If there is one thing I can spot from 3000 miles away it is intellectual pretense. Why? Because I am the fucking intellectual pretense master! And if I am willing to call myself on it, you can bet that I’m going to call that twitter happy mother fucker Matt Yglesias on his!
Yglesias starts an otherwise interesting article (Not that I agree with him!) with this sentence: “Mitt Romney’s decision to use Sesame Street’s Big Bird character as a synecdoche for cutting funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting…”
Synecdoche? Really? Let me be blunt: I’m sure Yglesias had never even heard the word until he saw Synecdoche, New York. And there is nothing (Nada! Rien! Nichts!) that is more intellectually pretentious than repeating something you got from a movie!
But it’s worse that this. Yglesias clearly either didn’t look up the word or didn’t understand the definition. I understand this. “Synecdoche” is a hard word. But this is why those of us who try to push past our intellectual pretense into something actually intellectual are so tired all the time. This clearly does not apply to Yglesias who manages to write 7-10 articles and 50-100 tweets every day. (The man clearly needs a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or a dog.)
Anyway, back to my point: Big Bird is not a synecdoche of PBS funding. Big Bird is not even a synecdoche of Sesame Street! The idea behind the word “synecdoche” is the representation of the part for the whole. So we could use the muppets as a short hand for Sesame Street. We could say, “I don’t want to see the muppets out of work.” That would be a clever way to say, “I don’t want to see Sesame Street defunded.” Big Bird is a specific example, but he is not a class of things that make up Sesame Street. What Yglesias meant to use was something like “exemplar” or “representative.” But instead, he used “synecdoche” because, hey, all hip people are into Charlie Kaufman.
There is another reason why I don’t like Yglesias’ use of this word: almost no one knows it. And of those who do, 99 out of 100 know it because of the film. And that’s just fucked up.