The Highly Sensitive Person

In previous posts, I’ve discussed how I suffered emotional abuse at the hands of a family whose members have had, in varying degrees, narcissistic traits of at least significant, if not pathological, levels. Because of my trauma, I as a child acquired a number of dysfunctional habits, including maladaptive daydreaming.

Instead of feeling empathy for me, and using such empathy to direct and motivate her towards getting to the root cause of my problems, my mother–the head narc of the family–claimed that psychiatrists who’d examined me diagnosed me with autism. Now, she’d described this “autism” in such extreme language that I find totally implausible. She claimed that the psychiatrists who’d examined me as a little kid had said I was, apart from being autistic, mentally retarded and that I should be locked up in an asylum, throwing away the key!…and by a “miracle from God,” I grew out of this extreme mental condition!

Combining the above with observations made by two psychiatrists I saw a few decades later, each of them concluding after examining me over a period of months that there were no signs of autism in me, and with far-too-low scores I got on the “Autism Quotient” test, I can say that my mother’s version of events were, to say the least, totally unreliable. To say the most, she was outright lying to me.

That she was lying to me I find to be the only logical explanation for her claims; the purpose of the lies was, as I see it, not only to project her own narcissism onto me (she tended to go by an old definition of autism as meaning ‘excessively self-absorbed,’ like narcissism), but also to avoid taking responsibility for the effects of the childhood bullying I’d suffered, at its core, from my elder siblings, against whom I, as a little boy, was helpless in a power imbalance.

In other words, the autism label was meant to indicate that I was ‘born that way,’ rather than correctly describing my maladaptive childhood habits (self-isolation, talking to myself, etc.) as trauma responses, as attempts to self-soothe and ease my anxieties. In point of fact, my real mental condition is C-PTSD, brought on by all that emotional abuse, bullying, belittling, and gaslighting.

Now, as true and valid as all of the above is, it doesn’t mean that I can’t locate any source of these dysfunctional behaviours as my having been ‘born that way.’ I’m convinced that there’s a particular, innate psychological condition that I have that’s contributed to these problems of mine in a significant way.

I am a highly-sensitive person (HSP).

I consistently get high scores on HSP tests. HSPs react more intensely to external stimuli, including discomfort and pain, than the average person. We’re also more empathic that most people (though being an empath and an HSP aren’t necessarily the same thing); we tend to internalize what’s around us more, including criticisms. Bullies can smell such traits in HSP children, and they’re quick to take advantage of our disadvantage.

Narcissistic mothers tend to make their sons and daughters play roles: the golden child (my elder sister, J.), the lost child (arguably, my elder brothers, R. and F.), and the scapegoat, or identified patientme. The narc mom chooses her golden children and other flying monkeys (all three of my sibs) based on how well they’ve learned to please her, or to give her narcissistic supply. She chooses her scapegoat based on how much narcissistic injury and rage the kid(s) cause(s) her.

Very often, that narcissistic injury and rage are caused not so much by how blunt or sassy the child is to her, but rather by that child’s display of qualities the narc mother knows she can only fake: sensitivity, empathy, and a sincere wish to confront and do away with wrongdoing, which includes phony displays of virtue…a narc’s special talent.

You see, the thing about the scapegoat, or identified patient, or black sheep–whatever you want to call the unfavoured family member–is that this person is the one who can see through all the family bullshit. He or she has the sensitivity to be able to tell the difference between real and fake love. For if the charade of love that is performed before our eyes is real, then why do we scapegoats get so short-changed?

It’s not as though we have a monopoly on human fault: the golden and lost children have plenty of faults of their own; but a double standard is clearly at play here–the flying monkeys’ faults are usually swept under the rug, as are the narcissistic parent’s faults, while those of the scapegoat are put under a magnifying glass. Not exactly fair, is it?

I’m not denying that I have faults; I have a whole slew of them (just ask my wife). The problem is that the family treated my faults as if they were the essence of who I am, rather than something that I have, just a few facets of the totality that I am, among other facets raging from neutral to quite good. And when you focus on the negative in somebody, you bring out that negativity all the more.

The scar to the narcissist’s ego, at the sight of the empathy and sensitivity of the target of his or her rage, comes from envy. The narcissist can’t bear to see another with virtues that he or she can only pretend to have, and narcissists are known for envying others, while imagining that others envy them (i.e., this envy is projected onto others). Hence, the narcissist feels a consuming need to destroy those virtues in the target, to create the illusion among everybody that the sensitive person’s empathy doesn’t exist.

Remember that in the narcissist’s world, appearance and reality are confused, swapped, even. So if the narc can make him- or herself look kind, generous, thoughtful, and altruistic to the public, while making the HSP seem self-centered and indifferent to the suffering of others, then he or she has come as close to reality as needed. One of the crucial manipulative tactics that the narc uses is projective identification, which goes beyond usual projection’s mere imagining that one’s own traits are in others, but which manipulates others into manifesting those projected traits, creating the illusion that the others really have those traits while the narc never had them at all.

