Tag Archives: unconscious

Diversity, Inclusion, Exclusion, and dicks

*FYI: this is this blog’s 300th entry

We don’t know what we don’t know. Circular thought. It’s popular, I notice: often employed, I simply mean. Not so much by patients, or clients (guys in my groups). The latter wouldn’t employ the term because they’re not sensible to its ironic, wistful purpose; the apparent longing.

Guys in my groups, my sex addict treatment groups, tolerate my invoking the unconscious, I wrote in “The group’s the thing”. Indeed, sometimes they run with the idea, though they prefer to say subconscious for some reason none of us know, perhaps because the “sub” prefix/qualifier denotes a shred of what they’d prefer to retain: a sense that they know what they’re doing, that intentions and wishes aren’t so far down in the mind. Otherwise, it’s useful to suggest that they don’t know what’s up, as in conscious, because that appears to defer responsibility. Seriously, can’t you get away with anything if you just say that it was unconscious. I didn’t mean it: “it” being an Id-like representative; an aggregate of bad behavior blended with notions of bad self. Well, this won’t do, suggests a finger-wagging psychoanalyst, only you wouldn’t see them wagging that finger if they sat behind your prostate (I meant prostrate–now there’s a Freudian slip), on-the-couch lying figure. You’d just hear the tsk tsk in their voice, feel the eyes rolling. Analysts are human, too, despite their reputations among some. They don’t like being stereotyped, or discriminated against, and they certainly don’t like their ideas being co-opted or misused. Responsibility, they invoke, sort of. You may not know this, but it’s incumbent upon you to keep thinking about what you don’t know, and in time, like any day now (like seriously, we’re waiting!), say something…ya know, real.

Some think that it’s time for psychoanalysis to move on, and I don’t mean that it should die (actually, some might want that—un or subconsciously) like my friend Jason did recently, but rather grow, evolve, as in strike out to new frontiers, go where no man or woman or not either has ever gone before. Some refer to this undiscovered country as the analytic third, while others will rightly think that it’s a cheesy Star Trek and then Shakespeare allusion. It’s both, or all three, I guess, which suggests that my thinking is not black and white, either/or, or binary. There is a triangular reality, like that of the Oedipal situation, come to think of it. Life was once the experience of a singular figure—an auto-erotic, narcissistic trip, wrote Freud, that later undergoes a watershed of development within a fraught relational triad. Not so, rebuked the likes of Winnicott after pointing out the air raid warning amid the so-called controversial conversations of the mid-century object relations revolution. Life, or the unit of consciousness, is a dyad of mother and child from the outset (or near enough), not a singular entity, he argued. As for the Oedipal triangle? Well, that comes later, Winnicott likely conceded, while asserting that its “drama” was not a primary cause of phenomena. Sure, the relationship’s the thing, agreed some contemporaries, plus many who followed them, especially feminists. Freudians re-asserted the triangle, reminded that life really moves on when the father enters the picture, bringing his baggage of Superego, in turn inherited from the primal horde. Klein and her followers deferred once, saying this does occur but earlier than when Freud said it would, plus it manifests as a web of intertwining projections and introjections. Lacan and his people said something else that I haven’t figured out yet, often using words like indexing, or expressions like “in the register of…”.

Psychoanalysis in this mid-century era was perhaps moving between the breast and the phallus, unsure as to the nexus of development, and half-thinking that growth and evolution hinged around our relationship to sex, but otherwise thinking that something more human (as in humanistic) and less Darwinian and animal-like was the truth: that we are relational beings, seeking intimacy, attachment, someone to talk to, and even before that, developing non-verbally a proto-self with a containing other, one who provides strength in an ambient if not omnipotent fashion, not cognitive interpretations that may aim at the unconscious. Ya know, we’re not just looking for someone to…ya know. Did you get that, those of you who think Psychoanalysis is or was phallocentric? It was Klein (a woman) and then Winnicott (yeah, a white guy) who pointed us in this direction…like, seventy years ago! Anyway, this dialogue as to what’s important has been going on for some time now, air raids notwithstanding, and it’s all gotten a bit tiresome I have to say, which may be why the dialogue’s being shaken up even more recently, with added elements that have also gotten short-shrift. It won’t be a dialogue anymore, you see. It will be something like a trilogue, to indicate an analytic third, which means someone or a set of someones who have previously been excluded.

