The Public Bullying of Sarah Palin

Every school, maybe even every schoolbus, has one: the kid that everyone picks on. Even the schoolbus driver looks the other way, subtly sanctioning the bullying. I remember one such scrawny blond-headed guy in high school. It seemed like other guys were always taunting him, pushing him around. I, new to that school, was not heroic enough to intervene. My thoughts were probably more along the line, “I’m glad that’s not me.”

The media does the same thing. A well-known person crosses some kind of line, and suddenly they are fair game for any kind of mockery. It might be something they did, something they said. Or it might merely be the accumulation of too many silly caricatures. Whatever the case, word goes out, “She’s fair game. You can say anything you want, and it’s okay.” A person’s life becomes tabloid fodder.

Sarah Palin found herself in that tabloidesque situation. In her case, there was nothing major that she did or said; it was just the gradual, day-by-day drip drip drip of negative reporting, which led to continual mockery by late-night comedians and pundits. A good person became a public joke. David Letterman felt she had entered the “anything goes” category when he made disgusting jokes not only about Palin, but about her daughter. He thought he could say such things, and America would laugh, because Sarah Palin and her family had become that scrawy blond guy whom it’s okay to pick on. The backlash says that maybe she wasn’t quite in the “anything goes” camp. But she was close enough that Letterman though his jokes would be socially acceptable.

Tom Cruise seems to be in that category, thanks to jumping on Oprah’s couch and a strange interview with Matt Lauer. Britney Spears was there for several years, thanks to her own bizarre behavior. Amy Winehouse is there. Dan Quayle continues living under the “public joke” cloud. Michael Jackson, especially after leaving the country after his latest trial, became the subject of endless ridicule. Jim and Tammy Bakker were there. 

Sometimes it’s hard to feel sorry for these people, but that’s not the point. The point is: our society revels in knocking well-known people to the ground. And then kicking them. 

Palin, Cruise, Spears, Jackson–they aren’t much different from that scrawny blond kid I observed in high school. It’s open season, in the public’s mind. You can say anything about them, and about the people around them.

Bill Clinton certainly brought this on himself (with some help from Monica Lewinsky). He became a public joke. But Hillary–not only an innocent in this story, but a victim–also got dragged into it. How many sick jokes have we heard about Hillary’s sexual relationship with Bill, and her sexuality in general? How many such jokes have I heard from church people? How many have I then repeated? (Chelsea was spared the ridicule, fortunately.)

I don’t know all the motives behind Sarah Palin’s decision to resign as governor. It’s quite possible she has her eye on running for president, or getting a TV show, or writing a book. There is probably a mixture of motives. But it’s also possible she’s just fed up with the continual mockery she and her family have been subjected to. Who needs that?

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