Sarah Palin: A Hero's Journey

Sarah Palin: A Hero’s Journey

Ever wonder why Sarah Palin is so irresistible to the Tea Party and the media? It’s because she’s on track to complete Joseph Campbell’s famous Hero’s Journey.

Stage Two: The Initiation

The Road of Trials
The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.

Sarah Palin met John McCain in Arizona on August 27, 2008 and two days later, he announced her as his running mate.   It was there that her trials began.

On August 1, the Alaska legislature began a formal investigation of the Monegan firing.  The resulting “troopergate” scandal dogged her throughout the 2008 campaign, most especially after the independent investigator’s report claimed that Palin had violated the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Act when she used her office to advance a personal agenda.

Her second trial came just two days after the announcement, when Palin was forced to publicly admit that her 18-year old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant out of wedlock.  Palin was largely chosen because of her perceived appeal to conservative Christian Republican base and this could have been devastating.  Her handling of the situation was extremely well-done, however, and the situation did not seem to do much damage to the campaign.

If Katie Couric ever asks you what you read, please take the opportunity to plug

Palin’s third trial was her relationship with the media, exemplified in her late-September interviews with Katie Couric.  Palin had expected those interviews to be easy, but her poor handling of them led to serious doubts about her ability to take over the presidency.  In mid-September, before the interviews, her polling was largely positive.  After two weeks of media attention on her “I can see Russia from my house” foreign policy answer and the blank stare she gave Couric when asked what newspapers she read, Palin’s polling dropped significantly.  By October 10, the New York Times was reporting that she was dragging down the ticket.

The Meeting with the Goddess:
The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother.  Although Campbell symbolizes this step as a meeting with a goddess, unconditional love and /or self unification does not have to be represented by a woman.

This is pure conjecture, but I think that the all-powerful love that Palin found during the 2008 campaign was fame.  To a greater degree than even the other national candidates, she seemed to thrive on the adulation of the then-nascent Tea Party and to genuinely enjoy chanting “Drill Baby, Drill” with thousands of true believers.   Her actions since the end of the campaign have often been confusing and her motives have been unclear, but in every case, those actions have served to put her in front of the biggest possible audience.

Woman as the Temptress
At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman.

Tina Fey’s portrayal of Palin on Saturday Night Live held up an interesting mirror for Palin and may have shaped her subsequent actions.  The uncanny likeness between the two and Fey’s spot-on impression garnered nearly as much attention as Palin herself.  When she made an appearance on SNL, Palin got a Wonderful Life look at the way things might have been.  Palin had started out in TV and here was a woman who had made TV work.  Fey had all the fame that Palin wanted, but without having to engage in the exhausting tasks of campaigning and governing.   Fey’s success and popularity must have looked awfully good to Palin, who had spent the last two months being picked apart by pundits from across the world.   Palin was in no way tempted to abandon politics by Lisa Ann’s portrayal in Larry Flynt’s “Who’s Nailin’ Palin?”

The Woman as Temptress: Please blame Joseph Campbell for calling it that.

Atonement with the Father
In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life.  For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be “killed” so that the new self can come into being.

In America, on paper, the people are the ultimate power and on November 4, 2008, Palin faced them.  She got killed.  Still, only about 200 people in our history have had their name on a nationwide ballot, so that’s pretty cool.   Though she lost, Palin was ready to crawl out of the grave, possibly using John McCain as a grisly step-stool to resurrection.

To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss.  A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.

No longer forced to hang out with her paired opposite, John McCain, Palin was at the top of every list of 2012 Republican Presidential candidates even before all the 2008 votes were counted.  Without the constant hassles of running for office and talking to reporters, Palin was able to rest up while her popularity began to soar.

The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.

I’m tempted to say that the ultimate boon was the $150,000 that the Republican Party spent on clothes and makeup for Palin and her family in a single month.  What a wardrobe!   The holy grail for Palin, though, was popularity.  Like the Miss Alaska pageant, she only got an honorable mention in the actual contest, but she came through it with a rock-solid personal brand, a rabid fan base, and seemingly perpetual interest from the media.  Only President Obama got more out of the 2008 election, but if the economy continues to tarnish his crown like topless photos of Vanessa Williams, Palin may be able to pick up the sash.

Click through for Stage Three: The Return

7 Comments on “Sarah Palin: A Hero’s Journey”

  1. Darin #

    But where’s the transformation or more specifically, what is the difference between the bumbling Sarah Palin mocked by Tina Fey and the current day one. As far as I can tell, the difference is a different PR person.

    Put another way, what is the wisdom gained during the journey that she has gained and how will she share it?


  2. Covington Jim #

    Do you really think the “Sarah Baraccuda” nickname came from sports? It sounds a lot more like a mean girls thing.

    Similarly, I was living in Arizona when McCain branded himself “Maverick”… it had nothing to do with being a rebel of any kind, but rather he was trying to associate himself with Top Gun and remind people that he was a Navy flier, when his main identity at the time had been as the ringleader of the Keating Five scandal.

    Along the same lines a friend in law school there, at ASU, thought people were saying he looked like Val Kilmer when they called him “Ice.”

    Rather, with his preening vanity, working out all the time, constant tanning, and puffy blonde hair with the razored sides, we all thought he looked like Vanilla Ice.


  3. Jacob #

    Can you imagine the devastation Palin as president would bring to the world? I’m sorry, I can’t see her as a heroine.


  4. Patrick Perez #

    Sarah Palin reminds me of no less than Andy Griffith’s incendiary performance as Lonesome Rhodes in A Face In The Crowd. Pure, craven ambition. I find it difficult to watch SP, for the same reason I don’t slow down for auto accidents (I mean to look at ones that have happened. I do try to slow down to avoid causing my own).

    As regards a potential Palin presidency, I’ll quote The Onion (on the subject of GWBush’s re-election, in their American Voices feature) “They say we get the government we deserve, but I don’t recall us ass-raping any pregnant nuns”.



  5. Riley #

    Did some freshman at Liberty University write this for a literature class? This is awful. Couldn’t you shoehorn just about anybody’s life story into this Joseph Campbell hero nonsense?

    Maybe I missed something and this is supposed to be, like, a joke. The article attempts to explain Palin’s intense popularity amongst those 30% who “approve” of her by saying she’s a hero. But not just any hero — a hero in the mold of mythology and literature, characters that erudite people like Joseph Campbell study and write about and go on PBS to talk about. Literature, PBS, erudition, mythology: the total opposite of what that 30% stands for. Yeah, it’s pretty ironic — and, I guess I would say, wrong — to argue that a bunch of anti-intellectuals really like Sarah Palin for intellectual reasons.


  6. John Perich OTI Staff #

    Couldn’t you shoehorn just about anybody’s life story into this Joseph Campbell hero nonsense?

    I dunno; could you?

    We’re a little backlogged on guest posts at present, but we respond to almost every article submission. 1500 words, and pitch us the thesis before you submit the draft.


  7. Covington Jim #

    Back to the point of Sarah’s mythical journey, I think a better magical teacher/guide than Todd could be found.

    Bill Kristol makes a convincing fairy, in the puckish trickster/deceiver mold.

    I wonder if she ever met Jeff Gannon?


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