I believe that my mother, with her flying monkeys’ help, did this kind of projecting onto me…and she did it with remarkable success! Any inclination in me to want to help others, or to connect with others, was crushed in me, suppressed, denied, and discouraged. To allow me to demonstrate such inclinations would make me step out of my assigned role as family scapegoat; I’d no longer seem “autistic,” and Mom couldn’t tolerate that!

When someone believes that he or she has this or that kind of personality, he or she will behave accordingly. To ensure that I behaved in a self-centered or uncaring way, Mom had to drill into my head the belief that I have such vices. So instead of telling me that I needed to change from my selfish ways, she just said that I am selfish…as if the vice were an absolute, unchanging trait in me, never to be corrected.

If I tried to do good, the family would twist things around so it would look as if I meant to do wrong. I’ll give a few examples, stories I’ve discussed before (links above), but I’m repeating them here to illustrate this point.

Over thirty years ago, it was my mother’s birthday, and I was having difficulty finding a suitable gift to buy for her, so I was late with it. My good intentions would have been clear to her and my sister, J. (I’d spoken to them of how I’d searched all over the city, with no luck), but J. decided to act as though I’d made no such efforts. After all, only the physical appearance of a gift matters, not the thought behind it. And besides, J. had to demonstrate as the golden child that, by having given Mom a gift on time, unlike me, the scapegoat, she was a better daughter than I was a son.

I gave Mom a birthday card, which she received warmly. I was anxious to buy her a gift as soon as possible, so as to avoid being late with it (it was her birthday that very day!). J., however, decided to interpret my intentions as me just wanting to get the buying over with, so I could enjoy the rest of Mom’s birthday as a “me-day,” to use J’s words (actually, since J. had already given Mom a gift, she was now free to get together for a dinner date with a woman-friend, to have a “me-day” of her own!).

I went to J. and joked about the card I bought Mom as a kind of “down payment” on her gift, since Mom warmly said she didn’t mind the gift being a little late. But J. got all snooty with me for being late with it, and this provoked me into getting into a fight with her. In response to J.’s ‘Thou shalt not be late for Mom’s birthday’ attitude, I inadvisably said, in all sarcasm, “…and a birthday is this god we have to worship!”

I meant this remark not out of disrespect to Mom, but to point out how needless J.’s insistence on standing on ceremony was. Nonetheless, Mom, overhearing what I’d said, took my words as disrespectful, and she blew up, shouting a barrage of four-letter verbal abuse at me. I immediately realized my verbal faux pas, and fell over myself trying to apologize, saying I never meant to hurt her…to no avail, of course.

Looking back on what happened, I have the creepiest suspicion that both Mom and J. had set me up to be the scapegoat for a forgetting of the birthday that, in fact, Dad and my brother, F., had actually forgotten. You see, J. had known that I was trying to find a suitable gift, since I’d asked her a night or two before Mom’s birthday what I should buy. J. knew I’d never forgotten, but she acted as if she thought I had.

And how could Mom have gone from a whisper to a scream like that, from so warm to so psychotic–so quickly? I suspect that Mom, in a private conversation with J. prior to the incident, lied to her about me ‘forgetting’ along with Dad and F.; and J., like a good flying monkey, just went along with the charade, because Mom wanted her to do so.

Another occasion when my good intentions were twisted into bad ones was when–again, about thirty to thirty-five years ago–all the staff of my parents’ restaurant, Smitty’s Pancake House, closed it up on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon (Mom and Dad were on vacation at the time) because some fumes…or something, I don’t quite remember now…were making the cooks too sick to work. F. came home that day and asked me why Smitty’s was closed. I simply explained what happened, matter-of-factly.

Apparently, I should have answered his question with all manner of histrionics, for F. told me that the way I’d answered his question sounded as if I didn’t care about the sick staff. His claiming that I don’t care about anyone but myself had been his favourite excuse to bully and harangue me at that time (i.e., over those past several years), and the fact that it was much more of an excuse to attack me than a legitimate complaint of my faults was made nakedly clear (not that he’d have ever noticed, let alone admitted to, it) in this choosing to hear my reaction as ‘uncaring,’ as opposed to my simply answering a question.

Since when did my answer even need to be ‘caring,’ anyway? Was my ‘caring’ going to help the staff recover faster, or something? F.’s constant bullying of me when I was a little kid, with virtually never any defence of me from the rest of the family (with only a few ever-so-rare exceptions from my parents), indicates that the family rarely cared about me in any meaningful way beyond the bare minimum (i.e., feeding me, clothing me, giving me shelter). Such a lack of caring is called childhood emotional neglect; this, combined with the emotional abuse I was suffering from all five of them, taught me that the world is an unsafe place, that hell is other people (I’m misusing Sartre‘s dictum on purpose here, though his original meaning applies to my situation, too), and that self-isolation was the only way I could feel safe.

…and if I was uncared for, then the family shouldn’t have been surprised to see me return that uncaring attitude to them.