Race. See, it’s time to talk about race. Again. Wait, I mean to really start talking about it. We’re often saying, aren’t we—I mean, in whatever circles, professional and not, that we’re in—that it’s really time to start talking about race. I said it once, I think, in a blog long ago: my “token” entry about the verboten subject. Race. It is to psychoanalysis in the 21st century what sex was a hundred years ago: the thing we don’t talk about; the taboo; the thing about which we say, “we don’t know what we don’t know”. Talk about black and white thinking. We’ve forgotten the spectrum of colors in between. I won’t name them. That would be insensitive. That might cause racial injury, deliver an impact regardless of my intentions. But it is time for voices of color, people of color, and thinking in color, to have its say. They might start—indeed, they seem to start—by telling people like me, those at the top of the privilege charts (male, white, heterosexual: the anti-trifecta), that we don’t know things that others know. We can’t know things, as in the experience of people of color, of people like them, because we’re not them; because we haven’t had their experiences, and we’ve been barely aware of our own privileged experience, let alone their underprivileged existences. But we can learn and listen, even though we can’t really know the experience of the other, which shouldn’t stop us from trying to…well, we’re going in circles here, which is okay as long as we keep thinking. That is analytic thinking, I think.

In the meantime, I might continue to take refuge in the cozy bosom of universalism, the happy experience of commonality, which is what I’ve got; it’s especially gratifying when it occurs with those who are different from me in the catalogues of diversity. I have a new friend who loves soccer as much as I do, attaches meanings to its rituals that are at least analogous to my projections, and he is Portuguese, and his favorite team is a worthy institution, Benfica FC, while my favorite team is a mainstream option, the iconic Manchester United. See, sport: the universal language. I have a patient whose identities contrast with my trifecta: a woman, bisexual, and of Asian heritage, she laughs at the irony of her belief that upon several years of analytic therapy with me no one seems to understand her like I do. Or, less earnestly perhaps, I can point to the experience of a Mexican man in my practice—a tattoo-ridden, macho yet oddly genteel figure (perhaps “smooth” would be a better description) who womanizes, distances from intimacy, chases pleasure in the shadows, would bring Glock pistols to a fist-fight, drive fast cars towards cliffs if he could afford them. Regardless of where he is from, he would seem to fit the model of the libidinous, death-driven figure that Freud and others have envisioned; the kind of man who doesn’t seem “relational”. His is a decidedly male, “heteronormative” fantasy no doubt, one that is routinely castigated as toxic, narcissistic (as determined by past and present society), but he is not quite the dinosaur that many might wish him to be.

Yes, let’s not objectify him as he does others. He’s a human being, after all. He’s a sex addict as well, which is also a human being, albeit one with a lot to answer for. The latest dream he shared with me might have scared many, but it didn’t disturb him. Demons, he intoned casually. And gargoyles. Or, a kind of gargoyle, he amended with a smirk. These and other nasties had populated the fiery pit of his dream, but it didn’t rouse him. He didn’t wake up in a sweat, grabbing his nuts and looking down to see if his penis had been severed. It’s the punishment he anticipates, he smirked. But not from an afterlife. He’s got no fear of doctrinal fate; no dread of the fire and brimstone, or of sharp knives threatening an emasculating cut-off. Amid the trail of his chuckle, we let a silence settle, both of us lapsing into a still reverie. Somehow, we thought the same thing: what if the thing is not so much loss as absence, as in an absence of past as well as present. He frowned, curious about my thought. I was on to something, he figured, despite differences that were cultural, generational, and something else not easily pinned down. “You mean like no dick at all?” he asked, intuiting my thought. “Yeah,” I uttered. “Imagine there’s nothing there and you’re in the twilight zone peopled by these androgynous, phallusless creatures, and you ask, where’s my dick and they’re like, ‘what’s a dick?’ and you’re like, oh shit…”

Yeah, don’t tell me that some things don’t cut through time, differences of culture, of privilege that is legal, institutionalized and economic. Now, I know that transference and countertransference are not just dyadic phenomena, as Winnicott, Balint, Fairbairn, Benjamin, and whomever else has said. Yeah, I know there is an analytic third comprised of the separate worlds we were born into; divergent histories that preceded and steered both of our lives. But sex and addiction, two bread and butter topics in my day to day, have played reconciling agents, bridging gaps that would otherwise have created blank division. Dicks. Who knew? We knew. We knew all along, ever since the apple fell and the differences were there for all to see.  

