on by it or try to ignore it; Palin's rare form of straight-girl camp is worth paying attention to, if only because we have not seen the last of it. (And what self-aware queer doesn't appreciate watching a wry game of dress-up at the viewer's expense?)

For Part 2: In light of a pR#n undercurrent strong enough to spawn look-alike stripper contests, a complete news cycle ruminating on her cup size, a Hustler video series, a line of sex toy dolls that aren't her, and those silly Photoshops; as a conservative feminist doing something different with gender imagery and the politicized female body in the public sphere, and with children sexting themselves to each other, just what is porn, anymore?

Do you, like Justice Potter Stewart in 1964, know it when you see it?

Is Sarah Palin pornography?

Do we know Sarah Palin when we see her? Well?

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About OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    Friends – it got axed from one of my edits, but I meant to mention the Jack Hitt “Is Sarah Palin Porn” article in Harper’s is subscription-only online. Those with subscriptions can find it here.

  • http://www.myegghead22.com Nerd Pup

    Brilliant commentary.

    “Ten Conservative Women I’d Like to Hate F–k,” which read like a sick attempt to make rape cool. “We may despise everything these women represent,” wrote the author, “but goddammit they’re hot. Let the healing begin.”

    I’ve seen the “Hate F her” all over the web. So now I know where that started. Sick stuff – for some – normal rhetoric for others.

  • Nerd Pup

    Also there. I’ve been watching her confidence build over the last few months. The other side of the aisle better watch out. We may not like her politics, but she is definitely not stagnating or just jogging. She’s running.

  • Zedd

    I think feminist definitions have changed. The interpretation of images in our culture is different because of the changes in our roles.

    At a time when women were not in the work place, things were defined based on that reality.

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    @Zedd, good point, something I also brought up in an

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    @Nerd Pup, she’d do well to take Mary Mary as her campaigning song. I actually love this song.

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    @Zedd, good point, something I also brought up in an earlier post (no I’m not blogwhoring, stuff isn’t rendering right at BC and I can’t get an editor to change it.)

    Feminism isn’t static, neither is our definition of porn, or even ogling. I’ll be taking this up in Palin and Porn Part 2.

    BTW women have always been in the workplace. Just ask Black women, Latinas, Asian, workingclass and low income white women, etc. Women in the workplace was never an issue until white women entered it in larger numbers.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Zedd,

    Since you’re on this thread, let me refer you to another thread I’m on. Here’s the website called TruthDig.

    BTW, my moniker there is . . . I ain’t gonna tell you as you can surely figure it out. Anyway, you might want to visit just for the hell of it and make a contribution if you see so fit. Your thinking is always refreshing. Anyway, even apart from that particular thread, I’m certain you would find TruthDig an interesting site in its own right.

    Hurray for South Africa for a job well done. I’m certain you’re proud.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    OhCrap, do give me a better moniker to address you! A cool piece.

    As an aside, however, have you noticed the recent influx of women into GOP politics? That topic alone deserves a separate article, and I tried to address it partly in my “The Year of the Woman,” piece. Hillary of course broke the glass ceiling (along with Obama). So now, women and minorities are quickly becoming the standard bearers of Republic politics.

    The irony of course is – they serve as “The Great White Hope.”

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    @roger – well I think someone here is calling me Crush, but OhCrap is fine. Thanks for the kudos.

    You may like my idea on “the leftwing of the extremist right” or “reverse-rainbow coalition”, which in my estimation is made up mostly of neo-Pentecostals and Charismatics and some conservative mainliners like Nikki Haley. The way I see it, there are historical precedents for today’s GOP women. It’s not a mistake that Palin is a lifelong Charismatic.

    So I would say their legacy dates back to the 20s-30s, really. Check out Aimee Semple MacPherson in this light, if you get a chance. I’d like to see yr article. Link?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    It’s mostly suggestive, but here it is.

    I’ll check out your links tomorrow. Still, I find it rather ironic that the GOP would turn to the “reverse-rainbow coalition,” en masse as it were, in the aftermath of Obama’s electoral victory (and that’s in spite of historical precedents).

  • Zedd

    Roger,

    I’ll go check it out.

    The GOP is in constant PR mode. They saw Hilary and Pelosi taking major strides and they offered Palin. She backfired (because it was an orchestration – as usual) so they went looking for replacements. Steele and Jindal were mini Obamas, done badly.

  • Zedd

    Roger,

    Thanks for the link. I have book marked it. I like the commentary, at least those towards the end of the discussion. I’m not a big fan of anarchists, do forgive (seems terribly naive) I hope you wont be insulted. I haven’t figured out who you are yet. I’m sure I will.

    Are you looking for a better moniker? I like the one you use. Simply roger would work and perhaps add some mystery. :o)

    Yes SA did quite well didn’t they.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    You would never insult me, Zedd.

    To speak of “anarchism,” as I take it, is just a way of loosening our thinking about social/political relations. I’ve long been resistant to the idea, but I’m beginning to discern enlightened uses.