Even still, I tried at times to be caring to them, even when they’d continued to hurt me. After J. made it clear to me that she didn’t approve of my marrying the truly caring person who is now my wife (indeed, Judy is the best thing that ever happened to me), I’d been loath to forgive J. for not keeping her disapproval to herself. Nonetheless, when I heard that J.’s husband was terminally ill with cancer, I allowed my ability to feel empathy and compassion to overrule my anger.

I offered to make a flight back to southern Ontario (I’ve lived in East Asia since the summer of 1996) to see J. and her husband one last time. Had I done it, paying for the trip would have broken the bank for me, but I was still willing to do it. This was in the mid-2000s.

The family should have been encouraging of me to do this selfless act…if selflessness is really what they wanted of me. Instead, Mom e-mailed me, telling me not to come, out of fear that my “tactless and insensitive” nature would have resulted in me putting my foot in my mouth in front of J.’s then-emotionally-vulnerable husband, agitating him.

I was furious at this rejection; yet, instead of simply admitting that she’d made a bad call, Mom continued to rationalize her arrogant position with the usual references to “my autism” (or Asperger syndrome, as she now liked to call it), all to make me feel further alienated from the family. Note how neither she nor the rest of the family ever considered, let alone took any responsibility for, causing the very alienation that has made me so cold to them ever since.

And since, as I explained above, the autism story had to have been a lie, Mom’s basis for rejecting my attempt to show solidarity with the family was also built on a lie. Another thing we must remember about narcissists and their relationship with the HSP as family scapegoat: since narcs are pathological liars, they will be paranoid of anyone exposing them as such. HSPs abominate liars, so narcs know that, in order to protect themselves, they must do a kind of preemptive discrediting of the HSP.

I’m convinced that my mother did exactly this to me behind my back, and that this discrediting, in the form of smear campaigns, triangulation, and divide and conquer, is the real reason that I, as the family scapegoat, never got along with Mom’s flying monkeys, my three elder siblings.

Her constant bad-mouthing of her youngest nephew, my cousin G., is what makes me believe she did the same to me. One time, during a phone call I had with her about a dozen years ago, when she was giving me a flurry of G-bashing, she raised her voice in an angry crescendo and claimed that G. must have had Asperger syndrome…exactly what she insisted I have. This disorder was meant to explain how G. is so ‘unlikeable’ (he’s a bit awkward, to be sure, but he’s nowhere near as bad as Mom characterized him). It’s not a leap of logic to assume that she was using “my autism” to tell the family that I’m similarly unlikeable.

As her health was deteriorating in the mid-2010s, she pulled more of her malignant, manipulative crap on me, in revenge–it’s safe to assume–on me for not ever wanting to communicate with her during the first half of that decade. (The above links give the full story, if you’re interested, Dear Reader.) I’ll try to make this brief.

In a series of emails and one phone call, Mom made a number of assertions that ranged from “Why should I believe a word of this?” to “That is most unlikely,” to “That couldn’t possibly have happened,” making all of it dubious in the extreme. And this was after I’d already established an understanding of her as a habitual liar, and not just about the “autism” story.

I told her so, most bluntly in an email explaining why I didn’t want to fly over to Canada to visit her. Predictably, she pretended not to know what I was talking about when I’d accused her of “Lies, lies, and more lies” in my email. Predictably, she made me out to be the villain and herself out to be the innocent victim when discussing my email to the family, who–predictably–believed her every word without question.

Well, of course the family believed her every word without question: they’d been conditioned to for years…decades!…to discredit any observation I made about anything that didn’t jive with their preconceptions about the world. Mom had preemptively discredited me, so my accusation of her lying wouldn’t be given a millisecond of consideration by them. Mom may have been dying, but her reputation was safe.

With her death, in the spring of 2016, the hope of a confession from her similarly died. Her last words to me, spoken on her death bed over the phone to me, were all about how my accusation “hurt” her (translation: caused her narcissistic injury–note how she was permitted to refuse a visit from me, but I wasn’t permitted to refuse visiting her), none about how the truth and validity of what I accused her of had hurt me. She didn’t even try to be fair, and acknowledge that there were many times in my life that she’d hurt me, and that she was sorry for that; instead, I got a pity party about how much of a bad son I was, and to add insult to injury, she congratulated herself on what a ‘good mother’ she’d been, apparently having given me “the most love,” of my siblings and me…during those very years (just before and around my pre-teen years) when she’d contrived the autism lie!

In short, she dumped a huge guilt trip on me while pretending she’d never done me any wrong–classic narcissism. Here’s the thing: if I’m so ‘uncaring’ of other people, why dump all this grief on me? It would make no difference to me–I’d just shrug it off, easily, wouldn’t I? The fact is, the family all know that I internalize all the abuse they ram down my throat–they know I feel the pain. The whole purpose of dumping that guilt on me is to manipulate me into doing what they want me to do, to control me…or at least to try to control me.

I feel so hollow now, so empty, the shell of what I once was, or could have been. Such is what narcissistic abuse does to victims: the vice of narcissism is projected onto the victim, who is fully misunderstood. We are made to live a lie of the narcissist’s making. It’s a terrible feeling, knowing your family doesn’t truly love you, that their ‘love’ was all an act, to make themselves look good publicly, or just family obligation.

