Andy Warhol would have loved Sarah Palin. She really is the ultimate soup can. For anyone who never quite understood the point of an art form in which the iconicity of a mass-produced object becomes an end above and beyond its contents–well, welcome to the fame factory.
Warhol is known for having minimized or even disguised his expressive role in the works he produced; yet he re-presented banal commercial images in ways that were playful and captivating despite their erstwhile familiarity. His explorations with the "kitschy," the "cheap" and the "ordinary" involved small cognitive surprises that were at once obvious and subtle: he’d disclose a pattern of layered color or he’d shift scale in a way that upended conventional meaning or he’d reiterate an image so emphatically that "mass" production was revealed as obsessive. What Warhol did with Mao Zedong and Marilyn Monroe is precisely what the Republican Party has done with Sarah Palin.
The morning after Barack Obama’s speech at Invesco Field, I was giddily high on happiness hormones. "Beat that, ridiculously unpopular Bushites," I thought. "Kumbaya, my Lord," I sang, as I checked out of my hotel and hailed a cab to Denver airport.
The first sign that I had entered hell’s handbasket was the grim little smile on the taxi driver’s face. The second thing that hit me was the sound of his radio, which was very, very loud. It was tuned to Rush Limbaugh. Palin had just been presented in a press conference as McCain’s running mate. She was reciting what would soon become a familiar litany: I am your average hockey mom. I worked my way up through the PTA. Here are my children–Trigger, Trapper, Plucky, Pillow and Plum (or that’s how I heard that rat-a-tat blizzard of names the first time around). Most remarkable was the vampiric over-voice of Mr. Dittohead himself: Limbaugh was interjecting wickedly throughout Palin’s speech, delivering the talking points that would become well-burnished clichés by the end of the week. "I want to see Sarah Palin age in office," he said, with a leer in his voice. "Imagine Hillary watching this," he said with naked longing. "Imagine if Hillary had won the nomination. She’d lose against this woman." Limbaugh was having quite a cackle: "I’d love to see Hillary right now…" he said over and over again.
Five days later, Sarah Palin formally accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for vice president of the United States of America. She did so in a speech that echoed, sometimes word for word, Limbaugh’s earlier over-voice. She did so in a speech that, according to Time, had been written by Republican Party planners well before Sarah Palin was even identified as the nominee.