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ jeannie danna

    Hello roger :)

    Have you posted the video of Palin and the exorcist?

    …anyone wanting this one should see all of her!

    wouldn’t you agree?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Hello, Jeannie. Great to hear from you.

  • http://www.morethings.com Al Barger

    OhCrap- This piece was MUCH better than your last one. It has an actual thoughtful and nuanced point. For my part, I appreciate that she’s a good looking woman, but I don’t particularly have fantasies about her. Her hot ass is much less rare than her hot mind, the whole combination of experience and personality that I enjoy.

    The thing about her or other rightwing chicks being hot that I most appreciate though is how much that idea cheeses off some of the opposition. I’ll just say that it amuses me greatly when I see pinkos wildly denouncing Ann Coulter as being ugly and gross and not at all sexy. The over the topness of their rhetoric makes the lie of their beliefs in their own claims, if you know what I mean.

    Hey, I’ll readily admit that there are plenty of good looking leftwing chicks, and I’m cool with that. Yet for all my generosity of spirit, Natalie Maines STILL isn’t returning my phone calls. How are we supposed to work out our differences if she won’t talk to me?

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    Oh look, my suitor shows up, as if on cue. That’s sweet. Why he thinks I’m interested in his opinions on anything is still a mystery, though.

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    @jeanne, not sure if your comment was meant for me but yes, I do have a bit of commentary on that whackjob witch exterminator. It’s from back when that story was current, though. http://bit.ly/cGuXb2.

    Oh and if you’re in doubt, I don’t want Palin. I find her an interesting person and nice-looking enough. But literally “want”? Nah. Eric Holder, now that’s a different story :)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Shoot, Crush. Eric Holder is a sissy.

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    [Shrugs] what can I say, I like pretty women and pretty men. Don’t start me waxing rhapsodic about Obama.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Just kidding, Crush. I do too. Don’t forget, at heart I’m a European, no inhibitions of any kind, just straight-out affection – even to cats and dogs.

  • Nerd Pup

    Meryl Streep said recently that NOW men come up to her and say that Amanda Priestly is now their favorite Streep character.

    Streep’s characterizations could be considered as set of bookends: Sophie Zawistowski/Amanda Priestly, spanning 24 years of the more recent history of women.

    Sarah Palin would like to or is working on that top Amanda Priestly role.

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ jeannie danna

    Please watch this video before considering Sarah Palin for any public office.

  • Nerd Pup

    When considering the central question posed by writer of this piece: Is Sarah Palin Porn?

    Of course. Bill Crystal deemed it so. And in the beginning God created that woman: thus sayeth the Lord.

    The naughty dirty definition of porn is “the intention of arousing sexual excitement”. Just as in religious charismatic laying on of hands tradition: there is the intention to cause religious excitement – being touched by the hand of God speaking in tongues. Not much variation in the two defintions as far as I can see.

    Republicans, sheesh, with their war game plans of race-baiting, sexism baiting, – all of it to appeal to people’s prurient lizard brains. The very definition of Republican equals porn definition. They are ravenous beasts who enjoy marauding, unaccountable to themselves or anyone, and for the sheer excitement of making people squeal.

  • Kent

    Total conservative here. But i have to say I cannot stand Sarah. Can’t listen to her for more than 5 minutes. She just seems to not really connect with the ideas that she is talking about. Sorry. Yes I am saying that I think she sounds quite hollow and empty.
    Sorry.
    Would I vote for her? Not in primaries but sure, of COURSE if she was a final candidate for President. No question. But, that would be true about any final republican candidate as they are closer (how much? eh.) than Dems to being conservative.

    I have to say that her response to the Family Guy episode that included the downs syndrome girl was really terrible. I watched the whole episode. It was not offensive in the least. Not to Conservatives, not to Downs Syndrome folk, not to handicapped people of ANY kind. It was just a story involving a character that had that ailment and it was part of the story.

    ANyone offended by that episode, sorry folks, need to lighten up a HUGE amount. And that in a nutshell is where I think my biggest problem with Sarah is. She really needs to lighten up.

    Be 100% SERIOUS about the issues.. but my goodness… shrug off the media hounds.

    I know.. fellow conservatives who read this will nail me in some way..

    I have one thing for you.

    Lighten up.

  • http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin

    @Kent, you may have meant to post under my previous article, “Lamestream Libtards: ‘Special Needs,’ ‘Special Rights,’ and the Hypocrisies of Conservative PC”.

    I disagree with any conservative who tries to dictate to others — Sarah Palin included — what they should and should not be offended by. Family Guy is written to offend, and offend it does. Nobody should have their speech snuffed out by conservative political correctness from saying so.

    That said, you may enjoy my take on that whole bogus Family Guy flap, which was different from everything one read on the internet. I think it was all just a big, cynical NewsCorp game.

    This is why I enjoy Sarah and her appropriation of leftist ideas like “feminism” and disability rights. She has conservatives tripping all over each other with confusion.