Still, I can’t go on just feeling sorry for myself. The damage has been done, but there’s no one out there to do the repairing for me, so I’ll have to do it all myself (I don’t have the money for therapy.). I’ll have to find that sweet, sensitive little boy inside me, buried deep down under all of this pain.

Since I follow the Freudian (actually, post-Freudian) school of psychoanalysis, I don’t usually go in for Jung‘s ideas, but there is one of his that I’ve recently been interested in: his notion of the Shadow. As a result, I’ve been looking into what’s called Shadow work as a form of therapy to confront all this repressed trauma and self-hate, and therefore to heal me.

Since I assume, Dear Reader, that you’re reading this blog post as part of an exploration of the problem of narcissism to heal your own emotional wounds, then I hope that what I have to say here about Shadow work will help you find resources in your own healing journey.

There are so many different ways to describe what Shadow work is, and how to do it, that space doesn’t permit me to go over it all in encyclopedic fashion, but I can give you a basic idea of what it’s about, if you aren’t yet familiar with the concept.

According to Jung, we all have a Shadow aspect to our personalities, a dark, unpleasant side that we try to hide because it includes shameful and traumatic elements. We try to repress it, but we mustn’t; for after all, what is repressed returns to consciousness, though in an unrecognizable form…and this return of the repressed can come in quite nasty, regrettable ways. This repressed, ego-dystonic material must be confronted if we are to heal–Shadow work is this confrontation.

There are many ways to do Shadow work. The most common ways include journalling every day, putting our trauma into words. Other ways can include expressing your pain through art or music. Meditation is also helpful, including EMDR therapy…and there are lots of YouTube videos on these subjects. One of the websites I added a link to above recommend having a ‘dialogue’ with one’s Shadow: asking it questions and listening for answers in a contemplative silence. What’s most important is feeling that pain again (though not overwhelmingly so, of course!), as scary as that sounds, for the only way to heal is to process the trauma properly.

If you don’t feel that pain, you’ll try to repress it or project it, as my family did onto me. I’ve already explained the catastrophic results of that.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Fourteen

I see a tiny, glowing white dot in the middle of the endless black all around me. I’m floating toward that dot of light, which is getting bigger.

Now that I’m close enough to it, I can see that the dot of white light is actually an exit from this void of infinite darkness. I’m approaching it, and instead of glowing light, I see those waves of the endless, universal sea.

I’ve re-entered that sea, and I’m swimming in it, breathing the water as if I had gills instead of nostrils. I feel a soothing peace vibrating all around me and in me.

I’m coming to understand the full extent of how all is one. Everything within and outside of me is one. Everywhere is an eternal here. I am connected to all around me.

All of time is one. The past, the present, and the future are merged in endless cycles. Only now is real: the past and future are just human constructs.

Everything that happens is unified. Opposites flow into and out of each other in dialectical waves. All people, and all of their actions, are a yin and yang mixture of good and evil, wisdom and folly, beauty and ugliness. My own nature and behaviour are equally such mixtures.

With this understanding of oneness also comes an understanding of the universal, eternal fluidity of everything within and without. This is why I see the waves of an ocean everywhere, undulating without end.

I can feel the feelings of other people flowing into me, and my feelings are flowing out to all of them, like water, to be felt by all the other people. As we all share each other’s feelings, I sense my alert, conscious awareness of every second, every wave flowing up and down all around me, soothing me, massaging my skin.

The dialectical relationship between all opposites, their essential unity, feels not only like the up-and-down movement of waves, but also like a continuum coiled into a circle, the extreme opposites meeting and flowing into each other.

I see a large serpent in the water; it’s coiled in a circle, biting its tail. Darker and lighter shades of green are moving along the body of the serpent, either darkening its scales or making them sparkle. These tints and shades of green are moving from the bitten tail, along the length of its coiled body, around to its biting head, then through to the bitten tail again. Those moving tints and shades are all the opposites of the world, eternally flowing into each other.

Seeing these flowing movements instills in my mind the truth that all things shift from good to bad, to good and to bad, and back to good again, around and around in cycles, forever and ever. This is why I should be patient when the bad times come, but I should also keep from being too attached to the evanescent good times.

So the world, just like all the people in it, including myself, should be seen in a middling way: neither too exciting, nor too rejecting. We must see everything and everyone as they truly are, not as we conceive of them in our fantasies and nightmares. We must refrain from exaggerating, seeing all as either too good or too bad.

Pain is healed by feeling it, by confronting it, as I did in that black hole. Pain must also be expressed, in the spoken or written word, in order to heal it. Another way to heal pain is to consider it not only through the Unity of Space, which includes the unity of Self and Other, but also through the Unity of Action, which reveals, through the dialectical relationship between opposites that I saw in that serpent biting its tail, how going overboard with extremes of pain, we can go past the extremes and achieve soothing. By contemplating not only our own suffering, but adding to it the suffering of others, others felt as ourselves, we achieve compassion and empathy, growing thus into better people.

