Palin, Prejean: Beastly treatment for beauties

The governor turned author must fight what the pageant queen learned: Politics and hotness make strange bedfellows

Published November 26, 2009 1:05AM (EST)

Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin blows a kiss to her family during her address at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota September 3, 2008.  REUTERS/ Damir Sagolj (UNITED STATES)   US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008  (USA) (Reuters)
Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin blows a kiss to her family during her address at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota September 3, 2008. REUTERS/ Damir Sagolj (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA) (Reuters)

Anybody who expects this column to lampoon beauty-pageant contestants has another think coming. Last time I made a satirical thrust in that direction, two women whose friendship I treasure coolly informed me they'd been Rodeo Queens of their respective county fairs. Did I have a problem with that?

Absolutely not. Indeed, during a sojourn at an excruciatingly correct liberal arts college, I once reacted to a campus newspaper crusade against the sin of "lookism" by urging students to contemplate "The Iliad." The oldest narrative in the Western literary tradition (circa 1500 B.C.), and what's it about? An overrated jock named Achilles, and Helen, a troublemaking beauty, aka "the face that launched a thousand ships."

So no, it didn't start at your high school, this business of hunks and cuties getting too much attention. It's human nature. Nor will it end with the ritual humiliation of Republican sex symbols Carrie Prejean and Sarah Palin.

Said humiliation, in the media-driven, Dionysian cult of celebrity that's rapidly overtaking American political culture has been not so much fated as voluntarily entered into and all but agreed upon by the well-compensated victims. The only question is how much cash their notoriety helps them to accumulate before everybody gets sick of them and the next Holy Hottie comes along.

Yeah, the former Miss California USA got sandbagged. Anyway, who cares what a 22-year-old in high heels and a swimsuit thinks about gay marriage? Do they ask quarterbacks about the Stupak Amendment? Anything Carrie Prejean said was sure to annoy half the TV audience busily engaged in calculating her sex appeal to three decimal places.

Her awkward rejoinder favoring "opposite marriage" infuriated the questioner, a Hollywood gossip maven who styles himself the "Queen of All Media." After the pageant, Perez Hilton called Prejean a "dumb b----." When she objected, he went deep into the gutter, describing her with the coarsest possible term for the female genitalia. His Web site features scores of attacks on Prejean earmarked "icky-poo."

Clowning like Hilton's, of course, hurts the gay rights cause as much as Prejean's subsequent behavior embarrassed straight Christians she purported to speak for. But because she'd given the wrong answer -- and never mind that, as Sarah Palin pointed out, Prejean's position is basically identical to President Obama's -- liberals who normally denounce "sexism" only snickered.

The embattled beauty queen who soon began making the conservative talk-show rounds promoting a hastily written book describing her deep piety and victimization also happens to be a real knockout, who, if you ran into her in the grocery store, would make you think, "Wow, that girl oughta be Miss California USA." Or something.

Poor Sean Hannity practically had steam coming out his ears listening to Prejean alibi about how the sex video she'd made strictly for her beloved boyfriend ended up going public. Then seven more sex videos and a few dozen nudie photos emerged, and Carrie Prejean's brief career as a martyr to liberal hypocrisy basically ended overnight.

Great beauty always threatens as many people as it enchants. So nice try, but it looks as if you're going to have to get a real job after all. Which brings us back to Sarah Palin, who quit the best job she's ever had to capitalize on her newfound celebrity. The former Alaska governor and beauty pageant runner-up got the book rollout of every author's dreams for her ghost-written memoir, "Going Rogue."

Far from persecution and mockery, Palin got the red-carpet treatment. On supposedly liberal CNN, Jessica Yellin asked, "Can't we just acknowledge it? Sarah Palin is sexy, and she doesn't seem to hide from it. She shows her gams. She openly embraces her femininity."

Her "gams"? Yellin, a Harvard graduate, must have majored in Frank Sinatra studies. She also complained that dames like Hillary Clinton and Dianne Feinstein "keep their femininity under wraps." It's definitely true that older broads avoid bicycle shorts.

Even at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum rhapsodized over Palin's "sex appeal that practically oozes out of every pore." Liberal and conservative commentators alike engaged in hair-splitting debates about Newsweek's "sexist" cover photo -- the one she posed for, just as she agreed to appear on "Saturday Night Live," sit for an interview with Katie Couric, etc. Anything to promote Sarah.

Personally, I'm immune to Palin's charms. Her voice alone would send me to a monastery. But no matter: Making a fetish of your sexiness and your holiness is a dangerous game. Fans can be fickle, demanding a thematic consistency rarely attainable in real life.

Palin appears far too clever for a comic pratfall like Prejean's. But how long before her enraptured public notices that she spent her triumphal comeback trashing other Republicans, sneering "Heathers"-style at Katie Couric and exchanging insults with a 19-year-old kid?

By Gene Lyons

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Carrie Prejean Gay Marriage Republican Party Sarah Palin