The Sarah Palin Syndrome

American history is replete with individuals who came from modest backgrounds and, through talent and hard work, achieved international fame in their chosen career. This, after all, is the defining principle of the American dream, facilitated by the freedoms of our political and economic system.

In recent decades, however, a disturbing path to fame has emerged, driven by social networking, an explosion of cable channels and the rise of instant, digital communication. Individuals with a talent for self promotion have discovered opportunities for stardom via reality shows, online videos and the media's insatiable appetite for dysfunctional personalities. The more outrageous and bizarre the behaviour, the greater its value for mass exploitation.

The patron saint of this modern American trend is Sarah Palin. Rescued from a failing and scandal-plagued governorship by a desperate presidential candidate, Ms. Palin demonstrated little qualification as a running mate and insured his defeat. Nevertheless, thrown into the national spotllight, she had traits that the media adored and has since become an international celebrity. While deficient from an intellectual point of view, Ms. Palin has shown a talent for attacking the thoughtful work of others, opening up lucrative speaking engagements and spawning a series of philosophical tomes. Hesitant to criticize such a popular hero of the religious right, conservative politicians praise her virtues and, recognizing the value of controversy, the media giants are quick to publish her daily pronouncements. In America, it seems, entertainment has now become the primary road to success.