23 December 2010

Synecdoche, shenpa, and other difficult words

"Synecdoche" usually applies to a single thing taken to represent a larger class of things. I'm going to stretch that definition a bit. We all know that celebrities and other public figures come to represent much more than just another person who happens to have an exceptional talent or two. We start to associate them with positive or negative traits or attitudes. We can even invest them with representation of aspects of our own personalities and our most deeply-held beliefs. We get invested in their perfection. We idolize them. They become objects, representing things much bigger than they are as individuals.

And then they let us down, by proving that they are not representations, but people. And that sets the hook of shenpa, defined here as the thing that fuels our knee-jerk responses, the goad that drives us along well-worn paths of anger, fear, and hopelessness.

The Assange mess is the latest enactment of these two difficult concepts colliding and feeding each other.  Public figures carry so much of our needs and dreams, that a threat to one of them can feel like a threat to our selves. And if the offense committed by a hero is large enough, wrong enough, frightening enough, we can turn instead on the accusers--a last-ditch attempt to deny the cracks in the shell of our heroes, who contain our beliefs, pieces of our selves.

Sady Doyle of TigerBeatdown found a way to take her anger and emotional triggers and convert them to meaningful action. #Mooreandme made her and its other supporters targets of the anger of the betrayed. But she stayed with it. She stayed awake through fear and anger and desperation. She didn't hide what she was doing and why, and as she faced first stonewalling, then contempt in return, she continued to examine not only the actions of those she was facing, but her own assumptions and reactions.

"And then he came down."

Sometimes the trap is sprung and we escape it anyway. Some days it works.

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