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The Keeper


Last week I saw a film that has won prizes at several film festivals, including the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. I took my father to see the drama The Keeper, about German soccer player Bert Trautmann, because I knew my dad was familiar with the film’s subject, a sportsmen hitherto obscure to most Americans, I think. By the time The Keeper’s end credits were rolling at my local theater, I was equally sure that audience members would be doing what my dad would have found unnecessary: googling Trautmann’s name.

Not that the film was short on bio. In a stirring first hour, the film casts Trautmann as a German soldier captured by British forces towards the end of World War II, and transferred to a POW camp in Lancashire, England, wherein he and his fellow prisoners are made to work menial jobs to repair local damage caused by Luftwaffe bombings. During a sandlot game of soccer (football in England) at the camp, a local tradesman who also manages the local team spots Trautmann playing goalkeeper and is impressed by the German’s skills. Soon this man is bargaining with camp officers, recruiting Trautmann as a ringer for his underperforming, relegation-threatened side. As a return favor, Trautmann works in the manager’s local shop, which spares the goalkeeper the indignity of the POW camp and also places him in the company of the manager’s pretty and spirited daughter, who later becomes Trautmann’s wife. After a series of strong performances, Trautmann is scouted by a major regional club, Manchester City, and a triumphant first act concludes with Trautmann signing a contract and winning the hand of his now former manager’s daughter.

Along the way, the story features residues of the German’s war experience. Among other things, he’s had to endure British soldiers who are vitriolic and bullying in their treatment of Trautmann and his comrades, and while showing newsreel of Nazi atrocities (the footage of liberated concentration camps like Belsen) seems fair and necessary, it stirs in Trautmann memories of events for which he feels guilty. One recurring flashback image or scene features a young Jewish boy whose football has been pilfered by a taunting German officer. In this memory, Trautmann comes to the rescue, man-handling the officer just as he is about to shoot the child. Later, imprisoned in England, his protestations of innocence are muted amid the hostility of the locals, but Trautmann’s patience and change of fortune changes the equation. After the war is ended, he refuses repatriation and a safe passage to his Bremen home, choosing instead to play football in England and wed his new sweetheart. But trouble explodes as he is introduced to the press as a new goalkeeper for Manchester City and local reporters grill him about his Nazi associations. Apparently, history records that his recruitment aroused a protest of nearly 20,000 people (according to—you guessed it—google), largely because it was discovered that Trautmann had previously been awarded the Nazi Iron Cross. In response, he haplessly repeats to reporters what had ultimately won the sympathy of his once distrusting wife: “I was a soldier. I had no choice”.

In time, Trautmann wins the sympathy, the acceptance, and the admiration of sports fans and the wider British public as he proves himself a star performer and a decent, ordinary citizen. A legendary highlight of his career is captured in a sequence about the 1956 FA Cup Final in which Trautmann breaks his neck—yes, breaks his neck—with a quarter hour left in the game, but continues to play until the competition’s end. City won the game and therefore the Cup, and after the crooked-necked Trautmann collects his winner’s medal, x-rays reveal the extent of his injury, which thereafter cements his place in British football folklore. Then something strange occurs, foreshadowing more tragedy. By this time, Trautmann and his wife have kids, one of which is an impish boy who is careless with a football when playing around his father’s hospital bed after that neck injury. This sparks more visions of the Jewish child whom Trautmann had supposedly saved according to the truncated memory shown earlier in the film. Then, as he continues recuperating in hospital, Trautmann’s son later takes his football into the street near their home and is run over and killed by an ice cream truck. Devastated by this loss, Trautmann and his wife sink into depression, with Trautmann now haunted by an intrusively shocking edit to his earlier memory. Later, he confesses the truth of his arresting trauma to his wife: the boy he once “saved” from that cruel Nazi officer was in fact not saved. Trautmann was actually stilled by inaction and simply watched as the officer executed the child. Previously, he had blocked the guilt of that inaction, re-writing the scene so as to maintain the image of an innocent, decent man who simply “had no choice”. Unburdening himself, he reveals the truth of that former moment, explaining to his wife that their son’s death was thus a karmic event. Bitterly, his wife rejects the theory as self-pity, and challenges Trautmann to take fuller responsibility for their shared loss.

