A Palin-ista Examines Game Change
By: David Bozeman
In defense of HBO’s ‘fact-based’ account of the 2008 campaign (which this writer has seen), it is no less riddled with the inaccuracies and falsehoods detractors claim than countless other docu-dramas from television and the big screen. Hollywood is in business to entertain, and, with rare exceptions, even the most acclaimed ‘true’ stories pale beside a documentary or a textbook (of course, no source is faultless or unbiased).
Yet to hear the Game Change hype, including the near-unanimous media praise, what we are witnessing is a meticulous, behind the scenes recreation of the 2008 campaign and a catalyst for a larger discussion of how our political selection process could allow a bumbling (and lying and diva-fied and emotionally unstable) oaf such as Sarah Palin to land a spot on a major party ticket. McCain’s top aides, on the other hand, are the solemn, principled stalwarts out to avert the oncoming train wreck. Such a storybook contrast defies belief, but it fits the media narrative.
Game Change just takes itself way too seriously. A glossy, less detailed Movie of the Week or Lifetime TV production would have been more entertaining, if only in a so-bad-it’s-good fashion. Based on the book of the same name by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Game Change reveals what we already knew — the elite opinion makers, including the makers of this film, deemed Sarah Palin unqualified to be vice-president the moment she walked onstage in Dayton, Ohio. Who knew? Thus the tele-pic’s most talk about moment: candidate Palin not knowing why North and South Korea are two separate countries. Haven’t we been here before? Remember hearing that she supposedly didn’t know that South Africa was a country unto itself?
Palin and those closest to her have dismissed Game Change as fiction. But according to the media tour, far from being a rip on the governor, the film instead takes our system to task and criticizes John McCain’s handlers for failing to fully vet the VP contender. To even the most dispassionate viewer that’s old news. It’s not hard to see that Game Change hides its anti-Palin sentiment behind a somber veneer of examining our entertainment-oriented political selection system. Star Julianne Moore told Entertainment Weekly that “I made sure I didn’t say anything unless it was sourced. Absolutely everything is sourced.” Well, that settles it. They can’t print something if it’s not true, now can they? Entertainment Weekly gives the film an A- minus but admits that “by re-creating many of [Palin's] greatest gaffes. . . it obviously means for us to snort and chuckle.”
Snort and chuckle? At Sarah Palin? Whoda thunk it? But could her gaffes be for real? Perhaps. Is someone who can’t comprehend North and South Korea qualified for high office? Perhaps not. Still, I was never drawn to Palin for her intellect but rather for her rock-solid core values, grit, tenacity and ability to succeed spectacularly at nearly everything she attempts. The Sarah we know would almost surely have tackled the vice-presidency with the same gutsy, if homey, spirit that made her one of the nation’s most popular governors.
That is the spirit that Game Change misses by flaunting its details. Julianne Moore, a four-time Academy Award nominee perfects her Palin impersonation down to the minutest gesture, but she fails to capture the endless energy Sarah both radiates and inspires. I never thought Tina Fey was spot-on either, but I digress.
Hollywood is no less culpable than the dominant political culture in shaping public perception. One hundred years hence, Sarah Palin, thanks to works such as Game Change, could well be regarded as an historical punch line, in much the same way that Calvin Coolidge is a country doofus and Warren Harding a slimy, philandering puppet of a corrupt political machine. Historical or personal context, i.e. truth yields to the final pronouncements of the self-styled sophisticates who compose the What’s Hot and What’s Not lists in the regular editions of Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly and for all time.
Less important than Palin’s gaffes is Barack Obama’s radical associations, divisive rhetoric and professed desire to “transform America.” I wonder if we will ever see a highly acclaimed actor telling Entertainment Weekly how hard he worked channeling the young Obama under the tutelage of Jeremiah Wright, and how inquiring minds must thus examine the pitfalls of our political selection process. That would be not just a game change but a miracle.