Palin’s Alaska (“Reality” TV?)

I suppose the latest “western” television show is Sarah Palin’s Alaska, her “reality” show airing on TLC. I’ve just taken a quick look at a few clips from the first episode. The producers of the show have been very assertive about claiming that the show is “not political.” Even in the few clips I’ve seen (one of which involves an encounter with a mama grizzly (well, a mama bear), and another which involves a comparison Palin makes between a privacy fence the Palins build and US border security), there seems to be plenty of the political. Although there’s no direct metaphor drawn with the bear scene, mama grizzlies have been such a dominant campaign theme this past fall, we don’t need anyone onscreen to fill in the blanks for us. There’s a nice article, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska is not a Political Statement. Right,” that provides a good overview of all the overt, covert, and implied politics of the episode.

There’s also an amusing analysis of the good-fences-make-good-neighbors scene posted by The Young Turks.

And then there’s the mama bear scene, which, in large part, seems to be cobbled together with stock footage. Maybe this all really happened, but the decision to cut back and forth between reaction shots of the Palins and shots of the bears fighting makes it look like these are two separate events that have been edited (and not very convincingly at that) together. And, granted, I have no credentials for identifying  bears, but it looks to me like there may be as many as four or five different bears in this scene (and that’s not counting the two cubs).  It certainly doesn’t seem that the slighter golden-colored bear with the cubs is one of the two bears fighting (although that’s what the narrative implies—that the mama bear is fighting off an interloper–but the bear fight seems to be an entirely separate event from the mother and her cubs making their way along the shore and the edge of the water). Eventually, the bear with the cubs wanders into the same shot as the Palins (or at least into a shot with some people in a boat), but the editing here is so shoddy that maybe it has to have really happened, because, surely, if you’re going to fake this sort of thing, you would make it more convincing. Ultimately, I guess what I’m saying is, the Palins could very well have witnessed a fight between bears, which was captured on film, but that it was then edited in such a way as to make it seem faked even if it wasn’t.

The fact that Sarah is sometimes wearing a baseball cap, sometimes not, and that the presence or absence of cap varies from shot to shot (as does her position in the boat), also doesn’t inspire confidence. The positions of the individual family members in the boat also change with such rapidity that it’s almost dizzying—see Todd Palin in the back of the boat, see Todd suddenly at the front of the boat, see Todd suddenly not in the boat at all.

Here’s a link to a video clip of the bear encounter:


Sons of Anarchy “Bainne”

Lots of twists and turns in the story line of Sons of Anarchy this past week. Since the episode “Bainne” was so recent, I’ll be cautious in what I say and try not to spoil too much, but, be aware, if you want to avoid all spoilers, stop reading now!

With the abducted child plot, this season of Sons of Anarchy has reminded me of The Searchers, although not explicitly so, and, ultimately, there’s been too much else going on to make a clear one-to-one correspondence between the two. With the most recent episode, however, we are finally getting on with the search for the missing child, and we find Jax doing some soul-searching, wondering what sort of creature his single-minded effort to rescue his son has made him into.  We learn that the Abel has been adopted rather than abducted, and by a nice Catholic couple rather than by some equivalent of the renegade Scar.  Or, at least, the Irish version Scar has passed on Abel to what seems like a model family.  Is Abel better off with them? As Jax comments, “He’s with a father who didn’t torture and murder a man yesterday.”

“Bainne” also takes us further into Mama Grizzly territory. Once again, Gemma demonstrates that she’s willing to cross lines that the men won’t cross in order to protect her family. She plays King Solomon (I won’t go into anymore detail than that) at the adoption agency to get the address of the couple who have adopted Abel.

Tara also has her own Mama Grizzly moment. In a subplot, she has been abducted, but proves that she has sharp claws of her own.

As the episode ends, the Sons are preparing to leave Ireland, and you would think this would spark a whole series of man hugs, but the only man hug takes place between Gemma and Maureen Ashby. Maureen offers her hand for a shake and possibly as the beginning gesture of a man hug, but Gemma ignores the hand. Even without the clasped hands barrier, it’s still a fairly manly hug, as Gemma grasps her firmly around the shoulders. There are a couple of shoulder taps even. The men don’t do much hugging, in part, because there don’t seem to be any members of the Irish branch of SAMCRO left alive to hug.