Which he does. The epilogue to the drama features Trautmann resuming the career that stalled upon the family tragedy and playing on with dignity until 1964. He is awarded the Order of the British Empire (known by the shorthand, OBE) for services to the British public, is widely lauded for engaging leaders in the Jewish community, and via his example, improving post-war Anglo-Germanic relations. He indeed prevails as a decent man. But the reason I chose to write about this film has little to do with Trautmann’s celebrated life, and even less to do with his reputation as a decent man, though I don’t begrudge him that legacy. However, what fascinates this psychoanalytic observer is the running theme of traumatic flashbacks overlaid upon a primitive splitting defense. The traumatic memory is that of the Jewish boy victimized by the Nazi officer—the shock of witnessing that horrible incident—plus the experience of haplessly looking on without intervening, either during the incident or following it, by implication. The secondary defense lies in Trautmann’s censored memory of the event, which significantly alters its meaning, depicting Trautmann’s heroism versus his neglect, which in turn spares Trautmann lingering guilt. Ultimately, the fully revealed version of his memory disrupts a false self-image of amiability and innocence, which had been stirring tension amid happiness and fame until his son’s death intruded.

Initially, Trautmann’s gentle and winning personality is endearing. One cheers for him as his mischief frees him from the POW camp. Despite my own British heritage, I wanted him to defeat somehow the embittered officer who hazes him and his comrades. When he joins the local football team, it’s a pleasure to watch him make save after save, winning over his new teammates and a skeptical crowd. And when he casts a covetous glance at his manager’s daughter, and soon endures her cold shoulder because she, too, has feelings of anger and suspicion for anyone or thing German, the audience waits and hopes that soon enough he will win her heart also. When the flashback involving the Jewish boy first appears, it seems consistent with the spirit of the film to that point that Trautmann would be portrayed heroically, but when the scene ends abruptly with Trautmann pushing that Nazi officer’s arm away, I felt a twinge of…I don’t know…something. I didn’t know the history of this man beyond the broken neck in the Cup Final story. Watching the film, I didn’t know what was true and what may have been apocrypha, and had my nagging dislike of the first flashback led to critical scrutiny, I might have called out the faulty logic contained within it. After all, is it plausible that Trautmann would have survived, as in not been shot himself, had he actually intervened to save a Jewish child from execution?

In modern psychoanalysis, what happened to Trautmann that day might be termed the unconscious but not repressed. The retrospective judgment that history casts upon Germany is that its decent, ordinary citizens didn’t do enough to prevent the Holocaust. They didn’t care enough. They didn’t like Jews. As a result, Trautmann was unresponsive in a moment wherein an act of cruelty was first predictable and then imminent. Though it may seem harsh to write, he therefore merits no more or less of the judgment that history metes out to his generation’s countrymen. As for myself, I knew something was wrong with the sanguine portrayal within this film’s otherwise wonderful first half. Though I couldn’t pinpoint the matter, I somehow felt that I was being played. Let’s call that my unconscious but not repressed experience.



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A hypothetical dialogue (believe it or not) about a crisis:


“What’s the point in talking about it. It’s not gonna solve anything”

“What’s the point of checking out that person at the gym. You’re married, right?”


“Well, that’s not gonna solve anything, either”

“Yeah, but…”


“It’s different”



“Seriously, put it into words”

“Well…I dunno, it’s…when I’m looking at someone I’m…I don’t know how to say it”

“You’re blocking. You know but you stop thinking, and you act instead”

“Right. You’ve said that before. I’m…wait, acting?”

“You’re acting on something, a feeling”

“…yeah, you know what it is—this is interesting—I think I am solving something, in a way. I mean, when I do that stuff I’m taking care of business, if you know what I mean. It feels necessary. It’s…”


“…you want me to say the rest?”

(sigh) “Maybe, I…now I lost my train of thought”



“Forget it”

“Oh, I get what you’re saying, I think. Well, I mean—okay—I’m expressing my sexuality, right? Jeez, that sounds weird putting it like that. Finishing, I mean. I’m…(laughs) I don’t know why this is so hard to say. I’m used to…I guess I can’t control myself, or it seems like…I just can’t turn it off, ya know?”


