Why The Kardashians Are Better At Reality TV Than The Palins

“You guys are going to be talking about us either way,” Bristol Palin said at a panel for Dancing With the Stars: All Stars at the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday, explaining why she and her family have embraced reality television even though it brings additional scrutiny to her family. It was the second Palin-studded panel of the tour. Bristol’s father Todd is a participant in NBC’s military-themed reality show Stars Earn Stripes, and while he barely uttered a word during the panel introducing the show on Tuesday, his wife, gone strikingly Hollywood, was the most sought-after star at NBC’s poolside party. But it was Bristol’s appearance that illustrated the contradictions of the Palin’s hunger for the spotlight and their disinterest in dealing with, or embracing with relish, the consequences of continuing to put themselves in the public eye.

“Our family’s mantra is to live life vibrantly,” Sarah Palin told Vulture’s Joe Adalian in a brief interview he was able to snag before hotel security started blocking reporters from approaching the family. “And participating in a show like this, especially for Todd, is exactly that. It is living life vibrantly.” Her daughter was less able to put a politician’s gloss on an essentially mindless pursuit. “I just think that God provides opportunities like this and you can go out and do ‘em,” she said, suggesting that if she was going to be the subject of media reports, she might as well embrace the opportunities that come with living in the public eye.

But Bristol got less and less comfortable as she was asked whether her family, which has frequently been vocally upset about their press coverage, has contributed to its own problems by embracing a profession that often puts its subjects in revealing and embarrassing situations. Recently, Bristol’s Lifetime Show, Life’s a Tripp, featured a sequence in which many viewers believed Bristol’s young son Tripp used the epithet “faggot” to deride his aunt—Palin has said that he used profanity, but not an anti-gay slur. When she and fellow contestant Pamela Anderson were asked about their attitudes towards gay people, Palin got visibly upset. “I like gays. I’m not homphobic and I’m so sick of people saying that just becuase I’m for traditional marriage,” she said. That stand “doesn’t mean I’m afraid of anyone else…whatever. I’m going to dance, I’m going to go have fun.”

And when the questions returned, Palin revealed the same sense of victimization that her mother has often embraced. “I’m not whining, I’m not complaining,” she said. “You guys, I do mean the media, you’re going to talk about me if I’m in my little life in Alaska or I’m in LA so I might as well have fun with it.”

But it doesn’t actually seem like she’s enjoying it. Dancing With the Stars host Tom Bergeron joked that the Palins “haven’t really gone ‘full Kardashian.'” If they haven’t, it’s only because some members of the Palin family aren’t quite old enough to star in their own shows, and because, given the ratings for Life’s a Tripp, the appetite for Palin family adventures appears to be fairly limited. And the Kardashians appear to have a healthier attitude towards reality television than that Palins do, embracing both the glamor and humiliations of it with gusto, and a very savvy eye towards the bottom line. The Palins, by contrast, are hemmed in by their lingering need to be taken seriously. Sarah Palin, speaking for her husband, told Adalian that the family was attracted to Stars Earn Stripes because “knowing the cause, honoring our troops and first responders … it was a no-brainer.” Bristol was careful to only admit that she enjoys the chance to make the money that lets her support her son independently. Maybe that’s true, but there are other, more substantive and less public options for semi-famous young women who want to make a decent living. And there would be something more honorable, and more fun about their full-on embrace of reality television careers, if the Palins could just admit that, good or bad, they’re addicted to the attention.