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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Steampunk Health

What is Steampunk? 

If you do not count sci-fi geeks and cosplay fans among your very best friends, you may not know about this literary/fashion sub-genre.  The steampunk aesthetic arouse from science fiction novels of the late1980’s to early 1990’s.  A hallmark of the form is an intermixing of Victorian era technology with a futuristic world.  In the world of steampunk, giant floating airships replace airplanes and robots powered by steam can be wound up like clocks.  That explains the steam part of the moniker.  But along with the futuristic Victorian technology, there is grimy coal-stack poverty within the form.  In steam punk fashion, the make do, miss-match dichotomy of distressed smart phones with clock work gears gives one a sense of unease.  There is something really wrong with the picture when antiquated forms are indiscriminately matched with modern technology, hence the term is steampunk.

What is Steampunk Health? 

Ben Merrion's Jacket: Steampunk Health

Well, that is the title of Ben Merrion’s Walking Gallery Jacket and anyone who looks around the world of health today will see futuristic technology surrounded by anachronistic systems of old-fashioned medicine. Ben Merrion is the Literacy Outreach Specialist for DC Public Library.  He has extensive experience as a teacher of adult learners and very involved in social justice in DC.  He is even one of the artist members of The Walking gallery having painted the sumi-e style “Holistic Medicine” for Christian Liu.

Christian's Jacket: Holistic Medicine

But this is Ben’s jacket and he wanted to focus on adult literacy and steampunk Daleks.  Now some of you might wonder what health advocacy has in common with adult literacy or steampunk Daleks.  Well as e-Patient Dave de Bronkart recently tweeted, I am good at pointing out connections and will show you the way.

In this painting, Ben Merrion is dressed in a steampunk fashion.  He wears glasses that are affixed with mechanical trifocals.  With a concerned countenance, he holds out his hand containing a jar of prescription medicine.  The label can be clearly read… if you can read.  It states: “1 in 5 District residents can’t read this.”  That is a pretty powerful statistic if you apply it to health literacy.  How can a patient be medically complaint, if they cannot read their care instructions or warnings about possible side-effects?

one in five can't read this

Behind Ben, a line of steampunk Cybermen stretch into the distance. Above these cyber figures is the statement: “Uncooperative patients will be assimilated.”  If you know your Doctor Who you are very familiar with these cyborgs that vanquish all human emotion and replace it with cold hard logic.  If you look closely you will see that upon each cyberman breast plate a there is a FICO logo next to a small capsule.  This image harkens back to an blog and discussion from the summer. 

Uncooperative Patients will be assimilated.

In June Alex Albin’s post “FICO’s new Med Compliance Score: #FAIL” was cross posted on  The blog post explained FICO’s decision to track patient medical adherence via third party data sources.  FICO was planning to use a combination of retail purchase history, geo-credit profiles and income wealth indicators to compile a data base that could be used as a tool to judge patients.  With this tool providers and pharmaceutical companies could easily tell which patients were prone toward non-compliance.

Yes, the tool could tell you who might be non-compliant and give providers the data needed to guarantee a pool of adherent, assimilated patients.  But it could not tell you why they were not taking their medication.

Toward the lower half of the painting is a steampunk Dalek.  Dalek’s are also cyborgs and are an arch-nemesis from Doctor Who.  They have had every emotion removed except hate. Their pepper-pot form and catch phrase, “Seek, Locate, Exterminate!” permeates pop-culture.  The traditional catch phrase has been replaced in this painting by: “Seek, Locate, Medicate” and alludes to a statistic from May 2011 in the Wall Street Journal.  1 in 4 children are on chronic prescription medication in the United States.

Seek Locate Medicate

So, let me clue you into a few things.  The number one blogging key word search term for patients is uncooperative.  If you attend medical conferences you will repeatedly hear we are non-compliant.  If you listen to specialist like Ben, a large portion of the adult population in this city cannot read at all, let alone complex instructions.  And if one in four children is prescribed chronic medication, we aren’t dealing with a compliance problem; we are facing a massive level of over-medication.

Steampunk Health

So, I think Ben has one of the most appropriate jackets in the Gallery.  I really hope he wears it everywhere; for I am steamed about these statistics.  And as far as a punk is concerned, I know from years of selling fireworks what a punk is for.

Punks light fires.


  1. I guess I can call you a punk then, because you sure are lighting a lot of fires. :) Each painting gets better and better. Your creativity and ability to bring seemingly unrelated items together continues to amaze me. Es

  2. Tee it up and KNOCK IT OUT OF THE PARK, Regina! (I know that's a warped mixed metaphor.) BRILLIANT! Brilliant insight, brilliant imagery, brilliant cultural reference. This is one of your richest masterpieces, and SO valid!

    You are becoming truly masterful in your storytelling.

    As I tweeted just now: "How often have you given a BLOG POST a standing ovation??" Because when I read your closing line, I felt like leaping to my feet.

  3. btw, I have to confess, I recognize the genre of steampunk but had no idea what it was, especially at the level of detail you give here. Thanks for that, too - and boy are you right on.

  4. I'm a big Steampunk fan, which I've incorporated into my own mixed media work with paper and photos over the past couple of years. This ranks as one of my favorite jackets - Ben will wear it well! And your hits keep coming...I treasure my "See Jane Think" jacket and wear it proudly with the Walking Gallery gang...xo

  5. Regina, every story that is filtered through your lens is elevated and beautifully addressed. Keep on expressing your unique talents for the benefit of all!

  6. Now a number of you might wonder what health advocacy has in common with adult literacy or steampunk Daleks.


  7. Sadly your post reminds me of the Seinfeld #difficultpatient episode . Funny, but undercurrent isn't. I saw that somewhere else this week...oh yes, the Opennotes post at the NY Times:

    1. I am often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your site and keep checking for new information.

  8. Very good post I enjoyed reading it from top to bottom.


  9. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  10. Amazing graphics skills you have used in all these pictures. Check this fitness routines program which I found last week when I was searching health articles .

  11. I'd never heard of Steampunk before this post. So in today's Boston Globe (5/26/2013) this caught my eye: Steampunk as art therapy for the autistic

  12. Virtuosity, Regina. A bow from the west.