“Or on, in another sense. Again, it seems like—”

“Yeah, okay, I get it. You’re not gonna say it for me. I need to use the words, give it meaning because…Gawd, I wish you’d explain again why that’s so important. (pause) Awright, so again, I can’t just turn off my sexuality, right? That’s the problem. It’s there…all the time. Waiting”




“But so is the rest of you”


Graeme Daniels, MFT






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Birthing Ideas

**click title for image

For me, it starts with a thought that floats by when I can’t possibly write it down. I’ll be jogging, or driving, or more commonly, at a standstill but without a pen or my cell, much less a pad—the old fashioned method of capturing mental sperm and tethering them to an egg. Otherwise, I’ll be in company, obliged to listen, or at least balance the dialectic between mine and others’ minds. The few ideas that make it through this mesh and into print undergo a thin vetting, I’ll have to admit. They’ve worked hard to get there, I figure. Given the ongoing reaction (and sometimes lack of it) to my novels, Crystal From The Hills and The Situation, I glean that others’ filtering process might be more thorough. Or more drive-by. Take agents and publishers, for example: a cursory glance is surely all I’m getting from those deluged by submissions and supplications, waiting for that one idea, or that one expression of an idea, that will float their boat or stir visions of future dollar signs. Let me naively ask: are there agents out there struggling for work? I mean, struggling to find writers, or maybe just writers who will make them money, because maybe they don’t know what interests readers anymore than I do?

Among other things, my bi-novel opus concerns the matter of birthing ideas and then pitching them to an imagined, waiting audience. The characters’ process in bringing ideas to life is meant to parallel my own writing process as well as, uh, life, I guess. I’m serious, if diffidently so. I notice it works something like this: you get started, take in what you can, consciously and unconsciously, then later you turn it around and make sounds in the opposite direction. At some point, when ready, you let the world know what you got, hoping an unsuspecting public doesn’t gaze back, nonplussed and indifferent for a hot minute before turning away and moving on. Chris Leavitt, my first protagonist, took it in, all the data around him; in fact, he spent too much time taking it in. That is, he spent too much time in isolation, ruminating on things that didn’t make sense: the way people relate to one another, as in love, fight, and oppress one another in families, friendships, in workplace systems. By his mid-twenties he’d had enough of going forward, so quietly (as in secretly) he resolved to grow down and not up; to lie about his age, drop out of society in fits and starts. Despite himself, he still tries to live some semblance of an adult life: he gets a job, a fledgling career, even a girlfriend—sort of. He fucks it all up, of course, but he can’t stop the needs of his real self; the birthing of ideas.

In his mind, he births the idea of Shadows, his visions that foreshadow shadowy events, criminal happenings, and other important stuff. At least that idea isn’t rejected in so far as many others, including his friend Bryan “Weed” Tecco, share the fantasy, and it is a fantasy, albeit one that bonds many in collective alienation. On the other hand, Chris’ invention of a specialty diaper that purportedly detects urine versus feces, (a time and resource-saving notion for parents), is a non-starter, subject at best to the interest of a huckster lawyer, determined to steal Chris’ idea and sell it to more capable people. By the end of The Situation, the follow-up novel to CFTH, Chris’ invention, plus his whole not-so-fledgling career in medicine, seems dead in the water, recalled only in subtext, as an inside joke within a sinister kidnapping episode suffered by Weed. Chris buries his inspiration amid a swirl of insecurity and persecutory fear: will his inadequacies be exposed? Will malevolent forces, others more organized, confident, and skilled, seize upon his ideas and exploit them, and discard him?

Weed’s fragility is better defended. Introduced as a villain who has disappeared in CFTH, his image suffers in absentia. He is a slovenly rogue: a drug dealer, a vulgar egotist, and abuser of women; maybe a pimp. Who knows? He keeps to himself, mostly, fomenting these projections while thriving in the underground economy, relatively unconcerned by family or systems, a society whose rejection of him he grimly accepts. But he is not without ideas, and unlike Chris, he seems more fortunately endowed with talents: a “genius” at online video gaming; a suggestion of writing talent. Through his day job as a game tester for a corrupt telecommunications giant, Sahi corporation, he stumbles upon a game (dubbed ‘The Situation’) that utilizes the Shadows idea as shared by he and Chris, and—as it turns out—a secret society of Shadows seers, known as Cassandra’s Children. Foreseeing malfeasance within the corporate world, Weed becomes my serendipitous hero: a guy I’ve primed the reader to dislike, though he is poised for a redemptive mission. He steals the flash drives for the ‘The Situation’, makes a getaway with Chris and instructs his unwitting friend to stash his contraband. Then an accident occurs in which the friends’ getaway truck sinks into a lagoon, separating the two social misfits for most of the story. Anyway, this begins the action of both novels: the first, CFTH, a sprawling story of an itinerant and traumatized Chris Leavitt, follows his path back to reality and purpose. That’s Chris’ Leavitt’s drama, an unsexy allegory about living on the fringes. The second novel, The Situation, unfolds a more conventional tale of good, bad, winning and losing, yet it, too, pivots around the birthing of ideas.

