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January 01, 2014

Ten Years of Nonsense: Designated Evil and Sarah Palin

This post was originally written on January 17, 2011, just days after the Tucson shooting. It was never published, however, and I don't quite remember why. Possibly because I was on vacation, but it's also possible I simply liked this post on Designated Villains, which I wrote and posted the next day, better. MSNBC's decision to make the Romneys, who are very much off the national stage right now, the butt of a joke reminded me.

I meant to write about this last week when Sarah Palin was forced into the center of the news cycle, but some family stuff distracted me. Just as offstage villainy is central to liberal attempts to frame the Tea Party as the Designated Villain of modern American politics, Designated Evil is necessary to sustain the liberal claim that Palin is dumb, but devious, and ditsy, but dangerous.

Designated Evil is when an author of fiction portrays something utterly unremarkable as the Worst. Thing. EVER. The simplest deed will provoke gasps of astonishment at its apparent evil. The technique is supposed to help the reader figure out who the good guy and the bad guy are. The trope fails when the thing being designated as Evil isn't really that bad at all. The audience recognizes that they're being played for fools.

Much of the media's coverage of Sarah Palin falls into the Designated Evil category. Remember when she wrote notes on her hand for a speech? There was breathless media coverage, usually in the vein that she must be an idiot or a political novice to have used notes. This is a Designated Evil. Most public speakers use notes. In fact, the much-acclaimed-for-his-public-speaking President of the United States doesn't just use notes, but simply reads all of his speeches. Nevertheless, an entire news cycle was consumed by Sarah Palin's "hand job", as many outlets referred to it.

Remember when she offered a prayer "that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God"? Again, it became a media feeding frenzy. That she could have the hope that the U.S. military is doing God's work was fodder for another round of vilification, even though such prayers are quite common.

Other examples of Designated Evils related to Palin include the ridiculous coverage of her "refudiate" tweet, a word which Oxford Dictionary later declared "new word of the year." Palin's decision to fly home to give birth fuels Andrew Sullivan's Trig Trutherism to this day, even though the decision was made with the consultation of a doctor. Her unexceptional use of the term "blood libel" made all the papers last week. She was then called out for "inserting herself into the President's news cycle", as if he owns the media or something. All are Designated Evils because they're not really evil or even remarkable and yet, the media cannot help but exhaust themselves with breathless coverage.

In fiction, Designated Evil occurs when there is a disconnect between the author's values and the readers'. In political reporting the disconnect is simply between the values of liberals and conservatives.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 07:08 PM

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