Saturday, June 30, 2012

What does the slow start for 'Life's a Tripp' mean for Bristol's career prospects? Can she and Willow become the Klondike Kardashians? And why did Sarah bring up my research on air?

My day job is working as a professor of mass communications and journalism; in that role, I teach students, for example, how the TV/cable business works. So I am professionally interested in Bristol's new reality show, "Life's a Trip," on the Lifetime cable network.

I can see why the decision-makers at Lifetime liked the idea of this show. The production costs of any reality show are low compared to a scripted show; and the costs of this particular reality show must be low compared to, say, "Jersey Shore," which has a much larger cast. So for a relatively small investment, the producers could test the waters and see if America's fascination with the Palin family was strong enough to keep a reality show like Bristol's afloat.

Also, I think the producers were wondering if Bristol, along her sister Willow, who seems to be a regular on the show, might replicate the success of the Kardashian girls – Kim, Kourtney, and Khloé – who have achieved great success in the reality show "Keeping up with the Kardasians."

Alas, Bristol's show has gotten off to a slow start. Its initial rating were so weak that it was quickly bumped out of its prime-time slot. The reality of Bristol's life as depicted in the show thus far has not been riveting, according to reviewers, although the mechanical-bull-riding scene and subsequent confrontation with a rude heckler sounded like pretty entertaining stuff.

Confession time: I almost never watch TV, except snippets via YouTube or Hulu. But someone sent me a link to Bristol's last show, because Bristol was shown talking to Sarah via a cell phone, and Sarah was talking about me: she told Bristol that a "professor" had placed ads in Alaska newspapers trying to get to the truth about Trig's birth – the point being to suggest disbelief that anyone could think Trig's birth was faked. It's true that I placed such ads early in the year, but they produced no results.

Sarah clearly wanted to use her daughter's show to suggest my research is nuts, and that's par for the course: I'm trying to expose her birth hoax, and she's trying to keep the truth from coming out. I'm not surprised she did that.

But what did surprise me was that I found her daughters, as least as revealed in their on-screen personas, to be quite likable. They're smart, engaging and pretty, and they seem like they might be fun to be around. That did not make me want to watch the show at any great length, but it does make me think Bristol and Willow just might be able to become the Klondike Kardashians.

This reality show of Bristol's may not last long. But I think she has achieved a critical mass of fame, plus has the drive and the shrewdness (presumably from her mother), to keep opportunities coming her way. Willow does not have much of a track record yet, but she is arguably even prettier than Bristol, and I suspect she'll be able to ride Bristol's coattails to success, just as Kim has been able to pull Kourtney and Khloé along in her wake of celebrity.

Celebrity is a curious thing in our culture. At some point you become famous mainly for being famous, like the Kardashians, and that fame alone can sustain a career if you have some modest attributes such as likability and physical attractiveness. 

And something else Bristol has going for her is that she presumably appeals to a conservative viewing demographic that yearns for stars outside of the usual liberal Hollywood orbit. In that regard, Bristol might be viewed as the anti-Kardashian, and as such she may be capable of filling a need for some entertainment providers.

I think Bristol has reached the point where she will continue to find opportunities for years as an anti-Kardashian avatar. And she may help not just Willow but eventually Piper (if this is what she wants) achieve some modest success in the fame machine that feeds our media and entertainment industries. 

And if that happens, far be in from me to criticize the Palin girls for taking advantage of the opportunity Sarah’s crazily careening career has afforded them.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Did Levi screw up in his book by telling the truth about Tripp's expected date of birth, thus showing Sarah lied at the Republican National Convention?

Levi Johnston lies a lot in his book Deer in the Headlights. For example, on page 75 he supports Sarah Palin's entire "wild ride" story about flying from Texas to Alaska as her amniotic fluid was leaking. In fact, I suspect Sarah told him what to write here: 

She [Sarah] wanted to be home rather than deliver in Texas so that her new son could be a true-blue Alaska boy. She wanted this child, possibly a Down's baby, to be delivered by her doc, who knew the deal, in our new medical center in Wasilla.

