Sarah Palin, 'Mama Grizzlies,' Carl Jung, and the Power of Archetypes
I've been thinking about this paradox: the most important political ad of 2010 so far did not play on television, and came from someone not currently running for any office. It was
For those who haven't seen it yet, the video features footage of women of various ages taken at an assortment of
"It seems like it's kind of a mom awakening . . . women are rising up."
"I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody is coming to attack their cubs."
"You thought pit bulls were tough? Well, you don't wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!"
It's classic Palin. And, as often is the case with Palin, the video doesn't feature a single word about policy -- as many of her critics have pointed out. But they are completely missing the point. Indeed, this video and the response to it are a perfect illustration of why we need to widen the scope of our political analysis.
To really understand her appeal, we need less policy analysis and more psychology. Specifically, we need to hear from that underappreciated political pundit
It's not Palin's positions people respond to -- it's her use of symbols. Mama grizzlies rearing up to protect their young? That's straight out of Jung's "collective unconscious"-- the term Jung used to describe the part of the unconscious mind that, unlike the personal unconscious, is shared by all human beings, made up of archetypes, or, in Jung's words, "universal images that have existed since the remotest times." Unlike personal experiences, these archetypes are inherited, not acquired. They are "inborn forms . . . of perception and apprehension," the "deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity."
This is the realm Palin is working in -- I'm sure unintentionally -- and it's why she has connected so deeply with a large segment of the public. In fact, her evocation of mama grizzlies has a particularly resonant history in the collective unconscious. According to the Jungian Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, "The bear has long fascinated mankind, partly because of its habit of hibernation, which may have served as a model of death and rebirth in human societies."
As a matter of fact, another very popular Republican politician once used the image of a bear in an ad. The bear was used differently, but to powerful effect.
"There's a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don't see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it's vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who's right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear..."
Simple. Forceful. Policy-free. And a very successful ad for
Like Palin, Reagan was not thought to be a policy heavyweight, and, like her, he was often ridiculed by the punditocracy. And, like Reagan, Palin has come to prominence in a time of national crisis, a state of affairs in which appeals to the collective unconscious are much more powerful -- and dangerous -- than in normal times.
Jung himself was exquisitely aware of such a possibility, saying that during troubled conditions experienced by large numbers of people "explosive and dangerous forces hidden in the archetype come into action, frequently with unpredictable consequences. There is no lunacy people under the domination of an archetype will not fall prey to."
What's more, Palin not only has the ability to tap into archetypes, she also has a variety of social tools ready to help her do so. It's impossible to "refudiate" her mastery of
"It's an unconventional media strategy...Yet it's hard to deny that Palin's PR approach has not only succeeded but succeeded brilliantly. How? The most obvious element at work here is that Palin operates not as a politician but as a celebrity. . . . Palin's megawattage enables her to command attention for every word and gesture, even as she largely stiff-arms The
So if you think Palin's lack of policy prowess is somehow going to slow her ascent, think again. With unemployment predicted to hover just below double digits for possibly years to come, our vaunted recovery acknowledged to have stalled, and Americans' faith in practically every economic and political institution at an all-time low, it's no surprise that people might respond irrationally. That's what people do when they're afraid. And in the absence of a coherent narrative that makes people feel reassured and hopeful about their lives and their futures, they'll gravitate to whatever fills the vacuum.
Especially mama grizzlies.
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Sarah Palin, 'Mama Grizzlies,' Carl Jung, and the Power of Archetypes | Politics
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