New West Article on 2010 Conference

There’s a nice article by Alex Young about the 2010 WLA Conference posted on New West: “From Native American Poetry to Zane Grey: The 2010 Western Literature Association Conference

New Study of the Southwest Website

Dear friends, colleagues, partners, and contributors:

The Southwest Regional Humanities Center and Center for the Study of the Southwest are pleased to announce the launch of our new website at the following URL:

This new site provides information about both centers, including a calendar of events and improved sites for our two publications — Southwestern American Literature and Texas Books in Review — which can be reached via the following shortcut links:

As with the previous site, the new version also features links for quick access to regional resources in academics, organizations, libraries, museums, collections and archives, galleries, destinations, publications, online resources, and laboratories.

If you have any suggestions for additions to the site, please let us know at<>

Best wishes,

Twister Marquiss
Southwest Regional Humanities Center
Brazos Hall
Texas State University-San Marcos

John Ford in Maine

I didn’t expect to come across something of interest for the WLA Blog while wandering around Portland, Maine, this weekend, but that was before I stumbled upon a statue of director John Ford, famous for directing such western films as Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, etc. and etc.

Ford attended high school and Portland, and the city honored him with this statue. I remember having heard about the statue, and I wondered where it was, and it was only serendipity that took me down a particular street and right up to John Ford himself. The statue is surrounded by a circle of stone, with various important dates and bits of information cut into the stone.

The statue was commissioned in 1998, and, it’s really a well done statue, conveying a sense of character (especially with the pipe) and with a bit of a sense of humor in its accurate depiction of someone sitting in a director’s chair (portable, but not the most comfortable of furniture).

The statue is located at the intersection of Fore Street and Pleasant Street, on the eastern edge of the “Old Port” area of downtown Portland. For more information, see John Ford Marker.

Before the West was the West (CFP)

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR A PROPOSED EDITED COLLECTION: Before the West was West: Pre-1800 Western American Literature

We are seeking submissions for a collection of essays tentatively titled
Before the West was West: Pre-1800 Western American Literature.  Since the
inception of Western American literature as a distinct field of study in
the 1960s, scholars have debated how to define its parameters.  They have
asked: Is Western American literature a regional literature bounded by
geographical markers?  Or is it defined by particular sets of metaphors,
images, and themes?

Recently, Western literary studies has put pressure on the way we define
“the West” by increasingly including more non-white, non-male voices and
considering urban and even virtual environments as well as the more
familiar Western rural and ranching spaces.  However, even as scholars
attempt to challenge assumptions of what constitutes Western American
literature, they have largely ignored pre-1800 texts, focusing instead on
diverse voices from the nineteenth-century onward.

This gap is surprising, because the implications of reading pre-1800 texts
alongside or even as “Western” texts are manifold.  This proposed volume
asks scholars to reevaluate the field’s temporal and geographical
boundaries.  In short, how might our understanding of Western American
literature change if we reimagine when and where the West began?

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
* Authors usually considered “Early American” who engage themes resonant
with Western American literature
* Early articulations of Manifest Destiny
* Literature from “El Norte” that precedes the U.S. presence
* American Indian oral traditions and early written texts
* Literature of the Borderlands
* Early African American slave narratives
* Early representations of wilderness and wildness
* Examinations of regional and discipline borders and boundaries
* Early captivity narratives
* Exploration and/or Travel narratives

We invite proposals for critical essays that approach pre-1800 North
American literature (from any nationality or ethnic group) through the
lens of Western literary studies.  Please send a 250-500 word abstract by
February 15, 2011. The deadline for 5000-7000 word essays from accepted
abstracts will be August 31, 2011.

Please send all inquiries and proposals to both Amy T. Hamilton
( and Tom J. Hillard (

Sons of Anarchy: Firinne

Things are going so badly for the SAMCRO boys in Ireland that the most recent episode, “Firinne,” was almost entirely devoid of hugging. In fact, there was only one hug in the entire episode. I did learn one more element of the etiquette of manly hugging. You can give another man a full hug, a tender hug, and you can even give him a kiss, and still be resolute in your own sense of manliness—just so long as the hugging and kissing is a prelude to pushing the other man over the side of a building to his death. Granted, this may never come up in a social situation, but, just in case it does, it’s always good to know that one is prepared with the proper manly etiquette.

Members of the Irish branch of the Sons of Anarchy have betrayed the motorcycle club, leading to the deaths of several members, as two of the most trusted brothers are in cahoots with the nefarious Jimmy. Rather than hugging, we have a scene of torture (“This is some medieval shit,” Bobby comments), and a pretty nifty rooftop gun battle. This ended up being one of the better episodes of the season, as the various betrayals and shifting allegiances made for a quick-paced (and pretty violent) episode. We also seem to be moving toward a resolution to Jackson’s quest for his son, and it looks like that plot may play out in the next episode.