“Steampunk Palin” is as Two-Dimensional as the Real Thing
“Energy catastrophe has struck worldwide! Massive oil spills, nuclear meltdowns and more leave us desperate for viable energy sources to rebuild global society and technology. Inspired by a little tea party, Sarah Palin hits upon the answer: steam power! She begins the ‘Steam Initiative,’ touting geothermal energy as the cure for what ails ya. The heads of Big Oil and Nuclear Power are less than happy with this trend, and they send their agents to do in the Rogue Republican. Luckily, she comes prepared with a set of steam-powered armor! (Standard equipment, don’cha know).”
Yes, this really is as bad as it sounds. The comic book, announced last August, was just released by Antarctic Press, the same publisher of “President Evil,” where Obama fights his greatest threat ever: the undead, and the “Time Lincoln” series, where Lincoln goes at it against commie evils Void Stalin and Apocalypse Mao.
Sarah Palin as superhero is far-fetched enough, but what makes this comic book bizarre to the point of curiosity is Palin’s portrayal as a steampunk hero.
Steampunk, heavily influenced by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, is a literary subgenre of science fiction/alternate history/speculative fiction that takes advanced technology and places it in a world where steam power is still used and many characters are part-robot. Anarchistic ideas plus trekkie-inspired technology: think the “high tech and low life” theme of cyberpunk, but in a Wild West setting with Victorian fashion.
The story, told in black and white because Victorians don’t do color, takes place in the future after a catastrophic war destroys all the planet’s oil reserves, which is about as post-apocalyptic as our gas-injected society can imagine.
As described, Sarah Palin, now an energy expert, suggests that we return to steam power, and big oil and nuclear power conglomerates plot to blow her up. Never mind the fact that oil and gas are two of the most common heat sources used to create steam power, unless that was a deliberate parody of the United States fighting two wars to control a region that is also controlling us by feeding us oil.
Big Oil/Big Nuke bomb the energy conference, Sarah Palin goes into a coma, and six months later, she wakes up one morning to find a new armor: steam-powered body parts, breasts that have tripled in size, a tongue ring, and a new name: Steampunk Palin. “I can already feel the power this armor has coursing through me,” she said. Obama, also part-machine, is now “Robama.” And John McCain has a robot arm to go with his medals.
Sarah, ever the steampunk Wonder Woman, decides to take on the evil forces of non-renewable energy. Robama, who is portrayed as a nice guy, but weak and ineffectual, tries to talk her out of it because oil and gas are too powerful:
“Sarah, before you rush off, you need to know… Big Oil and Nuke have taken over Alaska and are mining its natural resources. It’s no longer the idyllic place it once was, and the Russians have a force at the border that is not to be trifled with.”
Maverick Sarah tells him, “Obama, don’t even think of getting in my way,” and she leads a bipartisan alliance of robots (controlled by Palin’s body) to fight oil and nukes, now owned by “a villainous businessman known only as Professor Greenhouse… He’s keeping a stronghold on all forms of energy, only offering them to the highest bidder.” If logic kicks in, she’s really only fighting Big Nukes, since oil has already dried up, but somehow still maintains some sort of nostalgic lobby. Among those enemies–the Russians, who assemble a force along their border with Alaska. Steampower Palin fights back with a modern gun.
It turns out Professor Greenhouse is none other than Al Gore, who invented global warming as a get-rich scheme:
“Who were you expecting, Sarah, George Bush? It should have been obvious from the start that it would come to this… After winning the Academy Award and the Nobel Peace Prize, I found out I love money, I love having power and influence over people, and all these alternative energy resources I kept touting are pathetic! They don’t work, Sarah. Now, why don’t you give up this fight and join me, and we can change the world for the better!”
At the end of this 15-page story, Steampunk Sarah saves the day, and yet we’re punished with 8 objectifying pages of Steampunk Sarah Palin pin-up drawings.
Cultural issues and political figures are no strangers to comic books. Captain America punched Hitler, Batman recently teamed up with Muslim hero Nightrunner, JFK helped keep Superman’s identity, and “Reagan’s Raiders” chronicled the president as a democracy-spreading commando.
But political comic books today take that synthesis a step further through the pop culture trend of turning politicians on both sides of the spectrum into action figures. Instead of promoting respect, these action toys instead reduce politicians down to fetishes, essentially breeding the idea that political power can be bought and sold and that politicians themselves are nothing but inanimate body parts. This comic book isn’t Sarah Palin propaganda by any means, but rather a commentary on and contribution to the already-growing library of fetish politics through commodification.
Not only does the comic book objectify women in the drawings, most notably through Steampunk Palin’s steam-powered breast enhancement and pin-up photos, it also depicts a degraded American public as a sea of robots controlled by a female politician’s DD body. It blurs the line between sex and politics, equating those who react (positively or negatively) to Palin’s politics with those who respond to female exploitation. Regardless of how we feel about Sarah Palin, we are all reduced simply by accepting her as part of the discourse.
We’ve all become political prostitutes in some way or another, and it shows in how easily politics is bought and sold like a company gone public. And so when I read through this comic book, I don’t know who’s objectified more: Sarah Palin or America. In this culture of exchange, anything is consumable, and to look at people like that–including politicians–dehumanizes them, essentially turning them into robots.
Sarah Palin’s body parts are reduced to objects just as much as we are in her army, and in both cases, someone is getting used for the sake of vanity, regardless of morality. I just can’t tell if the writers of Steampunk Palin are consciously using commodified politics to make a subverted commentary, or if they’re just along for the ride with the rest of debased rhetoric.
Photo courtesy of Roger H. Goun via Flickr