The idea that Palin and her doctor preferred, for the delivery of a premature special-needs child, the dinky Mat-Su Regional Medical Center over, say, the fully-equipped Providence Hospital in Anchorage, is ludicrous. She needed to get to the Mat-Su center because she knew that her buddies on the board would let her use the place for a birth hoax. But Levi not only backed that up silly story, he describes what Sarah looked like immediately after giving birth (page 76).

As the wonderfully perceptive Allison noted at ThePalinPlace blog last October, Levi subtly slipped into his book a scene in which Palin called him seemingly to cajole/bribe/threaten him into something terribly important – such as not exposing the hoax (page 273):

Levi, this is Sarah.

No Shit.

Are you recording this?

Huh? What?

Don't lie to me. Are you taping this call?

She sounded uptight...

No, Sarah. I'm not.

Are you positive? Tell me the truth.

Sarah, you called me. How could I be recording this? And why? I have no idea what the hell you want.

Then Levi moves on without revealing the substance of the call. Allison argues the circumstances suggest this call from Sarah probably came not long before Levi's book was due to go press, perhaps shortly after Bristol's Not Afraid of Life came out in June of last year. Considering how Bristol trashed Levi in that book, Sarah must have wondered just how vindictive Levi might be.

What could Sarah offer Levi to keep him from telling the truth? Well, she has plenty of money, and maybe it would not have taken that much, relatively speaking, to get him to lie. She perhaps also could have threatened (by use of police surrogates) to make life hell for his mom, who was and still is under house arrest for selling part of her OxyContin prescription.

I think Allison nailed it. Levi was letting us know he had the power to decimate Sarah's reputation, and that she felt compelled to approach him to make a deal, or more likely to reinforce a previous deal. Of course, by demonstrating his power in that way, he was also letting us know his book could not be trusted. Sad to say, but Levi's a naive kid who sold his self-respect in a Playgirl spread and apparently his integrity in a deal with Sarah.

Various commentators have picked apart Levi's book and shown problems with his timelines. But one problem in particular I want to focus on is where (on page 137) he writes that on about December 26 he agreed to go on a snowmobiling trip with Bristol's dad, Todd, because Bristol, he said, was not due for another three weeks, meaning around January 17 – and then she surprisingly went into labor the next day, and he rushed back to be there for the birth.

He must have screwed up there in terms of making his narrative square with Sarah's, because if Bristol was not due until mid-January or so, then Sarah lied at the Republican National Convention in September, claiming that Bristol was five months pregnant – she would only have been four months along if she was due in January.

But was the snowmobiling trip really in late December? Let's assume for the sake of argument that the trip happened as described, but around the first or second week of January – and let's also assume Levi inadvertently revealed the true due date, around January 17. That scenario seems to work with the known facts.

But I don't buy that he got back in time to witness the birth. The Palins clearly schemed to get him out of the way – that surely was the point of the snowmobiling trip, since Todd could not stand Levi. That being the case, why get him back in time for the delivery? The Palins likely were already planning to kick him out of their house, which he says they did right after the birth. Thus they probably tricked him into missing the birth to help cut him off from Tripp – just as setting up his mother in a drug sting helped sever the link between the families, plus gave Sarah a club to keep the Johnstons in line.

Then what do we make of Levi's claim that he demanded an epidural for Bristol before the birth? I think that Sarah, when she kicked Levi out of the Palin house in early 2009, probably made her initial deal with him and told Levi to lie and say he had been present for the birth. She may even have suggested that he claim he demanded an epidural, which Levi seemingly bungled by suggesting it was given in the first hour of labor, which seldom if ever happens. 

Later in 2009, Sarah said that Levi was not at the birth at all, which I think was a screw-up on her part: she was so intent on trashing Levi at the time, she forgot that she needed him to be a false witness to the birth, and thus let the truth slip out.

So, that's my hypothesis: Tripp was not born in December, but rather in January. Levi was not present, but Sarah needed him to write in his book that he got back in time for the birth. 

But I could be wrong.

One nagging issue is that some observers have suggested that when Tripp was finally shown to the media on February 17, on a Fox show, he looked unusually large for his purported age – but a January birth should have made him look smaller than expected. Maybe he was just a really big baby. Then again, maybe Tripp was born before December, as some smart people have argued. 

It's a puzzler.