Wednesday, March 26, 2014

US! and America Play Comparison

Upon reading "The America Play" by Suzan-Lori Parks, it was hard not to think of Chris Bachelder's novel, US!. The themes presented in both of these works are remarkably similar: ghosts, reincarnation, assassination, historical contingencies, melodramatic grammar, the father/son dynamic and a somewhat humorous presentation on a serious topic.
   Both works seem to make heavy commentary on the seriousness of a person's impact on history, and of people's (perhaps subconscious obsession) to forget about it--or "bury it," so to speak. With US!, the historical figure is Upton Sinclair, who was a Socialist sensationalist novelist and political activist. With the America Play, the historical figure is Abraham Lincoln. Both plots make use of cycles of assassination, and coming back to life, so to speak. However, what is intriguing, is that Upton Sinclair was never assassinated, and in the novel, he actually dies and comes back to lie time and time again. But on the other hand, Abraham Lincoln was actually assassinated, which is acted out, rather than actualized, as sort of a meta-play in Parks' work time and time again.  The assassination theme in both seem to comment on a sort of necessity to abolish the radical--to suppress it, or in a melodramatic sense, to combat the overwhelming fear of the unknown in modernity. Along with this, both make use of the general populous as assassins--"the kids don't want to make the world a better place...they want to shoot things"(US! 39); "the public was invited to pay a penny...'and shoot Mr. Lincoln'" (America Play 164)--which again, comments on society as a whole's employment of countermovement to social movement to combat the onslaught of dreaded progress.
   Again, I'd like to comment on the importance however of the continuous reincarnations (or in the America Play's case, the re-acting of the assassination melodrama). It makes one think of the phrase that is the title of a famous Dali work--The Persistence of Memory. It is like the populous is trying to metaphorically stamp out a memory of social change for good. It is no coincidence that the authors of both works chose protagonists (or antagonists depending on how you look at it, for the instigators of this social change are both villains and victims, as V for Vendetta so well explores) who very prominently affected the change of civil rights (Sinclair, workers' rights and Lincoln, African American rights) in the United States. We would naturally think that these changes are for the better, yet injustice persists as a product of the cyclical nature of history.
   The father and son dynamic present in both works serves as a sort of message of hope to this cyclical view of history. Perhaps history is not repeating itself, because to some extent, the people will always want the melodrama to be realized and for the victims to persevere. The difference is in reframing who the victims actually are. The presence of the sons, who are sort of useless, as Albert (US!) is lazy and Brazil is a weepy, poor digger (America Play), still offers a chance for redemption. As long as someone remembers, and as long as someone feels some way about the father (whether it is admiration or despise), there is a chance for the new generation to recover the lost progress perhaps a little better than before, despite the lapse. Despite the void, the echo of [the gunshot] throughout this emptiness draws attention to itself and tugs at a need to fill the void with something greater than what was.

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