In the 2008 presidential election, Republican nominee John McCain chose Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. In the same year, the TV show Saturday Night Live chose comedian Tina Fey to represent Sarah Palin in spoofs and parodies. Hilarity ensued.
One of the more memorable quotes from the 2008 election was Sarah Palin’s enthusiastic line, “I can see Russia from my house!” That, however, was actually Tina Fey’s line. Sarah Palin never said that.
Sarah Palin’s real line was not much better. When asked in an interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson about Russian foreign policy, she said, “Charlie, you’re in Alaska. We have that very narrow maritime border between the United States, and the 49th state, Alaska, and Russia. They are our next door neighbors. We need to have a good relationship with them. They’re very, very important to us and they are our next door neighbor.” When asked to expand on how that gives insight into dealing with Georgia, she said that there’s an island in Alaska where you can actually see Russia.
The misattributed line featured on SNL, then, is not much different than what Palin said in her interview. It is not like the Trump truck meme that was circling around the internet, which was completely stripped of context. It is more like traditional satire, where it keeps the spirit of the quote or event, and highlights the absurdity.
The more interesting thing about this particular parody is the lasting effect that it had on our society. The quote is famously misattributed to Sarah Palin, even though she didn’t actually say it. When discussing this particular quote with my dad, who’s a very critical consumer, he brushed off the fact that Palin didn’t say those exact words because she had said something similar.
But that’s the point. If someone were to walk up to you and say “Who said ‘I can see Russia from my house?’”, we would probably answer Sarah Palin. Even if we know that Sarah Palin didn’t say those exact words.
Maybe we’ve already forgotten that Sarah Palin didn’t say those exact words. Maybe we’ve already rewritten history because Tina Fey’s line was more succinct, funnier, and kept the spirit of the quote.
In our collective memory, Sarah Palin got on TV and said “I can see Russia from my house!” as an answer for why she has insight into Russian foreign policy. It’s not far from the truth, but it’s not the truth. SNL created a satire, which we’ve turned into a shared myth — only we don’t realize it’s a myth.
This is how our satire, but it’s so much more. This is how our collective myths are made. This is how our political caricatures our made. This is how our shared culture is made.
Featured image: Courtesy of flickr user TaraLivesOn. License information at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/legalcode.