What Sarah Palin can learn from Michael Jackson


I’ve been grappling with why Sarah Palin invokes such strong reaction from both her supporters and her opponents. In a recent Twitter session, @MattMerenic comes back with “I think she is stupid…” While I agree in spirit with Mr. Marenic’s assessment of Palin’s intelligence, I think it is a whole lot deeper than that and I think, in light of Michael Jackson passing away last week and the release of some rehearsal footage — while it may appear there is no connection at all — I think I now understand why.

We have an underdog hero complex in America. We desperately want that one guy to rise out of obscurity and into the limelight, effortlessly performing as a brilliant star, like Susan Boyle, Ronald Reagan*, Bill Gates, Kelly Clarkson, Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, Franklin Roosevelt, Tony Hawk, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Michael Jackson.

The only problem with the underdog hero complex is it is a myth. Performers re-write their history to show it was not a big deal, that their talent came effortlessly and the gifts they have are natural-born. Steve Jobs will never tell the world how many hours he has spent perfecting his keynote speech style or how many times he had been told “no” by banks in the early days of Apple. While his critics chide Barack Obama for his reliance on the teleprompter, anyone who has ever given a speech using one knows that the skill is a lot harder to master than it looks. He has spent hours on his speech, on his effortless demeanor, his pensive stares and his smile. He has spent so much time on his non-verbal cues that they have become who he is. But, he is aware of it all.

Gladwell cites a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill well in his book Outliers. Whether you believe that number or not, the fact is that to become good at something, you must immerse yourself in it and practice, even when you are at the top of your game.

While watching the rehearsal footage of Michael Jackson for his upcoming tour, something profound occurred to me. This was a man who had sold 750 million albums, won 13 Grammy Awards, performed on countless tours for 40+ years and he was still doing a complete dress rehearsals of a concert. To say this man was an accomplished performer would be understating his talent, yet he practiced every dance step, every note of every song over and over. Nobody will ever know how many hours Jackson spent perfecting the moon walk so that his first public performance (3:44) would be flawless.

People who are at the top of their game have similar stories, yet we never see their rehearsals, only their performance. And, if he had not died suddenly, we may never have seen the rehearsal video.

Here is why I think Sarah Palin’s supporters like her. She is “real,” unpolished, unrehearsed. She represents hope that if Sarah can do it with her inarticulate speech, inability to focus and cursory knowledge of the facts then there is hope for every person who believes the underdog hero complex. If Sarah can rise through the bull crap of local politics, get elected into public office, get plucked from obscurity into the national and international limelight, meet with international leaders, debate senators and get interviewed by previously untouchable members of the media with only a few afternoons of practice and memorization of key talking points, then there is hope for me. If an under-educated woman with five kids living in Alaska can rise to power and celebrity and win the hearts of America by winking at a camera, then there is hope for me.

Here is why I think Sarah Palin’s opponents loath her. Many of them have been practicing countless hours at honing their craft, being aware of their demeanor, spending countless hours immersed in national policy, reading countless laws and bills, spending a lot of time thinking deeply about a lot of issues. In short, they have practiced their craft and continue to practice. They rehearse every speech for hours on end, they prepare each public appearance to the last detail. They practice a lot so that their “performance” looks effortless.

To an artist, a “paint-by-the-numbers” kit is insulting. It implies that anyone can be a talented artist. To writers who spend years honing their use of language, bloggers who claim to be writers simply because they can tap out half-baked opinions, littered with bad grammar, typos and curse words are insulting. To journalists who spend hours fretfully trying to deliver the facts impartially, a citizen journalist with an uninformed, undocumented rant and polar point of view is an insult. To someone who spends a lifetime practicing the finer points of politics — including a deep knowledge of the nuance of fact — Sarah Palin’s refusal to practice is insulting to their craft.

But, I’m not entirely blameless in supporting the underdog hero myth. While this blog is just a canvass for me to bark out anything that comes into my head, in the very far back of my brain is a small hope that someone will notice me, that I will hit upon an idea or point of view that nobody has thought of and I will be plucked from obscurity into the limelight of fame, if even for fifteen minutes. But, my inner voice says that won’t happen and even if it does, it will be because I will have thought about, read and written far more than Sarah Palin will ever in her entire life.

*Words from John Gillespie Magee, Jr but delivered skillfully by Reagan

Editor comments:
More evidence that nobody is practicing before the performance. Meg Stapleton “explains” the analogy to Anderson Cooper, opens up the field by saying “anything you can imagine” and admits Sarah Palin resigning is a task devoid of strategy.

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