The Aussie View of Sarah Palin

Native critics of Australia’s alleged foreign policy subservience to America, as well as of the prevalence and popularity of American popular culture, often refer to Australia in contempt and exasperation as the 51st state. That’s not quite accurate; should Australia join the United States (of Oceania? if you excuse the Orwellian undertone), she would add six new states to the Great Republic. Throw in Puerto Rico, and Obama would actually get his 57 states.

There’s no prospect of that (though I can’t speak for Puerto Rico). Australians are happy how and where they are, equal but separate: conflicted friends, allies and trading partners. I would hope that an average Australian knows more about America than an average Brit (though I can’t guarantee that he or she would necessarily better like what they know). Certainly a lot of Australians, particularly the globe-trotting Generation Xs and Ys, have “done” the East and West Coasts and had their pictures taken with the Statue of Liberty or the Hollywood sign in the background. However, many parts of the U.S. still remain off the beaten track and off the mental map for us here Down Under.

Australians don’t know much about Alaska, except that it’s cold. Those with memories of the early 90s TV show will recall it as the location of an icy exile for promising young Jewish doctors. Now, thanks to Governor Palin, we have a fuller picture that involves moose and snow machines, hunting and drilling, and yes, hot middle-aged mamas and pregnant teenagers (though, in all honesty, we don’t know to what extent the last two are truly representative of the great state of Alaska -- hopefully the former more than the latter). As for the left, the map of the evil right-wing empire has suddenly acquired a new province. The Land of the Midnight Sun is now seen as yet another bastion of the Wild West redneckdom, a piece of the Deep South in the Deep North. It's the result of what happens when a red state hell freezes over.

The Australian media’s treatment of Palin would be quite familiar to Americans: condescension and caricatures on the left, curiosity and admiration on the right (with a tinge of longing for “our own Palin,” heightened by the fact that the center-right Liberal Party is currently out of power both federally and in all states and territories). The print and electronic media is as pro-Obama as the American one, though arguably not as hysterically so as, say, the European one.

Aside from the fact that the Republican brand is not very popular at the moment, it’s difficult to gauge what an average Australian man and woman in the street, sparse consumers of international news as they are, genuinely think about Palin. To conduct a vox pop among my friends and acquaintances would produce a rather biased sample.