Because sometimes, we need to laugh at the horror. We need to see the absolute worst possible version of what could occur, but painted with a veneer of satire. Because it helps to think about it.
Full disclosure: this book is not new. The individual issues came out in 2015, and the trade paperback in February 2016. But given the events that occurred on election day, it really felt appropriate to both bring attention to, and review, this book. Also spoilers.
“Prez” is based off a little known property from the 70’s, in which a teenage boy becomes president of the United States, and hilarity ensues. Pretty easy, classic storyline.
But the Prez of today is another beast entirely. It is everything that pundits and your Facebook feed complains about in relation to the government, corporate America, Hollywood, the internet, etc., blown up to the nth degree. It is a dystopian nightmare, a satirical version of the world in “V for Vendetta.”
The story follows Beth Ross, a 19-year-old hot dog cook whose father is dying from a rare form of influenza; the thing that will most certainly and completely heal him isn’t covered by his insurance.
After an embarrassing accident at her work, she becomes a viral hit on Twitter. At the same time, the incumbent political party (never named, but VERY implied) is looking for a new presidential candidate.They are also working to eliminate food stamp programs (replacing them with privatized taco-drone delivery systems). The whole thing goes down on a live talk show with a biased mediator and live approval rankings sitting next to the candidates name. You know. Fiction.
The candidates are selected, and voting ensues. For the first time, voters are allowed to cast their ballots via Twitter; voter turnout is still at a record low, largely because “These candidates are craphounds. There’s not a lot for either side to get excited about. So skip the election and get a cucumber skin treatment? Might as well.” You know. Fiction.
The internet stages a protest vote and includes Hot Dog girl, a.k.a. Beth, who manages to win her home state of Ohio. None of the three candidates get 270 votes, so it goes to the House. Each representative holds out for their state to get more stuff from the incumbent party, and votes for Beth as a show of resistance. Until they accidentally give her the majority of votes (after doing back door deals to get more crap). And so she becomes the new POTUS. Meanwhile, at the Secret CEO Meeting, CEO’s who are literally their companies personified meet to discuss how they will control the new president. You know. Fiction.
The rest of the book shows how she deals with her new position, all while exploring this awful world. She tries to end America’s worldwide constant drone wars. She tries to mediate peace between Pakistan and India, a peace that is undermined by the external forces that profit off it. She tries to shut down the drone sentries that guard the massive wall between America and Mexico (not kidding. They called it). Then she goes on a worldwide apology tour. In one of the most beautiful parts of the book, she flies to Vietnam, Nicaragua, Japan, and Iraq, and simply…apologizes. For all of the terrible things that America has wrought upon those nations.
All in all, this book is rankly wonderful. It is a form of catharsis for anyone who is paying attention. Drones owned by a Taco Bell like company used as the solution to food stamps. Clothing people in corporate-advertising filled outfits.
Killer robots who turn become peaceful protectors, as commentary on being transgender. Game shows that have people die for money. Brown employees work-place injuries that are ignored, while their bathroom breaks are literally timed.
This a book that is so laden with satire and parody, that if you don’t pay attention, it feels like one long meme. A weak Millennial joke, surface level criticisms of larger issues. But that is the point. If that is the thought you have while reading the book, you are the very person it is criticizing. The person who can’t see the obvious realities it is painting, the valid criticisms it is making.
Right now, just three days after the 2016 election, a lot of folks are very afraid, and justifiably so. The future is largely uncertain. For me, re-reading this book helped a lot. Because it far surpasses what we fear President-Elect Trump’s America could be, but in a way that is consumable, and safe for the reader. It is like a Colbert Show script, right in your hands.
The technical minutia of the book should not be overlooked. The art is pop-y and fun, making sure to bring levity to an egregiously negative look at the future. The writing never goes too deep into the issues, instead letting the imagery explain most of the criticisms. It jumps time, not really focusing on a continuous narrative; instead it shows each issue that President Ross must deal with, how she tries to handle it, and how the system (largely led by the CEO’s) constantly works against her.
So, in short, please pick this book up if you get a chance. It is a quick and really fun read. It is both saddening and funny, which for me, was a perfect type of catharsis after this week. Because sometimes, we need to laugh at the horror. We need to see the absolute worst possible version of what could occur, but painted with a veneer of satire. Because it helps to think about it. To process it. And to ask, “How do we elect President Ross?”