In this way, by listening to others instead of just preaching to them, we self-soothe as well as soothe others. We self-soothe by contemplating not only our own ups and downs, but also those of other people; and in seeing the unity between up and down, good and bad, we know that the bad is never permanent.

In contemplating the Unity of Time, knowing that now is the only real time, and that endless cycles bring good and bad back again and again, we focus on the present instead of worrying about the future and ruminating over past failures. The endless cycles of good and bad phasing in and out of each other mean neither is permanent: don’t be attached to the good, and patiently wait for the bad to drift away.

Wait! Am I melting? Yes! My body is being absorbed into the infinite ocean! Atman is fusing with Brahman. My body is becoming one with the waters I’ve been swimming in! Oh, bliss! Oh, sweet nirvana! I have attained enlightenment, and as soon as my watery form concentrates, bringing me back to human form, I’ll be ready to teach the Way to any with ears to hear. Those five followers will come back, for sure!

Of course, this melting feeling of mine could just be part of my ketamine high.

Firs

A
tree
of life,
adorned
with fruit,
was denied
us when Adam
and Eve disobeyed
God.

A
man
named
Boniface
cut down a
tree to stop the
pagans worshiping
them.

A
tree
is put,
adorned
with lights,
in every home
to celebrate that
birth of the second
Adam.

A
fir is
felled,
for every
home, to put
cash in pockets,
not for the baby’s
sake.

A
fir may
point up to
heaven, but not
if it’s cut down. The
triangle has no Trinity if
hewn.

A
Xmas
tree has no
meaning in a
home where folks
just spend money and
not time with their loved
ones.

A
fir cut
down won’t
end pagan ways
or bring back Eden.
Xmas shopping for its
own sake just moves cash
from poor pockets to richer
ones.

Analysis of ‘Notorious’

Notorious is a 1946 spy film produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and written by Ben Hecht. It stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, with Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, and Leopoldine Konstantin.

The film was a watershed for Hitchcock artistically, having a heightened maturity. It was his first attempt to create a serious love story, with two men (played by Grant and Rains) jealously vying for the attention of a beautiful woman (Bergman) within the context of a spy thriller.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

What’s curious about this film is how it depicts clandestine operations by ex-Nazis in Brazil just after WWII, when the Nazis had just been roundly defeated. One would think that the ex-Nazi war criminals hiding out in South America would want to keep a low profile by not doing anything suspect just after their defeat, with Nazi hunters after them.

The ex-Nazis of this film are high-ranking members of IG Farben, the German chemical and pharmaceutical conglomerate infamously associated with such atrocities as the creation of Zyklon B, which killed over a million people in gas chambers during the Holocaust. These IG Farben executives, it is discovered, are mining uranium ore, to be used in the making of atomic bombs. (Incidentally, from the discovery of nuclear fission to the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan, the Nazis were hardly motivated to develop nuclear weapons; getting rid of Jews was their priority at the time. And only now are these ex-Nazis interested in uranium ore?)

What is odd about the villain conspirators being from IG Farben is that the conglomerate was seized by the Allies at the end of the war in 1945, its directors to be put on trial from 1947 to 1948, thirteen of the tried twenty-three directors being convicted of war crimes. If a Nazi conspiracy to make nuclear weapons were afoot, it would seem unlikely that its men would allow any association to be made with IG Farben.

What’s more, while at the end of the war there would have been plenty of animosity felt towards the Nazis by the general populace of Western countries, there were also plenty of people among the Western bourgeoisie who had expressed sympathy for the Nazis as a group dedicated to destroying communism. Accordingly, not only did many Western bourgeois hope that Hitler would invade the USSR, and encouraged such a move at the Munich conference, but also a great many ex-Nazis were given prestigious jobs in the American government, in NASA, in NATO, and in the West German government, as part of the Cold War offensive against the Soviet states. Recall also that a number of Hitler’s business backers were American companies and other Allied multinationals.

Now, Operation Paperclip wasn’t made public through the media until December of 1946, well after the release of Notorious. Truman hadn’t officially approved of Operation Paperclip until September of 1946, again after Notorious was finished. It was therefore extremely unlikely that Hitchcock and Hecht would have known anything about the operation.

Still, with the Nazis decisively defeated, and not yet having the knowledge of the mining of uranium ore, it seems unlikely that the American government as portrayed in the film would be so concerned with the activities of a few ex-Nazis hiding out in South America. The Nazis were no longer an effective challenger to Western imperialist interests; on the contrary, it was now the Soviets who were such a challenge. And as I said above, the Western ruling class still had a soft spot in their hearts for commie-hating Nazis.

So what’s the real point about having ex-Nazis as the villains in Notorious?

Well, the movie-going public, as opposed to the capitalist class, would have had an unequivocal dislike of Nazis just after WWII, so the IG Farben men would have made fitting villains. Hecht, as a Jew, would naturally have hated Nazis, too. Finally, the mainstream liberals in Hollywood at the time, in their defence of bourgeois democracy, would have seen Nazis as appropriate villains whose presence in Notorious would have made the film appealing to the public.