Along his picaresque journey, Weed emerges (literally) from his disappearance and gradually reveals more of himself, largely by happenstance to Chris’ enmeshed girlfriend, Jill Evans, including ideas once captured in a video gaming book which—though completed and published—was badly edited and sold poorly. The backdrop of unrealized ambition becomes intertwined with the concurrent task, Weed’s seemingly vicarious goal of returning the ‘The Situation’ to its rightful owner and creator, a journalist/programmer named Jules Grotius, ala Julian Assange. Grotius is a man who births ideas but follows through: he is not fazed by inadequacy, or potential misunderstanding; the prospects of failure, or even persecution. The climax of The Situation, and thus of both novels, is the explication of a game containing an idea with—and I mean this—deep social implications. But to find out what that (my) idea is you’ll have to do more, much more than give this thing a cursory glance. I think you know what to do. I think you get the idea.

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Sealed In The Memory

Now let me turn to another movie, similarly unconscious in its approach, but a movie that for me carries much fonder associations. 1971’s Melody (or Sealed With A Kiss–original UK title) is like a feral child scampering recklessly over its audience. The film paired then-child stars Mark Lester and Jack Wild, sort of fresh from their mainstream success with the oscar-winning Oliver, made three years earlier. Melody is set in contemporary London, as evidenced by an opening credits montage in which a camera pans over the Thames river, heading south towards a slumish neighborhood wherein the action will be set–probably someplace like Battersea or Lambeth. Viewers are introduced to the two male leads who are participating in something called Boy’s Brigade, a marching band. The character of Latimar, played by the angelic-faced Lester, seems sour and out of place. He mutters bitterly about his mother, who signs him up for activities like this without considering his feelings. At the end of the opening scene, said mother comes to collect Latimar and asks if he’s making any friends, at which point a boy named Hornshaw (Wild) opportunistically jumps into the back seat of their convertible. The characterization proceeds: the mother gives Hornshaw, a scruffy Jack The Lad type from the other side of the tracks, a sniff of class disapproval. Hornshaw winks precociously, begs a ride, and generally exhibits the rakish charm for which Jack Wild’s characters were briefly known in the sixties and early seventies. He is Mick Jagger to Lester’s John Lennon. The two boys later become friends, as it seems both are lonesome in their separate and wholly unexpressed ways. Meanwhile, back at the Latimar’s somewhat middle-class home, a rather contrived set of scenes follow in which social ambition, class snobbery, anti-Pakistani racism, and homophobia are feebly satirized. More successful, however, and certainly more fascinating, is the Oedipal drama that unfolds here. Latimar’s mother, who clings to her son in a manner that is subtly indecent, coos over his interests, especially his artwork, which include his debut efforts at painting a female nude. There is a hint of flushed response in the mother, who becomes tongue-tied and clumsy, breaking a model rocket her son has been working on. Young Latimar is passive and uncomplaining in this scene, yet he inexplicably shows his aggression when earlier lighting his father’s newspaper on fire.  

Hornshaw, on the other hand, is strictly working class, and as such–it is implied–is spared such neuroses as those which afflict Latimar. Unlike his budding friend, he is not concerned with individuation; the struggle to become his own person despite the self-serving needs of a parent. For Hornshaw, such dramas are past him, if they ever did exist. Apparently orphaned, he seems to be the caretaker for a grandfather figure who is referenced in the film but not shown. His are the demands of day-to-day life–cooking sausages for his grandfather, cleaning up–interspersed with seized freedoms away from home. Thus, at school Hornshaw is a rebel, and not just against common authority. Throughout the film, Wild’s character acts out an objection to modern education, questioning the utility of Latin instruction (favorite line: “I couldn’t speak to a dead Roman even if I knew the bloody lingo, Sir”); the condescension of student/faculty social activities; the arrogance of state-driven religious instruction. Many of his peers are like him: rambunctious, violent; ever dashing around looking for someone to hit, something to kick at or blow up with a cherry bomb. As a post-mod rocker deprived of a hippy milieu in which to protest, Hornshaw is destined to revolution, even if it’s only with a headmaster’s stolen cane, or a firecracker thrown into the seat of a teacher’s car.

