[Translated from Le Monde (Paris)]
PORTRAIT OF AN OSSIFIED AMERICA
By Jérôme Fenoglio
Le Monde (Paris)
September 7, 2008
Next time we’ll know: the Wikipedia site can be capable of divination. Hours before the surprise designation of Sarah Palin as the running mate of John McCain, Republican candidate in November’s American presidential election, the online encyclopedia was struck by a revelation.
The biographical notice of the still obscure governor of Alaska churned with convulsions as modifications of its initial state caused anecdotes favorable to Mrs. Palin progressively to appear. A number of Web connoisseurs, obviously, have not credited the purity of this vision. They suspect an insider trading in stolen goods, close to the Republican campaign, of trying to distort this source of quick information so as to direct the flood that was coming.
In fact, there’s nothing like the bursting in of an unknown onto the global stage for measuring the diversity and rapidity of reactions in the anthill of information.
Everybody got busy throwing together, with whatever means at their disposal, a heap of little facts composing the portrait of the new arrival. In this quest, allusive bits of information sometimes caused mistakes in the early hours. The mention of an appearance of the former Miss Alaska runner-up in Vogue gave credit to a fake magazine cover that was really a montage that had been circulating for months on the Internet and that turned up on the front page of an Italian daily.
As always, there were rumors, which in the end came to influence the very course of the campaign. A fierce opponent of abortion, Sarah Palin thus declared that she was forced to make public the pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter in order to counter false allegations propagated by American web sites.
There were some strokes of luck, too. The American weekly Newsweek had sent a reporter to meet the new governor of Alaska last fall, which allowed him to paint the most complete portrait of the vice-presidential candidate.
It’s a text interspersed with striking photographs of the Palins’ family life in Alaska, which finally replaced the shots of the governor’s first appearances at John McCain’s side. From the frenzy of the first days and the blur of first portraits are thus emerging some images of an astonishing fixity. Those of a certain America that dreams that it’s unchanging, that doesn’t want to see how much the planet around it is in the process of changing.
In the Alaska of the Palins, a father nails bearskins on the wooden walls of his living room. In his SUV, as Newsweek reports, he lays claim to his lifestyle via an ironic bumper sticker: “Vegetarian: old Indian word for poor hunter.”
His daughter doesn’t see any human influence in the climate change that’s taking place, and no reason to question oil drilling in protected zones. The natural order and the place of man at its center have been fixed once for all by the creationism that it would be appropriate to oppose in schools to that contemptible evolutionism.
Of course the Alaska of the Palins is far from representing all of America. It is even in partial contradiction with the certain ideas defended by John McCain. But it is indeed to the Alaska of the Palins that the Republican candidate decided to gesture in making up his ticket. At the risk of ossifying his campaign in these images of an America that’s stuck.
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Chair, Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Web page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/