Online: An Army of Pretend Palins

In the week since Sen. John McCain tapped an unknown, largely untested small-town woman from faraway Alaska to be his running mate, the topic of Sarah Palin has generated scorching heat—if precious little light. It seems all we can talk about is the latest development in the ongoing melodrama: the accusations of abuse of power; her support for the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" before her opposition to it; the talk of banning books from the local library; rumored ties to an Alaskan secessionist party. And, of course, there's the fact that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant—which is irrelevant to the campaign, except when it's not.

The run-up to Palin's Republican National Convention debut provided a predictable feeding frenzy for the 24-hour cable channels and the pundits who populate them. What may not have been as foreseeable is the volume of simply brilliant satire that has surfaced online in the last few days. The best examples all follow a simple, similar motif: Sarah Palin blogs! The fake Palins are proliferating at a feverish pace. They've got accounts on YouTube, Twitter and Typepad. And they are using those outlets to take her fake message directly to the masses.

In the hours running up to her speech, Fake Sarah Palin tweeted: "I don't understand what your problem is with this vetting stuff. I DON'T EVEN HAVE ANY PETS! Ungh it is so pointless." She also blogged that she was thinking about writing her speech as a rap to appeal to the "urban" voter but was having trouble finding rhymes for "appropriations," "sectarian factions" and, uh, "dope." Oh, and she posted a video in which she marveled at life in the lower 48 to her campaign manager-cousin-personal stylist. "It seems there's a lot of different occupations. I'm used to, you know, cannery worker, fisherman, fish sales person, fish cultivator, Wal-Mart greeter. [And] everyone comes in Inuit or normal person."

The fact that so little was known about Palin when she was suddenly thrust onstage only aids the satirists' cause. Every new detail about Palin adds fodder for the funny. She hunts! She snowmobiles! She was a runner-up in the 1984 Miss Alaska pageant! "We were hanging out Sunday night, talking about Palin and how we thought she was such a ridiculous choice and just making fun of the whole process and laughing a lot," says Sara Benincasa, the stand-up comedian who spoofs Palin on YouTube. "This woman is just ripe for mocking. [And] honestly, I kind of look like Palin. If I looked Michelle Obama, I would have done Michelle." Benincasa's Palin, all wide eyes and flat accent, is clueless yet ruthless, guileless yet cruel—and freaking hilarious. Benincasa, 27, has gotten e-mails from all over the world, including a few from agents interested in representing her.

When President George W. Bush tapped Harriet Miers as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, some cunning wag launched the withering Harriet Miers blog, supposedly written by the nominee. All of the new fake politicians owe a debt of gratitude to that ground-breaking phony. "I think it was a source of inspiration not just for us, but for everyone currently giving Governor Palin a hard time," writes one of the anonymous contributors the PalinDrome blog on Typepad in an e-mail to NEWSWEEK.

None of the bloggers who make up Palin's voice at PalinDrome are professional humorists, nor do they work for the Obama campaign, according to the one contributor who would correspond only on condition of total anonymity. "We all share progressive political beliefs, but it's largely just a fun writing exercise. I do think that the selection of Governor Palin is a pretty cynical and insulting ploy by the McCain campaign, but that just makes writing the blog easier—it doesn't actually motivate it." There have been guest posts—by Bristol Palin (kind of unfair, given that she is, after all, still a minor), husband Todd Palin, and a member of her security detail.

The Twitterati has even gotten into the act. The microblogging platform—on which users answer the question "What are you doing?" in 140 characters or less—hasn't quite entered the mainstream consciousness the way YouTube or even traditional blogs have. Still, Fake Sarah Palin has amassed a fast-growing readership—1,200 "followers" and climbing at press time—for the scattered and surreal dispatches from her imagined psyche (i.e., "zomg oil money! nom nom nom"). Also written by an anonymous collective, Fake Sarah Palin exists simply because the candidate "is a comedy gold mine," writes one of its contributors in an e-mail.

The only question that remains, then, is how long can this masquerade go on? "We'll keep going as long as she keeps providing new material," says Fake Sarah Palin. Here's hoping the candidate has a long and varied public career yet to come.

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