Sarah Palin shoots a Caribou

In the new TV show ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’, the former vice-presidential candidate is shown shooting a Caribou. The footage has caused a major backlash, lead by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the TV show West Wing, arguing that Palin shot an animal ‘for political gain’. As Palin is expected to run for president in 2012, the counter question would be, how can it be anything other than for political gain?

The footage shows Palin and two men hiding in the Alaskan wilderness. After they spotted the Caribou, the men instruct Palin on how and when to shoot the animal. For a brief instance, the camera depicts a cloudy sky as the music intensifies. Clearly, the viewer is made to understand that this is a potentially threatening encounter with woman and nature. Palin misses the first shot. The volume of the music increases as the Caribou now appears to look straight at Palin. The intensity grows exponentially as there is a brief confusion of how to shoot the beast. And then, almost in the last possible instance, Palin lands the shot that would bring down the Caribou. One of the men congratulates either Palin, the Caribou, or both, with the jubilant words: ‘There you guy baby, there you go.’ Palin meanwhile, far more in control of her emotions then the men, whispers as if the potential threat is still lingering. After approaching the beast, one of the men asks ‘Is it dead?’, while Palin, after a brief assessment declares in a matter of fact voice ‘It’s dead!’. The music dramatically changes from Armageddon to a fun day out for the family.

So why would this TV footage be derided for being used ‘for political gain’. It depicts Sarah Palin as a strong woman, who, with the right men around her, can succeed in a male-dominated world. In a sense, the footage foreshadows Palin’s ambitions to run for President, while her running mate(s) were signified by the two men to her side. Palin often refers to looking a threat straight into the eye. Here, the visual encounter with the enemy is important (e.g. in the same way Palin can see Russia from her front porch, she can see a Caribou in the far distance). Although the mildly dangerous animal is about 100 meters away, the visual encounter with a potential threat marks an important aspect of the footage. The point is that, akin to a shifting signifier, the Caribou, in the mind of the viewer, can be replaced with any other threat to America’s national security.

Any number of presidential candidates made use of such an ideologically loaded image in American popular culture. Even the democrat John Kerry, while running for President in 2004, was eager to have himself photographed goose hunting in Ohio. The following day, on October 22nd 2004, Dick Cheney launched an impassioned attack on Kerry, deriding him for wearing a camouflaged jacket that looked brand new. ‘Which did make me wonder how regularly he does go goose hunting,’ Dick Cheney said then. After Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter in February 2006, such criticism would never be uttered again.

Sarah Palin shoots a Caribou for political gain. But the shooting itself is politically insignificant. It is only once a visual representation of the shooting is disseminated in mass media and culture, that this representation reaches it’s full effectiveness. As the storm clouds are gathering over the Alaskan wilderness again, Sarah Palin sets her eyes on the next target.

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4 thoughts on “Sarah Palin shoots a Caribou

  1. Did you read Sorkin’s piece on why this is a snuff film? Second of all, shooting a caribou is not exactly dangerous stuff. How many people are dying of caribou attacks?

    I find this article confusing. Are you trying to say that this video, like her whole show, is trying to promote her image as a strong woman; that the gender issues are more important than her ideological stance with the right?

    The shooting was designed to be provocative by its very content. And provocation, not her image as anyone smart nor strong, has always been Palin’s strong suit.

    • Thank you Sam for your continued feedback. I did read Sorkin’s piece on Sarah Palin shooting a caribou being a ‘snuff film’. I cannot help but think that someone like Sorkin, creator of the West Wing no less, would better understand the ideological implications of being filmed/photographed hunting. His comments appear naive in light of many other presidents and presidential candidates who did so before Palin. Of course Palin’s shooting is provocative, as you say, that’s the whole point. But to overreact to it is only giving the Palin camp, forgive me the pun, more political ammunition. I also think that there is a good degree of sexism here: imagine John Kerry, John Edwards, George W. Bush, or even, god forbid, Barack Obama being filmed shooting a caribou. Everyone would understand its to please the lobbyists of the National Rifle Association. But with Palin it’s a ‘snuff film’. So I agree with you that the footage was designed to be provocative and that is indeed Palin’s strong suit. I was also thinking, isn’t the caribou an animal native to Canada? Is Palin therefore hunting down (as shifting signifier) a foreign intruder? Just thinking out loud.

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