Tuesday, September 30, 2008

American Folk

ONE REASON for Sarah Palin's instant appeal to so many Americans is that she fits into American folk tradition going all the way back to Davy Crockett: the appeal of an untutored, "unvetted" backwoods personality bringing common sense wisdom to the corrupt political hills of Washington. THIS is what was instantly recognizable to Americans about Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican convention: a wise-cracking, larger-than-life character unleashed from the American wilderness with a plethora of legendary feats behind her.

Sarah Palin didn't kill "a bar" like Davy but she did kill and skin a moose, which is even larger. Accomplished in everything she's tackled-- point guard basketball champion and beauty contest winner-- she emerged as a pure natural, new baby in one hand and high-powered rifle in the other. The rumored stories about her, that she birthed her baby on an airplane on the way home from a conference in Texas(!) and was back to work as Governor a day or two later fit the mythic aura. She's an American character, and she represents what's best about the American character.
If Hemingway was right that American literature stems from Mark Twain, then it really began with Davy Crockett, our nation's first true underground "zine" writer, whose folksy voice created American pulp fiction of the 1800's and had to have been a huge influence on Samuel Clemens.

For a quick look at the Crockett legend and persona, rent the simple 1950's Disney version of the Davy Crockett saga starring Fess Parker. Fast-forward to Davy as politician, including on the stump. The naive, mythic appeal is the OPPOSITE of know-everything wonkiness. It's anti-wonkiness.

Sarah Palin's advisors make a huge mistake if they expect her to come across as a nerdy expert on "Bush Doctrines" and other Beltway b.s. nonsense. People want someone who instead knows what's right and what's not; who from native experience can tell good guys from bad guys and with good humor get directly to the heart of a problem, with joke or rifle, Crockett-style.
(Other interesting movie characterizations of Davy Crockett include folksy Arthur Hunnicut in "The Last Command," a colorful adventure whose primary focus is the similarly legendary Jim Bowie; John Wayne in the overblown "The Alamo," which includes a great Dimitri Tiomkin score; and this decade, Billy Bob Thornton in a newer, quite excellent, quite underrated version of "The Alamo." Rent them all!)

1 comment:

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

There was nothing original in this post. I was pleasantly surprised to find through a little internet searching afterward that many others said the same thing. A good sign that maybe not all is lost in this culture and society.