The more liberal of our visiting anthropology professors would probably say that we shouldn’t judge the practices of other cultures by the standards of our own. Something about the frame of reference, subject bias and all that. Still, it’s hard to look at some practices through the lens of absolute objectivity, even if they are as far removed from the States — and from the state of objective reality — as those of Alaska’s Palin (PAY-lin) clan.
For instance, we might look a bit askew at the holiday practices of the Northern Palin peoples, at least insofar as they concern domestic dogs. Like the Innuit nearby, the Palin tribe seems to view canines as working animals first and foremost. Certainly, the tribe matriarch Sarah (Sayre-AH) has assigned such a role to her black Labrador Matt. Like many dogs in the civilized world, Matt is a service animal, a companion and helper for a mentally handicapped child. In this Sarah’s own child, seven-year old Trig (Trigg) Palin.
Trig was prenatally diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome; a condition which, as some anthropologists have postulated, may make him the second or third most intelligent member of the Tribe Palin. But even so, he does from time to time need a bit of help from Matt.
On New Years Day Sarah posted this (loosely translated) message and pictograph on the Facebook. It appears to be rare documentary footage of one of the Palin Tribe’s New Years rituals — an occasion known phonetically in the tribe’s native tongue as “WOO-lets-git-f*kin-F*CKED-UP!” Day. The attendant celebration apparently seems to involve working dog Matt becoming a literal beast of burden, as the approximately 70-pound Trig uses his spine as a step-stool. We quote an English extrapolation of the Palin script, a bravely attempted explanation of this seemingly bizarre ritual. We ask you bear in mind: There may be some error in translation, which we will explain below the picture.
“Happy New Year!
May 2015 see every stumbling block turned into a stepping stone on the path forward. Trig just reminded me. He, determined to help wash dishes with an oblivious mama not acknowledging his signs for “up!”, found me and a lazy dog blocking his way. He made his stepping stone.
– Sarah Palin”
Clearly, a strange rite. But, again, let us not judge the Palin Tribe’s cultural practices by our own. Especially since the translation of matron Sarah’s dialect is clearly imperfect.
Note that in her missive, Sarah appears to say the following:
“…an oblivious mama not acknowledging his signs for “up!”
Clearly, the Palin tribe’s grasp of language is imperfect, even within its own ranks. For while Trig was clearly signalling “up,” Sarah must have interpreted that as “Hey Mom, go grab your camera because I’m in the process of climbing on the dog.”
And by oblivious, we can only assume Sarah meant “having had the presence of mind to stand there watching him the entire time, photographing every step as he stood still, clearly pausing to pose for the camera in between each shot, and looking directly at it and smiling at least once.”
Granted, that is a great deal of context for a single word; but we can only assume that is what she meant to say. Sarah’s fan (and indeed Sarah herself) describe her as a “maverick” and a “straight shooter,” which we’re told means that she habitually relates details accurately and forthrightly. “Oblivious” must, therefore, be a mistranslation on our part. As we’ve said, Palinese is an imperfect language.
However, while we academics may not be so quick to judge this Tribe’s strange social practices, a few other — and less enlightened — individuals have made their voices heard on the post. Bearing in mind that these are just a few representative samples of the currently 21,525 comments currently on Sarah’s post:
We do not judge these commenters’ reason, because they have reason to worry for the dog. Canines aren’t horses, and thier spines aren’t built the same way. There actually isn’t a great deal of vertical load strength in a dog’s spine; working dogs are meant to pull forward placing the spine in compression (where it’s strong) or to carry a load centered over the foreleags. Placing 70-plus pounds of point pressure directly on the vertebra in the center of dog’s body (the spine’s weakest point) would be a very easy way to snap it in two. To say nothing of the ribs beneath.
But as some others have said in the Palin’s defense: “If the dog were unhappy or being hurt, he’d move. He wouldn’t just let Trig step on his spine.” However, owners of dogs like the long-suffering and patient Labrador disagree:
A few though have pointed out a discrepancy here, pointing to a “liberal double standard” in judging Sarah Palin for clearly allowing this to happen. Ellen DeGeneres took a similar picture some time back, with her three-year-old daughter standing on the back of the family dog. In fact, conservative supporters of Tribe Palin are all but screaming “LIBERAL BIAS!” in the media firestorm that DeGeneres’ picture didn’t generate. But…see if you can spot the subtle difference between these two pictures.
There’s no doubt Ellen clearly did something a bit lacking in judgement. But otherwise, there’s almost no comparing the two — specifically in terms of proportion.
DeGeneres’ daughter is perhaps 25 pounds in this picture, standing on top of a dog pushing 100 pounds. Trig is 70 to 80 pounds, standing on top of a dog that’s about the same weight. The girl’s feet barely make in imprint on the dog’s back; it’s pretty clear that Trig is about crushing his dog into the floor, especially evident in the first picture above when he’s stepping on. Which is another factor; the point-contact pressure of two feet standing spread apart is half of one foot stepping on. Just in the process of stepping on, Trig could have broken the dog’s spine. And then there’s the side-load on the Lab’s ribs as Trig leans over the counter.
All in all, the risk to Ellen’s dog was practically nonexistent, while the risk to Palin’s was pretty severe and immediate. In fact, only a child with down’s Syndrome would even think of it — let alone his supposedly intelligent mother filming him as he did.
Still though, Palin’s supporters rebut with a bit of Dick Cheney logic. In that, whatever an American does, there’s a dastardly Mooslem (from another culture) doing worse. And we should always judge American vice-presidents (and potential vice-presidents) by the standards of terrorists:
But, where distraction fails…some people don’t even bother. Because as with all cultures, no matter how strange the practice, there are supporters who can empathize with the participants. And we leave you with these: Palin Tribe fans who see the actions of a Down’s Syndrome child as some sort of intellectual achievement. Some incredible and ingenious “outside the box thinking.” Which, by Palin-fan standards, they probably are. To these Palin fans, Down’s Syndrome solutions may be the highest to which they could ever intellectually aspire.
And that, fellow cultural anthropologists, summarizes every thing you need to know about the strange, unique and unfathomably stupid culture that is Tribe Palin.