Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gossip, truth, and spin

Yes, I'm supposed to be working this weekend on my book project, but I am so distracted by Sarah Palin that I can't concentrate. Last-ditch attempt to grab female Clinton supporters? Well-timed splash to distract from the fact that McCain just turned 72? Strategic move to suck the momentum away from the DNC and all the speech analysis clogging up the media and internet? But Palin herself is pretty good news fodder, not just because of these political motivations for thrusting her into the spotlight. A young, powerful working mom in line to be one short step from the presidency? Definitely caught my attention.

There's an interesting discussion going on at urbanMamas right now about Palin going back to work three days after delivering her baby. Personally, I didn't have the brain power to go back to work and edit a magazine four months after having a baby, a failing I chalked up to (1) sleep deprivation, (2) lapsing into my default state of perpetual laziness, and (3) Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls marathons on TV. (#3 especially was an IQ suck.) Not to mention, I had no work clothes that fit me postpartum, mainly because I'd trashed or hidden all the maternity clothes I owned and borrowed on one hormone-induced morning about eight weeks in when cabin fever a la Jack Nicholson had set in.

Which brings me to the most gossipy, unfounded, but still intriguing part of the Palin buzz on the internet today: the accusation that Palin did not actually have a fifth child earlier this year, because the child was born to Palin's teenage daughter instead. In the pictures I found online, she does look pretty good at seven months pregnant and again a few days postpartum--no maternity clothes for her to trash and hide!

No reputable news outlet is picking up this story, and ultimately, the truth doesn't matter much because this sort of Puritanical "save the family name" thing happens all the time (in my extended family, even, more than once). But to some people it matters very much because if the rumors are true, she is a liar--but not just any liar: a public liar, and this is a sin for which many others seeking high posts have been punished.

The fact that much of this gossip is going to play out online before being vetted by "reliable" news media again tests the wisdom of the crowds conceit of Web 2.0: Should a bunch of people with perhaps a reasonable level of common sense, average powers of observation, and, most important, access to the Internet have as much sway as traditional "gatekeepers" of information? (Keep in mind that many of these gatekeepers are going through layoffs and buyouts the likes of which we've never seen in the history of journalism.)

In a recent review of the book Reinventing Knowledge on, author Laura Miller asks, "Without a doubt, we've entered an era when the official truth is easier to challenge than ever before, but do we really want to live in a world without any established truths at all, or where every fact must be democratically elected by a horde of individuals whose judgment may not be informed or trustworthy?" Not sure I want to live in a world with stone tablets declaring certain truths as established, because even those based in science (putting aside the more humanistic tools of logic and reason) regularly fall. Nor do I want to have to yield to what the majority believes is true: everyone thought those Magic Eye painting from years ago were amazing, and I thought, and still think, they're incredibly stupid. (But I was never successful in seeing a single hidden image, so maybe that's just sour grapes.)

Yes, in the Palin case, someone, at the very least the OB who delivered the child, knows whose uterus he came from; the horde of individuals, even armed with the best photos culled from the best websites on the internet, have no bearing here. But until that person steps forward, it's hard to ignore the larger point: technology has empowered so many of us to be truth seekers (let's not call them conspiracy theorists just yet) rather than passive receptors who wait for information to trickle down to us from on high. For the most part, I think we wear this new role well.


fasenfest said...

You know I was thinking about Palin as well. And the phrase that kept coming to my mind was "right to raise". I just couldn't get over the feeling that she was running so hard, going beyond what made sense - at least in the world I live in.

I really didn't think about whether the baby was her child (never even thought about it) but did think a lot about what it really means to have a family and how one would balance five children and the Vice Presidency. Actually, it seemed totally ridiculous which certainly makes me face up to certain feminist issues - like why would I have a different feeling if it was a man. I suppose it is because I would figure someone (read: mom) would be home raising those kids in the everyday sort of ways they deserve. Not that that is right (I did immediately assume her husband wouldn't be taking on that role and that she, as a self-professed soccer mom would continue to juggle it all) or that lots of kids don't have two working parents, but it still struck me as frantic and impossible.

Oh yeah, nannies and tutors and help with the house but...."the right to raise" seemed to be something that kept coming to me. Like why would someone fight so hard for a child's life (as she is such a strong advocate for) and not fight just as hard for their right to be raised in the sort of everyday ways kids deserve.

I admit, I was a single working mom and I juggled and enjoyed the profession I chose. But one kid and a restaurant is different then five and the Vice Presidency and I think that is what many of us might be feeling in our heads and hearts along with the suspicion that no one looks like that after so recent a birth.

But again, I didn't get that one. I just felt sorta sad for the kids and the sweet baby. I just wanted to believe there would be hugs and love and patience and an ear for every one of their kids passing fears, hopes and wild-eyed imaginations.

My heart sort of ached and i looked at her and I felt like she was caught up in some ridiculous momentum of...what? The American Dream? What, what, what could she be thinking? Who the hell would want to inherit this mess and sit around with the scoundrels and tyrants of industry and watch the dirty politics that she will inevitable watch, or participate in, and think to herself (because she is green and totally unprepared) "what have I done?"

And I felt stunned by these thoughts and how she looked and the sweet baby and the words kept coming into my head.."The right to raise".

DomaMama said...

I think you've really hit on a lot of the reasons that Palin is so fascinating to nearly every woman I know--almost every friend who's emailed me in the past week has mentioned it. Many of us are moms wondering how in the world Palin can hold her world together--five kids and the state of Alaska--plus shoot for even more, when we can't even pick our kids up from preschool on time, make a dinner that includes more than one of the major food groups, and clear the cobwebs from the corners of the house.

But as a working mom myself, I feel strangely proud of her, even though personally find her politics difficult to swallow: she was so poised last night despite the intense scrutiny and incredulity she's been facing. This country has only seen women as moms and wives of politicians or as unapologetic nearly asexual climbers, and she's some sort of amalgam of both. She's certainly made this already addicting election season even more engrossing.