So why is the Sarah Palin thing working right now? I keep thinking it has something to do with the way popular culture interacts with national anxiety in uncertain times in America -- we don't want to examine the uncertainty, we want to escape from it. (Politics is a subset of popular culture these days, isn't it?)
...never was escapist entertainment needed more than during the Depression. Hollywood rose to the occasion. As the wolf settled in for a lengthy stay, entertainment provided solace and balm.... [People] wanted magic and romance and novelty; stories with happy endings and a chastened wolf.
The Beatles have always had an intimate connection to the JFK assassination. He was shot the week before Thanksgiving 1963. By February 1964, the Beatles were number one in the national charts and the climactic appearance on Ed Sullivan's TV show occurred. Even Brian Epstein (the manager of the Beatles) believed the Kennedy assassination helped their rise -- the Beatles appeared to bind our wounds with their messages of joy and handholding...
Disco demolished punk on the U.S. charts in the Stagflation 1970s; the quintessential life-is-a-cabaret disco song, "Good Times" by Chic, hit #1 in mid-August 1979, in the midst of an oil crisis set off by the Iranian revolution, and just about a month after Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech.
And now we have Sarah Palin. She's plucky escapism with no substance -- a Shirley Temple movie for the current age of anxiety. She's never, ever downbeat -- never somber, never even melodramatic. It's all cheery and perky and spunky.
Earlier in the year, Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton in 1992, made people feel good even as he castigated those responsible for the status quo -- but recently, responding to calls for more substance, he's become more and more dour, less inspiring and uplifting. Apart from the Democratic convention, he's been reluctant to do big tent-revival speeches lately.
Obama needs to make people not just angry but hopeful again. (As I've said, I think he should bring back the big speeches, which bring out the best in him.) Meanwhile, Sarah Palin is the feel-good hit of the (late) summer (and counting).