Mark Russell is a writer who made a name for himself with the book "God Is Disappointed In You," which offered a wry modern retelling of the Bible. Now Mark's tackling the other topic you're not supposed to talk about in polite company, politics, with his comic book "Prez" for DC Comics. It's about a future YouTube star who becomes the first teen president of the United States.
Corn Dog Girl
"Prez" stars Beth Ross, a girl who gets elected to president in 2036 in the first election held where people can vote on Twitter, after becoming known online as "Corn Dog Girl."
"She's working in a corn dog restaurant. She accidentally deep fries her ponytail, which goes viral, and her virality kind of peaks just at the right time of the U.S. election, when the election is looking at an all-time low for voter turnout because the people aren't really enthusiastic about the candidates, so it allows her to kind of sneak in and take the election," Russell says.
The idea is another reimagining for Russell — "Prez" was originally a comic in 1973 about a boy teen president, but he's gender-flipped it and made the satire a lot sharper in this new take. One of the key targets is social media.
"We're still kind of in the infancy when it comes to social media and other technologies, so they have implications that are way more profound than we can even foresee yet. And I think voting by Twitter could be a very real thing in 20 years. And also the temporary nature of fame, and that fame is not necessarily tied to an accomplishment anymore, has ramifications that we can't even imagine yet," Russell says.
Taco drones and social media
The somewhat dystopian future depicted in the comic — like the idea of replacing food stamps with taco-delivering drones — gets even crazier than Russell's script thanks to the contributions of the book's artists, from futuristic coloring to background details.
"For example, when they're having the debate over whether to replace food stamps with the taco drone program in issue number 1, [artist Ben Caldwell] came up with the idea of having instant Facebook feedback on the debate — the thumbs up and thumbs down — that show you instantly how candidates are polling during the debate," Russell says.
Social media is becoming a reality in the political world, and Russell says it's completely changing the way politics works.
"I don't even know if it's useful to think about in terms of whether it's good or bad," Russell says. "What I'm trying to do is not really say that social media is a bad thing — I'm not trying to be a luddite. This is changing the game in ways that we're only now starting to grasp. It's also democratized politics to the point where anybody can post something on a candidate's Twitter feed, anybody can comment instantly on a story in the comments section."
One of the down sides, Russell says, is that it's also increasing the importance of condensed, provocative messages.
"It rewards demagoguery. It allows somebody to communicate in 140 characters to get more attention than somebody who's maybe trying to develop a more nuanced approach to a problem," Russell says.
YouTube in swing states
Russell says that, for his generation and those older than him, media was more about one person talking to millions, while now there's a new paradigm.
"It's everybody communicating to everybody else. And one of the ways I kind of address this in the comic is that, in the run up to the presidency, one of the major presidential candidates has to go on this crazy, sort of 'Jackass'-type YouTube show, just because the guy's got a ton of followers in Ohio, a swing state. So the whole election kind of hinges on this one YouTube show, and I think it underscores the power of local popularity and this dissipated power of communications," Russell says.
The nude selfie president
Social media has also led to a lot of the current generation's dirty laundry being out in public, and it's something Russell says that we're going to have to learn to deal with.
"You know, somewhere out there right now is a future president of the United States who has a naked selfie of themselves online. And we can go one of two ways: We can either disqualify all of these people from public office, in which case we only get the one kid who spent his high school years braiding his sister's hair and not doing anything else, or we can just decide that we're OK with that, and everybody's gonna have naked selfies of themselves out there, and we've just got to get over it," Russell says.
Which way are we going to go? Russell says that he thinks what the public's willing to accept is going to have to expand.
"People are just going to have to be used to the idea that, oh yeah, the president of the United States has a nude selfie of themselves from when they were 20 years old on the Internet. We are living in that world. That is better than the alternative, where you disqualify anybody who had any sort of a life or did anything edgy when they were younger from running for public office later," Russell says.
So, the countdown is on: Let's see what happens when today's teens and early 20-somethings turn 35 and start running for president. And it might hit Congress more first — you only have to be 25 to run for the House.