Charlie Sheen is basically Sarah Palin. (For one, they’re both way more famous since becoming sort of unemployed.) That’s why, feeling complicit as a writer on the internet in the national obsession with Palin — who Sheen is temporarily the new, more pure version of (in a drug sense) — I decided to embark on a challenge suggested by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post in his January 21 column. “Though it is embarrassing to admit this in public, I can no longer hide the truth,” he wrote. “I have a Sarah Palin problem.” The problem included 42 columns about her since 2008. So he said he’d go all of February without mentioning her at all and called on members of the media to do the same. A New York blogger probably wasn’t who he had in mind, but I did it anyway. And it was amazing!
Though I did not keep track of Milbank’s television appearances, his Post archive appears to be Palin-free for the period in question. As for me, I haven’t so much as mentioned her since January 24 and even skipped writing this yesterday to revel in the extra day. (February is the shortest month.)
I don’t think I spoke her name at all either, and probably typed the name only once on GChat. And in addition to not writing about Palin for Runnin’ Scared, which I did ten times in January alone, I didn’t even read anything about her. It felt freeing and I realized something I’d known all along: she’s not very important to my life (or yours, probably), even as a writer with certain quotas and responsibilities to put out content based on the day’s goings on, which I imagine would be many writers’ justification for covering her at all. She is a lightning rod for discussion — an all but guaranteed hit as a subject. But in terms of being a low-hanging blog fruit, she can make cat videos seem like investigative journalism.
“It’s impossible, I figured, because Palin is a huge source of cheap Web clicks, television ratings and media buzz,” Milbank wrote of his Palin ban. “If any of us refused to partake of her Facebook candy or declined to use her as blog bait, we would be sending millions of Web surfers, readers, viewers and listeners to our less scrupulous competitors.” But there’s better candy, even. Palin is like a PayDay bar.
Another such explanation for covering Palin might be comedy. She’s so easy to make fun of! But so is everyone else on the internet and no one compares to Palin when it comes to getting off on injustice and the subsequent ego-tripping. Maybe Julian Assange. But at least Assange’s actions have real world consequences. Palin’s importance in the Middle East is about the same as Sheen’s.
Granted, it’s not really my job to cover national politics or Fox News exhaustively, thank god. To those who really are required to consume news about and cover Palin, I’m sorry. It’s so very hard to do well. But for the rest of us, it doesn’t have to be such a fucking drag. Most of the time, in doing so, we’re either lazy or masochistic or both. It’s not a high-horse thing, but the ease of the last month — I still had things to write about and read! — just made it more concrete to consider a point about Palin and those celebs like her that has been voiced over and over again, but maybe too rarely acted on: the internet calls it feeding the trolls.
Plus, Palin just probably isn’t very good for your blood pressure and she’s polling low enough that 2012 might be a huge headache for other reasons. Just thinking about it (and her), my shoulders are already more tense than when I started writing this. Which is why, though I’ll stop short of instituting a complete personal ban, because sometimes she does really dumb stuff, I can say confidently that the only thing I am addicted to right now is not writing about Sarah Palin.
Update: Here’s Milbank on his own Palin-less month.