Making the most of Palin's popularity

Posted: Sunday, December 05, 2010

Time's come to get realistic about all this Sarah Palin-mania.

Alaskans have, for the most part, had their fill of the half-governor and would be quite happy to never think much about her again.

But our friends, family and even business associates in the Lower 48 won't let us forget her. Who among us who has talked with or visited folks from Outside hasn't had to field at least one question about the former mayor of Wasilla?

Whether we like it or not, Sarah Palin represents Alaska to Outsiders as no one else has in generations.

Just when you think the Palin mystique has faded, she whips up another batch of attention-getters: a new book, a reality TV show, a dancing daughter, huge contributions to her own political action committee -- SarahPAC. Barbara Walters picked Palin as one of her Most Fascinating People of 2010 -- the third year in a row.

Even when it seemed the nation was tiring of her, Lower 48 eyes couldn't stay away. "Sarah Palin's Alaska" debuted on The Learning Channel last month and drew the highest rating for the network ever -- 5 million viewers. The next week ratings dropped by 40 percent. Critics declared the show DOA. Then the show bounced back as 3.5 million tuned in for week No. 3.

And political pundits are giving at least partial credit to the show for helping Palin's PAC amass contributions of more than half a million dollars this year, nearly $465,000 of that donated between Oct. 14 and Nov. 22 alone.

Here's how The Associated Press described "She Who Had Been Governor" in a Nov. 30 story: JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- Sarah Palin gave at least $507,000 to candidates and political causes in 2010 as she earned a reputation as kingmaker and raised her profile ahead of a possible presidential run."

And we won't even comment on daughter Bristol's nail-biting rise to fame on "Dancing With the Stars" (how many times did you vote for her?).

It's time to face facts -- Palin-mania is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

As resourceful Alaskans who live and breathe on boom-and-bust cycles, we need to get over our weariness with the former governor and figure out how to capitalize.

Perhaps the state Division of Tourism or the Alaska Tourism Industry Association should consider buying ads on the TV show. Or maybe these organizations should consider using clips from the show to craft a new tourism campaign. How about life-size cutouts of Sarah placed in strategic tourist-y locales where visitors can pose with her for pictures?

Some entrepreneur should create tourist maps of the places featured in "Sarah Palin's Alaska," allowing visitors to walk in her very footsteps and experience the Alaska that is uniquely Palin. Imagine how giddy visitors would feel when they get their first glimpse of the 14-foot fence that protected the Palin clan from prying journalists' eyes.

Or better yet, let's just recreate Sarah Palin's Alaska right here in Alaska. And we know the perfect place. Wasilla. Instead of all that talk about moving the state capital to the Mat-Su (which no one but Anchorage residents ever wanted anyway), let's build Sarahwood -- the theme park.

C'mon, you know tourists would flock to it.

In short: Alaskans should do what they do best and figure out how to make a buck off Sarah Palin's celebrity status.

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