Sarah Palin, who strives to carefully control her image, recently filed an application to trademark her name (even if, as Politics Daily reported, she apparently forgot to sign the document).
The trademarking move – seemingly more appropriate for a product than a person, particularly one who soon might be seeking the most public of jobs – basically served up a straight line for comics and pundits.
But is part of the pol’s bid to become Sarah Palin® rooted in an attempt to stop mockery?
The Christian Science Monitor raised that specter in a recent piece, noting, perhaps a tad tongue-in-cheek: “In the former Alaska governor’s case, [trademarking] could prevent, say, Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey from performing as ‘Sarah Palin.’ Or vice versa if it turns out that Tina Fey is actually ‘Tina Fey®.’”
It’s an intriguing thought, though we’re pretty sure (or at least we hope) the First Amendment would protect Fey and any other would-be Palin imitators. What we can’t be fully sure of is Palin's intentions, though her form cites wanting to use her name for “educational and entertainment services” and “providing motivational speaking services.”
The Tea Party pal, who turns 47 Friday, is clearly trying to put her (trade)mark on the decidedly unclear area between celebrity and politics. We’re at point where potential future president could literally be a brand name.
It's difficult to pin down Palin's brand as she melds worlds like no other public figure before her at a time when the media is in flux. The former GOP vice presidential candidate is a paid commentator for Fox News, a best-selling author and just finished a stint as a Reality TV star. She communicates largely by Facebook and in speeches before friendly crowds, though she's given more press interviews in recent weeks.
The ambiguity over roles extends to her family: her 20-year-old daughter, Bristol, a former "Dancing With the Stars" contestant, told E! News this week she might run for office some day (in the same interview, she professed no desire to meet reality show comedian Kathy Griffin, the unlikely buddy of her son's father). Bristol also reportedly filed a trademark application – and like her Grizzly Mama, she didn’t sign the form.
Well before Sarah Palin's trademark bid and well before the word “brand” started getting tossed around, presidents have been de facto products for sale, particularly since the explosion of mass media and advertising in the previous century.
Perhaps no president understood this better than Ronald Reagan, the former actor, GOP icon and Palin hero. She was out in force during recent commemorations marking the centennial of the Great Communicator’s birth, portraying herself as his spiritual successor (though Reagan’s liberal son, Ron, told ABC News that President Obama has more in common with his dad than Palin).
Palin used the occasion to remind Christian Broadcasting Network viewers that she studied journalism in college – and to declare wants to “help” the media.
"I want to help them," she said. "I have a journalism degree, that is what I studied. I understand that this cornerstone of our democracy is a free press, is sound journalism. I want to help them build back their reputation."
The press is not exactly running to her for aid – she’s taken some flack over what’s been perceived as her less-than-eloquent statements about Obama’s handling of the crisis in Egypt ("I'm not real enthused about what it is that, that's being done on a national level and from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt,” she told CBN). And The Associated Press ruined her “special surprise” by reporting a pitch made by Palin’s PAC in a fundraising letter this week asking donors to quietly give money to mark the big 4-7.
It all might be enough to put Palin in accord with a frequent critic, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who vowed not to mention her this month and called on others to follow his lead. His Palin-free February pledge didn't stop the stories. But it inspired a funny – and most definitely NSFW video – by Gina Gershon on Funny or Die, in which she plays the pol going through the agony of withdrawal during a month without press.
The irreverent video, with bawdy lines that might even make Fey blush, is no birthday present to Palin. Check it out below – before she signs those trademark papers:
U.S. & World
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.