Latimar’s revolt is gentler and more romantic. Thrown into the mix is Melody, played by novice actress Tracy Hyde, who is as beautiful and blank-slate looking as Lester. First, it is he that looks upon her like Romeo seeing Juliet for the first time. For several more scenes, we watch as the two children, both likely aged eleven, possibly twelve, meet each others’ eyes, gaze, and wordlessly fall in love. Significantly, their first proper scene together features them saying nothing to each other, but instead playing their musical instruments in tandem: a recorder for her, a cello for him. It’s also significant that Latimar appears to have abandoned home interests that might be intruded upon by his mother. There are aborted attempts by the two would-be young lovers to connect, but at first it’s the pre-teen peer group that blocks them. After all, the boys still think girls are stupid, school dances are fledgling, painfully awkward events, and as one of the female extras laughingly quips, “I thought kissing made babies!”

Today, this kind of ignorance, or sweet innocence if you prefer, would likely seem unrealistic. Kids of this age group today seem far more, uh, knowledgeable than perhaps their counterparts were forty years ago. Back in the early to mid-seventies, when I first saw Melody, I felt like the characters in the film: gleefully mindless, playful and wide-eyed…unknowing. Of course, I had no idea what to make of Melody‘s various subtexts, whether intended by the filmmakers or not.

The character Melody’s drama seems positioned somewhere between that of the boys. Socioeconomically, she seems aligned with the Hornshaw character, as her parents, a shrill, pedophile-fearing mother, and a beer guzzling, oft-absent father (played amusingly by Roy Kinnear), also seem decidedly working class. Not that Melody seems preoccupied with these curious and largely unexplained elements. Indeed, her character seems the most cheerful–that is, the least disaffected–of all the children in the story, which is perhaps one of the reasons Latimar likes her (“my parents are such a misery”, he later complains). That said, her cheerfulness transforms later in the film to cool defiance, and of the three main characters, she seems the most sexually mature, despite Hornshaw appearing to be older.

The ultimate rebellion is hers and Latimar’s decision to elope, which leads to the climax of the film: an impromptu wedding ceremony, Lord Of The Flies-style, under a railway bridge, with all of the kids in the film acting as witnesses. It seems symbolic, if silly from a practical standpoint, that this wedding takes place during school hours, nearby the school and with all of the kids wearing school uniforms, rather than on, say, a weekend, with everyone in plainclothes. Predictably, the forces of evil–sorry, the teachers–combine with one or two parents, like Latimar’s mother, to try and stop this institution and society-threatening event. The attempt of the baddies fails, naturally. The wedding comes off without a hitch. A great, iconoclastic battle between youth and establishment ensues, which youth sort of wins. Teachers get their comeuppance, and Hornshaw gets satisfaction. But the real victory belongs to young love, which is all Latimar needs. He and Melody escape the scene and disappear into the somewhere-in-London sunset, serenaded by a Bee Gees song on the soundtrack.

Melody is like a blissful dream born of sixties zeitgeist and pubescent wonder: one of my favorite examples of sweet, naive filmmaking that captures a bygone time and sensibility. Once gone from my memory except in fragments, I’d rediscovered the film in recent years on You Tube, and later purchased the DVD, complete with the scratched celluloid that betrays not only the film’s age, but also its discarded, forgotten reputation.

I wish I could be twelve all over again.

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Unconscious Heat

It would not have been understood. My Thanksgiving thoughts, jaundiced as they may be, would have sprinkled awkwardly over the All American ambiance: an afternoon of football, the latest video games, the turkey dinner; the Hollywood movie. I’d stopped by the previous evening for the initial gathering of the clan. My arrival was greeted with good spirits, good-natured yet somewhat edgy verbal jabs. My neo-Hobbit hairstyle would take a hit over the next day or so; so too would my age, now halfway through its forties, but getting an advanced estimate by reps of the younger generation in attendance. It was a loving if unknowing occasion, with tight hugs all around to replace words that might get in the way of the basics. We are all living disparate lives, in truth: there’s a sense that everyone is nurturing ambitious ideas inside while being passingly aware of each others’ trials. The exceptions are those events that become known through soundbites: the busy working life, the tough job, the grades from the last quarter, and most thankfully–the successful operations. We substitute games for conversation, and play it safe with our vanilla “what’s new” overtures. The rooms in which we bond have little room for intimate talk, and in its place we are becoming stranger and ever more bizarre and unconscious in our repartee.

