As the week draws to a close, I’m coming to realize that my torrid if conflicted affair with Sarah Palin must end too. Soon, the Wicked Witch of the North will hop aboard her trusty John Deer and roar back up to the Alaskan wilderness, where her animosity for friends of Dorothy, women, and the liberal media elite will be quarantined once again. So let’s take this moment to remember her not only as a hateful loon who accidentally found herself lost in the American mainland, but also as a tailor-made gay icon — the type of collectible Caribou Barbie doll whose accessories include a few pairs of shoes, baby Trig, and the obligatory hunting rifle.
I know I’m not alone in thinking this. Unlike others before her, Sarah Palin’s time to shine was brief. Her meteoric rise to fame and abrupt recession from the American media (marked most significantly by John McCain’s refusal to let her speak at his concession Tuesday) give us the privilege of appraising the governor’s worth as a gay icon while she’s still cognizant enough to revile the title. And that’s also where the victory lies in making this case.
Gay icons of yore led darkly comic lives defined by megalomania, vanity, and quirky catchphrases. And the most enduring gay icons infiltrate mainstream popular culture. Let’s consider Sarah Palin in this mold. Megalomania? Check. Vanity? Check and check. Disconnect with the real world? You betcha. And who could ever exhaust her arsenal of hokey Palin-isms? Heck, she’s even gone out in a bang, with one final moment of hot-messery perfectly geared for crossover appeal.
But that’s just part of the picture. Palin may fit these vagaries to a T (and it’s all criteria common to the last few decades with the immortalization of ladies like Judy G. and Madonna), but even her own campaign staffers accused her of diva-like behavior — and somehow, it seems poetic for Palin to channel a little bit of Joan Crawford with her affected Minnesota accent. Also recall that in her brief tenure in American cultural consciousness, Palin’s inspired effigies and look-alikes. Couple lack of humility with her inherent iconoclasm, and you essentially have the bedrock for a personality that will find a place for conflicted adulation somewhere next to Joan Rivers.
While Sarah Palin may have entered our hearts and minds a detestable, gay-hating wingnut, this speedy fall from grace will mint her reputation as nothing more than a campy hiccup of American politics. Ultimately, she doesn’t leave behind a legacy of neoconservative crazy talk, but rather a cultural echo that’s much simpler. Palin’s exit from the public eye is tantamount to a fallen beauty queen’s: sad but worthy of a shout-out in the footnotes of a certain Susan Sontag essay.