A rouger shade of Palin

Those who seek to satirise Sarah, we salute you!

As the Scary Sarah Palin Show rolls into a town near you (if you live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that is), with the former Alaskan governor, failed Republican VP candidate and inveterate "hockey mom" signing copies of her autobiography Going Rogue: an American Life, it seems timely to pay tribute to all those satirists and lefties who continue to succeed in undermining her. While cheering crowds of fellow American "patriots" greeted a red-blazered and as-ever gung-ho Palin with a roar as she descended from her battle(axe) bus, the anti-Palin book industry was preparing its national lampoon.

First up, over in New York, editors from our friends the Nation simultaneously published their subversion of the Palin autobiography, ingeniously entitled Going Rouge: Sarah Palin -- an American Nightmare, the title apparently inspired by a genuine spoonerism made by a US newsreader. The font and graphics brilliantly echo the HarperCollins official book -- how many diehard Palinettes will mistakenly pick up a copy of the collection of leftist essays at their nearest Barnes & Noble? We can but hope . . .

As the publishers OR Books say, however, this is not a spoof book, but a collection of serious essays by respected writers to provide a political counterpoint to Palin and "the nightmarish prospect of her continuing to dominate the nation's political scene". In the words of Richard Kim, the editor of the Nation:

The cover is a parody of hers and it certainly takes some shots and mocks Sarah Palin, but it is a very serious book and the book itself is not a parody. It is not at all intended as a joke or a parody.

Rather more lighthearted is another Going Rouge, this one a "colouring and activity" book, its title again inspired by the hapless local newsreader. (Can anyone tell me who? I read the story last week but now can't find it!) Again hitting shelves on 17 November, the same day as Rogue, here you can "dress Sarah for success" or "help Sarah find her way to the White House". From their website:

Yeah, yeah, we heard all about the Sarah Palin's Book Going Rogue: an American Life to be launched on Nov 17th. They expect to move 1.5 million copies, and pre-orders have been brisk. We couldn't let that stand without a fight. There are two sides to every story, but let's get something clear here -- Sarah didn't write this book either.

Then, let's not forget the excellence of Tina Fey's campy and uncanny impersonations of Palin on Saturday Night Live last year, which won her an Emmy and, it may not be an exaggeration to say, were instrumental in ensuring a Republican loss (if not the actual Obama win). Fey is said to be reprising her role as Palin to coincide with the autobiography's release.

Finally -- to those readers of a more sensitive disposition, don't click this link. No, don't, you won't like it. Don't click it. Don't. Click. This. Link. Oops, oh well, I did warn you! -- dare I just mention Hustler's inspired porno flick Who's Nailin' Paylin? Adventures of a Hockey MILF, featuring "actors" spoofing Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice, Todd Palin and, yes, Mrs P herself . . . ?

Rouge faces all round.

 

Palin

Thomas Calvocoressi is Chief Sub (Digital) at the New Statesman and writes about visual arts for the magazine.

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I worked as a teacher – so I can tell you how regressive grammar schools are

The grammars and "comprehensives" of Kent make for an unequal system. So why does Theresa May consider the county a model for the future?

In 1959 my parents moved me from a Roman Catholic primary school to the junior branch of King Henry VIII, Coventry’s most high-profile grammar. The head teacher berated my mother for betraying the one true faith, but although she was born in Galway, my mum was as relaxed about her religion as she was about her native roots. Any strong feelings about the English Reformation had disappeared around the same time as her Irish accent. Her voice gave no clue to where she was from and – as a result of a wartime commission – the same was true of my father. Together, Mrs and Mr Smith embodied postwar Britain’s first-generation upwardly mobile middle class.

Their aspiration and ambition were so strong that my mother saw no problem in paying for me to attend a Protestant school. Why, you may ask, did my dad, a middle manager and by no means well off, agree to pay the fees? Quite simply, my parents were keen that I pass the eleven-plus.

King Henry VIII School benefited from the direct grant scheme, introduced after the Education Act 1944. In Coventry, the two direct grant schools were centuries old and were paid a fee by the government to educate the fifth or so of boys who passed the eleven-plus. When secondary education in Coventry became comprehensive in the mid-1970s, King Henry VIII went fully independent; today, it charges fees of more than £10,000 per year.

A few years ago, I returned to my old school for a memorial service. As I left, I saw a small group of smartly dressed men in their late seventies. They had strong Coventry accents and intended to “go down the club” after the service. It occurred to me that they represented the small number of working-class lads who, in the years immediately after the Second World War, were lucky enough to pass the eleven-plus and (no doubt with their parents making huge sacrifices) attend “the grammar”. But by the time I moved up to King Henry VIII’s senior school in 1963 there appeared to be no one in my A-stream class from a working-class background.

From the early 1950s, many of the newly affluent middle classes used their financial power to give their children an advantage in terms of selection. My parents paid for a privileged education that placed top importance on preparation for the eleven-plus. In my class, only one boy failed the life-determining test. Today, no less than 13 per cent of entrants to the 163 grammar schools still in the state system are privately educated. No wonder preparatory schools have responded enthusiastically to Theresa May’s plans to reverse the educational orthodoxy of the past five decades.

Nowhere has the rebranding of secondary moderns as “comprehensives” been more shameless than in Kent, where the Conservative-controlled council has zealously protected educational selection. Each secondary modern in east Kent, where I taught in the 1970s, has since been named and renamed in a fruitless attempt to convince students that failing to secure a place at grammar school makes no difference to their educational experience and prospects. That is a hard message to sell to the two-thirds of ten-year-olds who fail the Kent test.

Investment and academy status have transformed the teaching environment, which a generation ago was disgraceful (I recall the lower school of a secondary modern in Canterbury as almost literally Edwardian). Ofsted inspections confirm that teachers in non-grammar schools do an amazing job, against all the odds. Nevertheless, selection reinforces social deprivation and limited aspiration in the poorest parts of the south-east of England, notably Thanet and the north Kent coastline.

A third of children in Thanet live in poverty. According to local sources (including a cross-party report of Kent councillors in 2014), disadvantaged children make up less than 9 per cent of pupils in grammar schools but 30 per cent at secondary moderns. University admissions tutors confirm the low number of applications from areas such as Thanet relative to the UK average. Though many of Kent’s secondary moderns exceed expectations, the county has the most underperforming schools in the UK.

When I began my teaching career, I was appallingly ignorant of the harsh realities of a secondary education for children who are told at the age of 11 that they are failures. Spending the years from seven to 17 at King Henry VIII School had cocooned me. More than 40 years later, I can see how little has changed in Kent – and yet, perversely, the Prime Minister perceives the county’s education system as a model for the future.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times