I awake from a dream of perpetual winking. I’m in a gallery filled with large scale portraits by the artist Richard Prince. They are all of the political operative Sarah Palin who, as we know via Tina Fey is the current vice presidential running mate of late war prisoner John McCain. What’s stunning to me about the portraits in my dream is somehow, Prince has devised a way to make the portraits wink. It’s an optical illusion, one of those vase makes two heads sort of visual tricks — nothing electronic or mechanical. As you shift your vantage point between portraits the Palins wink at you. However, if you stand still they are simply portraits of Palin sans winking. I find this shift in reality so disturbing it shakes me loose of my dream and I awaken at 4:47 AM disturbed and uneasy.
Richard Prince has made a career of appropriating American mass culture and regurgitating it back at us in order to disrupt our sense of identity. We have become a paranoid delusional nation and Prince aims to point it out to those who take the time to observe just a little bit more closely. To those of us who read books, study history, explore ideas and consider the unknown, namely intellectuals, Prince’s work is empty and obvious. Prince is the caretaker of American culture, painting his corpses with too much rouge or putting lipstick on a man to reanimate him. The observant attendee at funerals understands the visage in the coffin is deceased and appears almost clownish in an attempt to depose their expiration. Those close to the deceased witness the body as asleep and possibly still alive, retaining the potential to sit up at any given moment. This visual lie feeds our denial of death and speaks to a larger denial of life. It is the same visual lie shared by Prince and Palin.
Sarah Palin is the epitome of a nations’ self delusion. She is fundamentally dangerous to our republic because she hijacks American folk beliefs in order to persist her own sociopathic behavior. The winks from behind $400 glasses are condescending nods to her own lust for power. She lies so effectively and unblinkingly (pun intended) that even her running mate is shocked. Her ascension to power in the American political arena is no more surprising than extraordinary attention focus on Brangelina. Our collective consciousness is bound by a mixture of perpetual violence (war), the lack of any central culture and xenophobia. Those who worship Palin lack the intellectual curiosity to see beyond her glib exterior. Men find her the sexy neighbors wife or librarian and a fantasy she emboldens with her thigh-high boots and winks. Women find her power nurturing and imagine it a replacement for the powerlessness they feel everyday in their misogynistic cocoons. Palins’ appeal is as carefully packaged as any movie stars and supported with the same budgets. The plastic exterior and strength of persona overrides any close examination of her central personality. The medium is the message.
When marketing and advertising techniques (originally designed by the Nazis and perfected on Madison Avenue) are combined with sociopathic behavior, such as seen in Sarah Palin, a dangerous potential arises. In a nation that prides itself on avoiding intellectual pursuits a woman like Palin is all too enticing with her folksy act of ignorance. She understands just enough to advance her personal ambitions and destroy her detractors. Details are not important, image is everything. People are drawn to her aggressive posturing, confidence and sexuality, unable to see the motivations behind it because they have been brainwashed by the media for decades. Having had several personal conversations with Dick Cheney in 2007 regarding her desire to expand oil and gas exploration and production in Alaska, Palin is all too familiar with the role of the vice presidency, despite her gaffs to the contrary. But in America the myth is the reality and her detractors see her gaffs as witness to her ignorance and her adoring fans identify with her portrayal that life is complicated and details are less important than intent. Niether would be accurate. Sarah Palin is a dangerous, solipsistic, ambitious, fascist whose behavior and speech barely conceal her contempt for the law and her disdain for anyone who will not advance her own ambitions.
The sad irony is that the neoconservatism gripping our country today, of which Palin represents a faction of, is born out of deep concern for American democracy and the scholarly efforts of intellectuals. Philosophy on paper is always more romantic than philosophy in action. The ethical and pragmatic challenges that come with living in this world now, not in some imagined world is extraordinarily difficult. Now imagine you serve a pivotal role in shaping policy in this worlds most powerful nation and must weigh the challenges of the encroaching end of oil, the destabilization of the Middle East, the worst financial crisis in our history and an ever growing global environmental crisis. Now imagine you have entrusted Sarah Palin to that job and it’s likely you’ll not sleep well for some time to come.
If we are to survive, not just as a nation, but as the human race it is essential we re-imagine our individual responsibility and connection to this planet. Somehow we in America must find a way to redirect our violent tendencies and selfish attitudes and begin to express ourselves in ways that serve the greater good, not our own feelings of inadequacy, alienation and poverty of intellect.
Image on the left is from Richard Prince’s Girlfriends series. Image on the right is of Sarah Palin in Alaska in 2007 – photo credit unknown.