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Celebrity Cures All

Posted on Jul 21, 2010

By Ruth Marcus

I owe Sarah Palin an apology.

Two years ago, when the news broke about her daughter’s pregnancy, I slammed the newly selected vice presidential candidate for doing her daughter a terrible disservice. Palin’s seeming lack of concern for Bristol’s privacy brought out, though I didn’t know I had one at the time, my inner Mama Grizzly.

“My first thought on hearing the news was: What was Sarah Palin thinking?” I wrote then. “Assuming, as the campaign says, that she knew about her 17-year-old’s pregnancy and informed [John] McCain in advance, how could she expose her daughter to the inevitable spotlight that Palin’s vice presidential nomination would bring?”

How naive of me.

Palin’s failed candidacy and her ascendance to the ranks of political celebrity were, it turns out, the best thing that could have happened to Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston.


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In acknowledging Bristol’s pregnancy, Palin beseeched the media “to respect our daughter and Levi’s privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates.”

How naive of her.

Forget tradition. Forget privacy. In our celebrity-drenched culture, Bristol and Levi quickly figured out what Sarah and I both failed to understand: Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy was not an embarrassment. It was a marketing opportunity.

Think about it. A teenaged single mom with a high school diploma. A father who dropped out of high school in his junior year. These are not the makings of a stable economic path.

If Sarah had followed my advice and told McCain “thanks, but no thanks” about the vice presidency—as she claimed to have done with federal funding for the bridge to nowhere—Bristol would have had a future to nowhere. Levi, too.

Instead, Palin did Bristol and her boyfriend an unintentional, lucrative favor. Bristol became a paid abstinence ambassador with the Candie’s Foundation, which works to prevent teen pregnancy. She signed up with a speaker’s bureau to preach the gospel of abstinence—at a reported $15,000 to $30,000 a pop. She made a guest appearance on ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” She posed for Harper’s Bazaar in Carolina Herrera and Isaac Mizrahi designs.

Levi also seized the moment. He showed all (Playgirl), told all (Vanity Fair), retracted some. He appeared in an ad for pistachios, standing next to a bodyguard and cracking open a nut with the voice-over, “Now Levi Johnston does it with protection.” Classy.

And then, much as the unhappy couple had monetized their breakup, the newly—and, I fear, temporarily—happy couple monetized their reunion. It was announced on the cover of Us Weekly, complete with Bristol imagining the wedding, herself in white, Levi and baby Tripp in matching camouflage vests. The New York Post estimated the couple was paid $100,000; Us Weekly denied it. Meanwhile, they are said to be peddling a reality television series.

Bristol and Levi represent the perfect, well, marriage of politics-as-infotainment and low-rent celebrity culture. Other political offspring have leveraged connections and fame to prosper outside the family business—but at real, or at least nominally real, jobs. Think Ron Reagan Jr. as TV host, George W. Bush as baseball team owner. Other political relatives and hangers-on have capitalized on their proximity to political scandal. Think Jenny Sanford as memoirist, or Andrew Young, whose best-selling account of being Official Beard for John Edwards is soon to be a major motion picture.

Bristol and Levi managed to meld these two strands of opportunism. They trade off the connection without the nuisance of an actual job even as they profit from their own tackiness, not the sordid missteps of principals. A reality show would be the perfect summation: “Bristol and Levi Minus 7,” perhaps, or “Real Housewife of Wasilla.”

Almost 50 years ago, in his prescient book “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America,” historian Daniel J. Boorstin lamented that “the machinery of information has brought into being a new substitute for the hero, who is the celebrity, and whose main characteristic is his well-knownness. In the democracy of pseudo-events, anyone can become a celebrity, if only he can get into the news and stay there.”

Boorstin might not have imagined that things would descend to the point of Bristol, Levi and the uncommonly beautiful Tripp, but he would recognize the forces that created them. There is something quintessentially American about this grubby, unabashed entrepreneurialism.

As for Sarah Palin, Mama Grizzly took care of her cub after all. I refudiate my previous criticism.

Ruth Marcus’ e-mail address is marcusr(at symbol)

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By Inherit The Wind, July 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment

I love when people criticize a columnist for not writing the article THEY think she should have written and that she never intended to write in the first place.

Can you say “one-track mind”? Sure you can!

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By LocalHero, July 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment

Why are people still talking about the Alaskan Hillbillies? The kin-folk said, Jed move away from there…

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By gerard, July 21, 2010 at 10:15 am Link to this comment

This is a sad commentary on twisted “American values” and should be read as such—several times over.  Then, maybe, ask yourself “Why do they hate us?” 

And after that, DO SOMETHING.

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By Archie1954, July 21, 2010 at 8:53 am Link to this comment
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This was a great article and very funny whether or not intentionally. A lot of truth is represented here.

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By dihey, July 21, 2010 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

Ms Sherrod was riding the bus of the Obama administration. The driver has kicked her off the bus because she was “uppety”. The difference with the Rosa Parks case is that this driver was black.

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By dihey, July 21, 2010 at 7:12 am Link to this comment

Apparently the Obama administration has caved in and will not reinstate Ms. Sherrod.

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By diman, July 21, 2010 at 6:10 am Link to this comment

What a piece of shit this site has become. You should change the name if it, it is completely misleading now, cause you apparently stopped digging for truth a long time ago. Just a random musing of mine, cheerios everybody.

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By jeff, July 21, 2010 at 5:47 am Link to this comment
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obviously the Palin nut didn’t fall far from the Palin
nut tree.

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By kerryrose, July 21, 2010 at 5:01 am Link to this comment

To appreciate this blog you have to begin with the presumption that having perhaps one full season of a reality show is success, and that moving on toward college as young parents while using a parents wealth is lame.

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By BarbieQue, July 21, 2010 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

Well it’s wonderful that Ms. Marcus was able to find the time to write this one.

Imagine the thought process:

Ruth (thinking): “What *ever* to write about today to earn my 500k?

“I know, it’s between the huge story that my colleagues broke about the secret US government running completely and totally out of control wasting billions and actually threatening the “security” we’re supposed to be buying with all that loot

“But! This might be bad for (D)emocrats   :(


“Sarah Palin! This would Surely be good for (D)emocrats!    :D

SO many choices and so much time…

Glenn Greenwald was terribly prescient in his latest column:

“...If you read and write about politics full-time and are thus forced to subject yourself to the political media—as I am—what’s most striking aren’t the outrages and corruptions, but the overwhelming, suffocating, numbing stream of stupidity and triviality that floods the brain.

One has to battle the temptation to just turn away and ignore it all.  Every day, day after day, is consumed by some totally irrelevant though distracting melodrama:  what Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page, some “outrageous” snippet of a comment made by John Boehner or Harry Reid, some “crazy,” attention-attracting statement from some fringe idiot-figure or TV blowhard that is exploited for superficial partisan gain or distraction value…”

Incumbents have earned a vacation! Lets give it to them!

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By dihey, July 21, 2010 at 4:05 am Link to this comment

Ms. Sherrod is the real news. Sarah Palin is stale news. You missed the boat again Ms. Marcus.

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