On a deeper level, though, Notorious reflects the ambivalence that the liberal bourgeoisie of the time would have had towards such villains. This ambivalence is seen in how surprisingly sympathetic Alex Sebastian (Rains) is, as an ex-Nazi in love with (and his heart broken by) German-American Alicia Huberman (Bergman), the beautiful daughter of a German traitor in the US who has been convicted of aiding the Nazis.

Indeed, the love triangle between these two and the American government agent, TR Devlin (Grant) can be seen to be an allegory of this Western capitalist ambivalence to Naziism. Alicia, a woman exploited by the American government to seduce Sebastian–or, put more bluntly, to prostitute herself to him–in order to spy on him and discover what wickedness the IG Farben men are up to, personifies the land and resources that the US (as personified by Devlin) and Nazi Germany (as personified by Sebastian) are competing for, to possess and to dominate.

The men’s mutual jealousy over her is thus an allegory of 1) the Western capitalist use of fascism to counter communism, and 2) the inter-imperialist conflict of WWII when Hitler showed that he wanted much more than just to invade and colonize the Soviet Union; he also wanted to muscle in on the territory of Britain and other Western imperialists.

Alicia, as that American daughter of the German traitor, also fits in with my allegory in how she’s, on the one hand, looked down on, is notorious, as an alcoholic and a tramp who, at the beginning of the film, is suspected of being sympathetic to her father’s politics; yet on the other hand, is also such a desirable beauty. Western liberals despise fascist brutishness, yet they nonetheless find it politically expedient in furthering capitalist and imperialist interests.

Now, the object of desire here is a beautiful woman who drinks, and drinking–of alcohol especially–is a major thematic motif in Notorious (indeed, Hitchcock’s cameo in the film shows him drinking a glass at a party). This drinking is recurrently associated with danger and destruction: we see this first in her drunk-driving scene with Devlin, then later in the discovery that the uranium ore is being hidden in wine bottles in the cellar of Sebastian’s house.

This association of alcohol, wine in particular, with danger and destruction reminds us of Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, and madness (consider the violence and wildness of his Maenads). The rivalry between Devlin and Sebastian over the charms of Alicia is the essence of irrational jealousy, leading to her near-death by poisoning and Sebastian’s downfall at the end of the movie, when he can no longer hide the fact that he has fallen for an American spy. This understanding deepens my allegory in that the madly jealous inter-imperialist rivalry during WWII between the capitalist West and Nazi Germany resulted in so much death and destruction.

While I’m sure that neither Hitchcock nor Hecht consciously intended to present the allegory I’m describing here, I consider the political circumstances that led up to WWII and those depicted in Notorious to be such that my allegory is inevitable, if only through the unconscious emergence of a few Freudian slips. Accordingly, I don’t find it to be too far out of place to see Devlin as a pun on devil.

Devlin takes Alicia by plane from her home in Florida to Brazil; through the airplane window, she can see the statue of Christ the Redeemer. It seems as though, through her working for the American government, she is about to redeem herself for her father’s treason. During the flight, and by an interesting juxtaposition, she also learns of her father’s death in prison by swallowing a poison capsule. She sees the statue immediately after hearing the news; it’s as if her father’s death is a Christ-like sacrifice freeing her of her family’s Nazi past.

They fly into Rio, and it isn’t long before Devlin and Alicia fall in love. Their love affair being in Brazil of all places, where she is to seduce Sebastian, adds more depth to my political allegory of this film when one considers how the Monroe Doctrine led to an increasingly possessive attitude towards Central America (i.e., the Banana Wars) and South America, that is, in imperialist terms. Since the beginning of the Cold War especially, any attempt at a leftist liberation from US imperialism would lead to a CIA coup d’état, replacing the erstwhile leftist government with an authoritarian, right-wing one, reminding us in a way of the ex-Nazis hiding out in South America.

The US government, thus, has been like a jealous, possessive lover of Latin America, just as Devlin has been of Alicia. A comparable kind of possessiveness can be seen in the US occupation of the southeastern and central part of West Germany just after WWII. German-American Alicia is eyed this way by Devlin, and Sebastian’s later jealous eyeing of her in Brazil allegorically suggests the ex-Nazi presence in South America. The allegorical interpretation of the Devlin/Huberman/Sebastian love triangle is complete when one considers the above-mentioned American use of ex-Nazis in their government from the beginning of the Cold War.

That closeness of America and Germany, apart from being personified in Alicia herself, is also seen in her famous extended kissing scene with Devlin, in which Hitchcock deftly evaded the censors of the prudish Production Code by briefly breaking up kisses that could last as long as the three-second limit. Indeed, one could think of the breaking up of the kisses as representative of the ambivalent attitude of the US government towards a Germany with a fascist past: love her, Devlin, but not too much.

Anyway, his love for her will soon turn into animosity when he learns from his superiors, including Captain Paul Prescott (Calhern) of the US Secret Service, that her job is to seduce Sebastian so she can find out what he and the other IG Farben men are up to. As I said above, Devlin’s and Sebastian’s mutual jealousy over the German-American beauty represents the ambivalent attitude the US government has always had towards fascism.

