Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Aca-cuse Me?: Britain in Constitutional Disharmony

The night before I left with four MSU students for the UK, my wife and I watched Pitch Perfect 2—the sequel to the enormously successful 2012 tribute to a cappella competition. As I sit here now at Heathrow’s Terminal 2, waiting for the rest of my intrepid travelers to join the five of us who left together from Bozeman, I realize that the movie is a perfect metaphor for the challenges currently facing the United Kingdom.

Either that, or I’m sleep and caffeine deprived. But, stick with me, okay?

For those of you who saw the first Pitch Perfect, Becca is the story’s protagonist seeking to find herself at Barden University. Or, at least, stick out college long enough to get her dad to move her to LA. In the sequel, Becca and her erstwhile Bellas are getting ready to graduate and, like most college seniors, unsure of what the future will bring them. Some are more prepared for what lays ahead, while others have scarcely thought about what to do or where to go.

In a cappella, the task is for individual singers to find their own voice while at the same time learning to harmonize with the group. And that’s exactly the journey that Becca and her friend, Fat Amy, are one throughout Pitch Perfect 2. How can they find themselves and still sing together as a part of the Bellas—without losing what they have discovered along the way? And, once they graduate and leave Barden behind, what will their relationship be with their Bella friends?

Becca struggles mightily not only to find her own voice, but also to understand what her relationship to the a cappella team should be during her last year in college. At one point, she screams at the group, telling them that they need to worry less about the upcoming international competition and to figure out what they will do with the rest of their lives after after Barden. As she struggles to set herself free for her next journey, she realizes—once she’s caught in a bear trap and needs her friends to set her free—what and how much a cappella and the Bellas mean to her. And what do they mean? With the Bellas, she found her own voice, and at the same time, found something bigger and larger than herself for perhaps the first time in her life. You can be yourself and be part of a team, she learns.

What does this have to do with the United Kingdom post the 2015 general election?


Right now, the constituent nations making up the United Kingdom are struggling to express their individual “voices” while at the same time trying to understand how they can harmonize together within the United Kingdom and the European Union. Scotland, at the moment, seems like a frustrated Becca trying to escape the group entirely for a new beginning. England is Chloe—the nation that has poured all of herself into the larger group while having lost (or at least, suppressed, or maybe not truly developed) its individual voice. Northern Ireland and Wales seem to exist somewhere between these two extremes. 

But, you might ask, who is Fat Amy? Fat Amy thinks she knows who she is—an unchained woman looking for a new adventure around the next corner. That’s the side she shows the outside world: Confident, funny, and the center of the attention. But that’s not her. She’s yearning for comfort, for security, to have a place where she can be her true self and not be judged.

 As she discovers during the movie, everything she’s searching for is where it’s been all along: with former Treblemaker (now campus security guard) Bumper. 

I think Fat Amy represents the British people who believe that the United Kingdom’s political future lies outside the European Union. They bluster and make a big production about the stifling Euro-bureaucracy’s rules and regulations that stifle national and parliamentary sovereignty. But, while those Brits may wish to be free of Brussels, they may find—upon deeper reflection—that they belong best together. As Fat Amy herself solos in a rowboat on her way to Bumper:

We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder, we belong to the song of the words, we’ve both fallen under, whatever we deny or embrace, for worse or for better, we belong, we belong we belong together (Pat Bentar)

And that’s the trick, right? For worse or for better, will the British people decide they belong together—as Scots, Englishmen, Welsh, and Irish and as a part of the EU? Or, through the storm, will they decide, instead, to be wild, free, and unchained? At the end of the day, that’s the dilemma facing the United Kingdom. And, to be fair, it is always the dilemma the United Kingdom has faced. Only now, perhaps more than ever, the storm may split asunder that which was created in the Acts of Union.

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