The after dinner mint was the aforementioned movie, much hyped as a comic action film to have us rolling about, guffawing in concert with contemporary pop culture. “We’ve seen it three times!” boasted one viewer, apparently eager to give it a fourth run. The would-be gem in question, The Heat, received proselytizing laughter throughout from guests predisposed to its appeal. However, it was in my opinion an excremental cop adventure; an exercise in casual misandry disguised as light, if vulgar comedy.  As buddy movies go, this flick was not without its social conscience, though it is this very conscience that should cause offense. Sandra Bullock plays a nerdy (but quietly “hot”, of course) and careercentric FBI agent saddled with an obnoxious partner, played by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy’s character is a cross between Jabba The Hut and Roseanne Barr, and aimed at audiences who have at least forgotten who Barr is. Bullock is a gifted light comedienne of Mary Tyler Moore pedigree, and the juxtaposition of her act against the antics of McCarthy are tolerably entertaining for about a half hour. After that, the movie’s attitude becomes harder to stomach. 

About two thirds of the way through, the movie sort of announces that it has something to say about the mistreatment of women, especially in the workplace. This from a script which features, by my rough count, about a half dozen scenes in which men’s genitals are either shot at, maimed, or plainly insulted. High minded morals/hypocritical low humor, coupled with staggering inattention to irony: sadly, this is a Hollywood tradition, though I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie in which such comic cliches were resorted to quite as often. Then there’s an incongruous scene in which McCarthy’s character callously brushes off a former one night stand after grabbing the man’s face and kissing him aggressively. The joke here appears to be that she is an unlikely manizer. But what else is the point, I wonder?

Now, let us pause. Had I given voice to any of the above opinions at any time during the holiday festivities, then two things would have occurred: firstly, my comments would have been drowned out by the teasing over my use of unnecessarily 50-cent words like misandry (BTW: merely the analogue of the popularly-known word misogyny); secondly, I would have been taken to task for being ill-humored and over-analytical. “It’s only a movie,” some say, implicitly disrespecting an entire medium. I obviously disagree, and I’d put it to my nay-sayers that if The Heat had instead made light of violence towards women, especially sexualized violence, then each and every one of them would have thought it the cinematic atrocity that it actually is.

But the blinkered political correctness doesn’t stop there. Also of note are the racial demographics depicted. By my observation, there are three male characters in The Heat (out of many) who are not portrayed as being either villainous, stupid, or feckless. There is the Latino supervisor of Sandra Bullock’s character, a more or less decent, if disapproving man; a charming, if benign African-American character played by Marlon Wayans, who appears to have a crush on Sandra Bullock (this plot point goes nowhere–an indicator of scenes being cut, maybe); and a comic, though street-smart drug dealer, also African American. All the other men: White, Irish, or at least European-looking, are buffoons or villains. Again, if those demographics had been reversed, I’m convinced that many would and should complain, light comedy or not.

Full disclosure: a backdrop of this latter reaction is that I have been largely unexposed to the opposite trends which have no doubt persisted for decades. Though I know from childhood that Westerns have traditionally given a raw deal to Native Americans, for example, I have not followed the racial-profiling trends of action or action/comedy films nearly as much over the last twenty to thirty years. This is mostly to do with taste. Since becoming a discerning viewer, I simply have not patronized action movies with any kind of regularity, so I have not observed the raw deal that minority actors have gotten through movies with titles like–come to think of it–Raw Deal.

Regardless, this issue is a beta element, as psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion would have said–it is meaning drawn from a thin pastiche of life. The bigger issue is that of fragmented discourse in all units of society: across social groups, between branches of government…within families. The first pair of arenas are big sandwiches to bite into. Closer to home, I have to wonder, if privately, what the rules are for the youngest and, in all probability, least conscious of observers. At some point over the holiday, the youngest member of the dinner gathering, an 11 year old who seemingly enjoyed The Heat, learned that he would not be allowed to watch Monty Python’s classic Life Of Brian (admittedly, not a “light” comedy) because–get this–it features nudity. I held my tongue. Not my place, and all that. I guess the biases of this society are reflected in such moments, or else implied by a ridiculous movie ratings system. So, imagine the memorandum from studio heads to producers, directors, and writers: “penises can be blown off as long as they are clothed during the process.”



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