Like all good little liberals, the American ruling class is supposed to hate Nazis…but this doesn’t mean the Nazis don’t have their uses, as do other kinds of fascists, that is, in how they can serve imperialist interests by, for example, thwarting the advancement of socialism. Even now, the American liberal establishment, in order to avoid feeling any cognitive dissonance, pretends that the Russian/Ukraine war is a fight for liberation against the ‘aggressor’ Putin, while also denying, or at least minimizing, the neo-Nazi elements in the Ukrainian government and military, who are perfectly content to ban opposition parties and persecute ethnic Russians living in the area.

So, to get back to the story, Devlin is more than uncomfortable to know that the woman he’s attracted to is being used to attract another man. That the Americans can’t just go in and arrest the IG Farben men–because they’d then just find others to replace Sebastian et al, and so their sinister work would continue–is reasoning whose validity I’m not convinced of. Nazi war criminals are war criminals…arrest them! When the replacements come, arrest them, too. Nazis as of 1946 ceased to be a threat to US bourgeois imperialist interests (and as we now know, Nazis were actually helping the American government against its then-real threat, the Soviets), so just arrest the IG Farben men.

Devlin’s jealousy will be swelling when he learns that Sebastian wants to marry Alicia, who will agree to it…and he isn’t the only one feeling this jealousy over the marriage that’s coming; so is Sebastian’s mother, Madame Anna Sebastian (Konstantin). Though Rains retained his British accent while playing German Sebastian, Grant spoke with his Trans-Atlantic accent (bringing up associations between American, British, and Nazi imperialism in the context of Notorious), and Bergman largely managed to hide her Swedish accent in her portrayal of a German-American, the Austrian actress Konstantin spoke with her German accent undisguised, which really brings out the stereotypical Nazi associations in her role, as not only one of the main villains of the movie, but also as Sebastian’s ruthless and domineering mother.

There is a parallel to be observed in his relationship with both his new wife and with his mother–one of servile love. Just as Sebastian is uxorious towards Alicia, so is he Oedipal in his attitude towards Madame Anna, something she can use to her advantage in controlling him. One is reminded of the love Hitler had for his mother, Klara, after whose death he grieved for the rest of his life.

Hitchcock’s mother died four years before Notorious was made and released; he addressed his own mother issues for the first time in this film, and the notion of a domineering mother like Madame Anna, a reservoir of her son’s guilt, anger, resentment, and Oedipal yearning, was something Hitchcock would explore further in films like Psycho and The Birds. Indeed, he would often incorporate psychoanalysis in such films as these and in Spellbound, a film he did the year before Notorious.

The unhealthiness of an unresolved Oedipus complex that is exploited by a cunning mother just adds a deeper level of villainy to this group of ex-Nazis, for properly understood, the Oedipal longing for a parent’s love and undivided attention–combined with the frustration of never fully having that attention–is a narcissistic trauma. Sebastian’s unhealthy relationship with his mother, in which he is weakened and made vain and foolish, ends up being transferred onto Alicia, making him uxorious in his feelings for her. She, as an American spy, can exploit his weakness in getting to the key to the wine cellar to find the hidden uranium ore.

She’s being exploited, too, recall, by the American government, and to complete the job, she must agree to marry Sebastian and allow him into her bed–a conquest of his comparable to the American takeover of aboriginal land (I’m reminded of lines 25-32 from Donne‘s Elegy XIX, ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’), which inspired Hitler to want to conquer Slavic land. Alicia must go along with this fake romance, to keep up appearances so Sebastian will never suspect she’s an American spy. Devlin must also keep up appearances and maintain a professional attitude, pretending he’s had no romance of his own with her.

Indeed, keeping up appearances is a major theme running throughout Notorious. Alicia’s mission as a spy includes keeping up appearances that she’s as much in love with Sebastian as he is with her. She imagines Devlin’s love for her is pretend, while he keeps up appearances of a stoic lack of interest in her, always hiding his jealousy behind a feigned contempt for her, all for the sake of keeping the mission going. The IG Farben men keep up appearances of wine bottles innocently containing wine when some of those in the cellar actually contain uranium ore.

Ironically, when Sebastian intrudes on Devlin’s and Alicia’s moment alone in the cellar just after discovering the “sand” in one of the wine bottles, Devlin has her pretend to kiss him in order to keep up appearances of having an affair to hide their real offence against Sebastian, the discovery of what’s hidden in that bottle. This ‘appearance’ of being in love, of course, hides the fact that they really are in love…though they won’t admit this until the end of the film.

The penultimate keeping up of appearances is when Sebastian and his mother pretend to be concerned for Alicia’s declining health–to cover up for his foolish falling in love with an American spy–when it’s their piecemeal poisoning of her coffee, another drink Notorious associates with danger and destruction, that is causing her declining health. And the final keeping up of appearances, which ultimately fails, is at the end, when Sebastian and his mother pretend that Devlin is just taking Alicia to the hospital instead of actually rescuing her from her two poisoners.

Sebastian pretends not to fear death as Devin is taking Alicia down the stairs towards the front door, but when she’s put in the car and Devlin is about to drive away, Sebastian is desperately anxious to have them take him in the car, too. More keeping up of appearances.

