Saturday, December 11, 2010

What's wrong with facing down furry critters?

Rex Murphy, National Post · Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010

It's been quite some time since Fess Parker -- coonskin cap on head and long rifle in hand -- half-sung, half-yodelled the great anthem of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. Parker played the legendary frontiersman/congressman Crocket both on TV and in a feature film. He was also one of a number of singers who sent the song about Crockett onto the hit parade of the 1950s more than once.

No question it's a song about a hero. We're told right in the first stanza that he was "born on a mountaintop," which is a pretty special way of arriving in the world -- or, for that matter, Tennessee. But the real stamp indicating that he's a hero-to-be comes in the third line stating that "he killed himself a bear when he was only three." Being able to handle yourself in the woods and face down the furry critters that live there is something Americans (and Canadians) have long recognized as a mark of character and competence.

Speaking of which, Sarah Palin shot a caribou on the recent episode of her Discovery Channel travelogue, Sarah Palin's Alaska. Evidently the sight of the downing assaulted the brain and sensibilities of one of Hollywood's princes, Aaron Sorkin -- the man who perpetrated the seven soporific and suffocatingly earnest seasons of The West Wing. May I note that, outside a forced viewing of Oprah wailing to Barbara Walters, modern television has no greater torment than any episode of The West Wing. Keep in mind that I've seen episodes of Geraldo At Large, so I'm setting the bar quite high here.

Sorkin immediately lashed out on what has become the official complaints office of outraged progressives, the Huffington Post, berating Palin in terms that would be harsh if applied to the Ebola virus. He called her filming of the hunt a "snuff film"; lumped her in with Michael Vick, the felon dogfight empresario; more than implied she enjoyed "torturing" animals; and essentially put her down as "deranged" and "disgusting." He capped the whole thing off ever so graciously with a kind of warning to "Sarah Palin's Army of Arrogant A--holes," who are also, he tells us, a bunch of "macho Sh--heads."

The last shot of the abusive fusilade was an accusation that Palin had done something no one else had ever done. He charged: "That was the first moose ever murdered for political gain."

Where to begin, as they say. Well, first, it wasn't a moose. It was a caribou. Certainly, a real sign of respect for the animal might be to get its name, or kind, right. Of the vile "snuff film" slur, I'd say that's both a term and a product far more likely to be found and appreciated in Aaron Sorkin's Hollywood neck of the woods than in Sarah Palin's. Furthermore, where's Sorkin's appreciation for Palin's environmentalism? She's showing herself to be one of the most advanced of our kind these days: She's a locavore. No carbon footprint on her prime rib.

But what on earth was Sorkin attempting to say with his confused lament that Palin's was the "first moose" ever killed for politics? Palin hunted before politics, and will continue to do so after politics. Same goes for her husband. It's what people do in Alaska -- or Newfoundland. She didn't just take it up for the Discovery Channel. Secondly, unlike those who are on a first-name basis with Martin and Charlie Sheen, most people have considerable admiration for those who can make their way in the wilds. As the Davy Crockett song makes so vividly clear, hunting prowess has always been held in special esteem -- and that esteem was not exhausted with the end of pioneer days. The skill still earns a man -- or a woman -- a singular kind of credit with others.

Sorkin stumbles into this insight but doesn't recognize that he has. How would it advantage Palin to kill a moose or caribou on television unless people saw the deed as something admirable?

I know that back home in Newfoundland, if your local Member of the House of Assembly (MHA) has a moose licence and can find a moose, shoot it, clean it and bring it out -- why then that MHA has shown a kind of credential. He is an adult, a person who can take care of himself, who understands some of the rhythms of Newfoundland life and who is continuing some of its finer traditions. It's a statement. The moose isn't shot for politics, but it inevitably falls into some loosely considered political context. If you're a numb-nut who can't find your way around in the woods and wouldn't know a moose from an oil truck -- why then that's a statement too.

And of course hunting is not just limited to moose: Also pursued for their various delights are (and I'm naming only some examples) partridge, turr, rabbit and, of course, the ubiquitous and savoury seal. Hunting, like poetry, offers both utility and pleasure.

Once again it seems, as is often the case with most matters Palin, that it's the former Alaskan governor's critics who are both out of touch and intemperate.

- Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV's The National, and is host of CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup.

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