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 Three: The Return

Refusal of the Return
So why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?

In July, 2009, Palin resigned from her position as Governor of Alaska, “passing the ball for victory.”  She had served in government since 1992, but after the glitz of a presidential campaign, Juneau apparently lacked appeal.  She claimed both that she had accomplished most of her goals and that a number of ethics investigations prevented her from accomplishing anything else in that position.  Nobody believed her and pretty much everyone thought she was either crazy or that she was already planning to run for president and figured that the longer she was governor the more likely it was that she’d screw up.   Another GOP presidential hopeful, NJ Governor Chris Christie should have learned this lesson and resigned after his first week in office.

The thing about all the art on the Palin tour bus? Hides the fact that the inside is full of black lights and trippy Grateful Dead posters.

The Magic Flight
Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.

Fleeing from government service, Palin was in serious danger of losing her place in the limelight.  She needed to stay in the public eye to maintain the strength of her brand.  Her Magic Flight began in November 2009 on an 11 state bus tour to promote her book, Going Rogue.  The book sold more than a million copies, so the bus tour not only preserved her political capital,  it gave her some real capital to play with as well.

Palin’s second Magic Flight aired on TLC as Sarah Palin’s Alaska from November 2010 to January 2011.   The show was essentially a slideshow of a Palin family vacation, but did manage to garner 3.2 million viewers per episode.   Getting 1% of America to watch your home movies should count as a success, even if the show wasn’t renewed.

A less successful effort was Palin’s participation in the 2010 elections.  Her SarahPAC organization raised a lot of money, but Palin’s support was often a mixed bag – helping win Republican primaries, but hurting candidates in general elections.  Republicans blame her for losing the Delaware Senate race in particular. Palin’s support helped the extremely right-wing Christine O’Donnell beat centrist Mike Castle in the primary.  O’Donnell went on to lose that race, a race that Castle would likely have won.

Rescue from Without
Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience.

A million books and 3 million viewers was good for Palin, but her best exposure in 2010 came from her daughter Bristol.  Bristol’s fall 2010 run on Dancing With the Stars put Palin in front of 20 million viewers, and put her in the very sympathetic role of a mother being there to support her daughter.   Say what you want about Palin politically, but the tears of worry and pride in her eyes as her daughter danced made it hard to think anything negative about her in that moment.  Fortunately, she did not dance.  Politicians should not dance.

The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is usually extremely difficult.

Which brings us to today.  As I’m writing this, Palin’s “One Nation” bus tour is traveling the northeast and hitting all of our nation’s most overtly patriotic tourist attractions (including Donald Trump) on its way.  The press is going absolutely crazy over the tour and Palin’s refusal to commit, though in a June 5 interview with Fox news, she did drop the phrase “President Palin” before saying of President Obama’s economic policies:

“it’s not working and we do need to shift gears and change course. And it’s very noble of President Obama to want to stay at the helm and maybe go down with this sinking ship.  But I prefer, many Americans prefer, that we start plugging the hole, that we start powering the bilge pump and start getting rid of this unsustainable debt that is sinking our ship. We don’t have to go the way of the Titanic and there are things that have to be put in place right now before this ship does sink. We don’t have to keep going down the road that we’re going on today.”

In or not, Palin’s clearly playing footsie with the threshold of a return to electoral politics and enjoying the hell out of all the attention.  Whatever she decides, we can count on the fact that in the interim, she’ll be taking shots at Obama and sharing her wisdom with the world four sea/land transportation-based metaphors at a time.  (Note: throughout her journey, a shaky relationship with metaphor has been this Mama Grizzlie’s cross to bear: see also crosshairs/full court press.)

Master of the Two Worlds
In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.

While ascribing Jesus or Buddha status to Palin may be going a bit far, she is walking in the two worlds of entertainment and politics more seamlessly than any candidate we’ve seen before.  Trump’s brief flirtation with running for President was in a similar mold, but Palin’s been doing it longer and, incredible as it may seem, has more credibility.  Like her or hate her, she’s embodying a new kind of politics and may be our first look at the next stage of American democracy.

If only more wolves had seen Indiana Jones and Last Crusade.

Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.

“Neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past” summarizes both the basic moral tenet of reality TV and the unstated campaign slogan of Palin 2012.  If Palin stays in both the political and entertainment games, freedom to live may mean the freedom to put cameras in every room of the White House.   Everyone ready to watch Sarah Palin’s Jersey Shore?

Gilgamesh and Odysseus were unsympathetic pricks.  Luke and Neo were both whined too much.  Sarah Palin likes to shoot wolves from planes.  But like these characters or not, their journeys are certainly compelling.  She’s only two steps from the end of the hero’s journey, but we’ll have to wait and see if our heroine can kick start her campaign,  keep the pedal to the metal, tie her supporters to the pier, get independent voters to get on the Palin-train, and return her public standing to its upright and locked position.

Governor Palin, America’s holding out for a hero.  You’ve gotta be sure.  It’s gotta be soon.  You’re already larger than life.

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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