Synecdoche, USA

One of the most inventive screenwriters of our time, Charlie Kaufman, recently released his first self-directed film, Synecdoche, New York. This film, like many of his other works, questions the boundaries of reality. The premise entails a writer who puts on a production of his own life in which actors play real people in his life in an ongoing production that steadily increases in scope and spirals out of control. In this sense, the film fully lives up to its title, synecdoche: the part represents the whole.

As we face the eve of America's Election Day, there is no better time for us to comprehend the concept of synecdoche. Our nation is epitomized by this trope. Our government is not a true democracy but a democratic republic. We do not vote on general policy but instead the people unite behind a person to represent our needs. As the Roman Senators, which translates from the Latin to "old man", gathered to address the needs of the citizens, so do we have our own representatives in the county, city, state, and national levels. The President of the United States represents 300 million Americans. The mayor of Atlanta represents over 500,000 people. Yet, this is not completely so.

We may have romanticized the people in the forefront while neglecting ourselves. Our culture of finger pointing has cast aside personal responsibility. The economy is failing because the government didn't do enough to bail out businesses or look out for the little guy, not because the culture of credit inspired ordinary people to live outside of their means. Bipartisan vitriol is tearing this nation apart, not our own personal demons and turbulent histories. The American synecdoche that is government has birthed an ideology of scapegoatism. The American Dream that was once founded in the Protestant work ethic is now expected to be delivered piecemeal by those above to every man, woman, and child in these fifty states.

These faults are not exclusive to democrats or republicans. They may have been birthed in the ideas of Barthes. We yearn to be signifiers for the ideas of the signified. We yearn to no longer carry the burden of our lives in this coddled society of 21st Century Americans. This may be most of us, but it certainly isn't all of us.

I say this is not all of us because elections are never won with 100% voting for a single person. People disagree, and one person does not fully represent everyone. As we head into this election day, we must note that the states will be divided by the news media between the red and blue. By Wednesday morning, we will have a new President of the United States, but he will not speak for everyone in America. Jim Martin and Saxby Chambliss will battle for Georgia's senate seat but neither will actually stand for every person in Georgia. We will elect judges and congresspeople but they will not truly represent their constituents.

The democratic republic is a good system that perpetuates this nation and makes it one of the best countries in the world, but the aspect that truly makes America great is its individual spirit. Its constitution is founded on individual values and fairness. People as individuals are not to be trounced upon by government and government is meant to protect the people (even if it is meant to protect the people from themselves from time to time).

When we vote tomorrow and watch the results, we should be prayerful that the next president have Solomon-like wisdom for this nation as we endure the growing pains of the 21st Century but we must also remember that each of us will disagree with Sens. Obama and McCain from time to time. We must remember that while both candidates will provide tax cuts, none of them will be working in our stead each day. We must remember that while the candidates can be inspirational, part of being inspirational is that those who heed the words said must be inspired to do something.

So as we face this election day, we must remember there is no Synecdoche, USA. The lesson Kaufman teaches us in his film is that when the signifier is so integral as opposed to the signified, we mustn't forget how important it is to represent ourselves from time to time. It's time for us to do our own work and be proud of what we can accomplish, despite our infrastructure. It is this internal drive that pushes us as a nation. It would be nice to return to that once again.

There is no part that represents the whole. There are merely parts who unite mostly behind a person. There is merely general, but not unanimous, consensus. There is merely concord but not universally. There are people who stand alone and together simultaneously. We are individuals, not symbols. We are citizens, not numbers. We are constituents, not shadows.

The moment we care about this, the greater this nation will be.


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