Sebastian has everything to fear, for the other IG Farben men, knowing there’s no telephone in Alicia’s bedroom from which Devlin could have called the hospital, proves that the hospital story is a lie…so Sebastian must meet the same fate as that of Emil Hupka (played by Eberhard Krumschmidt) for having reacted with shock, in front of Alicia, at the wine bottles, which tipped her off to their significance.

The paranoid intensity of security maintained by the IG Farben men is what makes me doubt the plausibility of there being any substantial American cause for suspicion of sinister plots by these ex-Nazis against American imperialist interests. They’re hiding their conspiracy so tightly that it seems virtually impossible for the Americans to have discovered anything; Alicia’s being tipped off by Emil’s display of agitation seems little more than a fluke.

Such a tight keeping up of appearances by the IG Farben men leads me to discuss the ultimate pretense of this film, whether consciously intended by Hitchcock and Hecht or not: that the US government, just after having defeated the Nazis, would still regard fascism as an intolerable evil in any form. The American moviegoing public would surely have continued to vilify Nazis, so it would have been expedient for Hollywood producers to keep up the appearance of despising fascism, too…for the sake of ticket sales, at the very least.

But bourgeois liberal Hollywood interests aren’t all that far removed from those of capitalist imperialism and colonialism. Hecht as a Jew would have justifiably hated Nazis in all sincerity, but he was also an avid supporter of the establishment of the settler colonial state of Israel, whose persecution of the Palestinians has been every bit as evil as the Nazi persecution of the Jews was. Notorious‘s keeping up of appearances of regarding Nazis as an enemy of America covers up how useful the West has always found fascism, which they’ve since falsely equated with communism…another deft move of propaganda on the part of the ruling class.

Western capitalism’s appeasement and, therefore, encouragement, of the rise of fascism in the 1930s, in its attempt to thwart socialism, was ultimately the creation of a monster they’d quickly regret. The Western bourgeoisie were Dr. Victor Frankenstein; fascism was the monster. WWII was the horror story. Notorious was, in my opinion at least, an example of a bourgeois attempt to save face over its creation of that monster.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Thirteen

I look up above my head and see the overhanging leaves of a tree. I look down and see I’m sitting on a bench; yes, those five people must have put me in the same place where that meditating man was.

Maybe they left me here, not out of disappointment in my potential, but rather because of that potential. By leaving me in the seat of the meditating wise man, they’re trying to inspire me to emulate him, to search for enlightenment as he had. Yes, that’s it!

I won’t disappoint those five people! I won’t move from here until I’ve attained enlightenment! (Actually, because of my ketamine high, I can’t move at all, but anyway…)

Ooh! Sudden gunfire from further off. A few explosions, flashes of light. That startled me.

Anyway, let’s see: to be a wise leader who will bring liberation, justice, and an end to the war, I must acquire knowledge of the true nature of the world. I must close my eyes, focus, and go beyond the limitations of my ego. I must also transcend feelings of desire and hate…

Beyond all the surface differences, there is oneness, but the differences must also be acknowledged–in the form of wavelike movements from one state to its opposite, and back and forth, and back and forth, over and over again…

I feel myself vibrating all over. My ketamine high has erased my sense of the boundary between me and not-me. Meditation is heightening my sense of unity with my surroundings…

Everything inside and outside feels…oceanic, all waves flowing into me, within me, and flowing out of me. The whole world, the whole universe, feels like an ocean with no boundaries or shores anywhere out there–just water. It’s a peaceful, soothing experience.

I’m making progress.

Along with this unity of all within and without, the unity of crests and troughs flowing into and out of each other, I feel my sense of relationships with others becoming more unified, too. As well as everything becoming more unified, everything feels more real, too.

Up until now, my perception of other people has been, on the one hand, an idealizing of others, a lusting and yearning for perfection in others, imaginary others; on the other hand, though, there’s been a perception of others as lowly and contemptible, a hating and rejecting of others, these also being imaginary people. I’ve felt my perception of others as being split in two, a hallucinatory halving into black and white.

Now, however, everyone seems more realistic, a grey in between the black and white, a sense that all people are a mix of good and bad. I feel I’m understanding humanity as it actually is, not as figments of my imagination.

As I watch the slowly-moving waves of that universal ocean, flowing gently before my mind’s eye, I also see a black hole growing there. First, it appeared as a tiny black dot, then it began growing and growing until now, it’s big enough for me to be sucked into it.

I’m scared.

Still, I know that I must confront this huge void. Its shape has changed from that of a large circle into that of a human silhouette about my size. I should talk to it. Will it answer my questions?

“Hello,” I say out loud.

I feel, instead of hear, its answer. Hello.

“Who are you?” I ask.

I’m every pain you have ever felt, I feel it say.

“What are those pains?”

You know what they are. You just don’t want to face them.

“Very well: how do I face them?”

Come inside me, it says, then it changes back into the giant hole, welcoming me in.

I float forward and enter the hole. Instead of seeing dark oceanic waves, I now see endless black.

“OK, I’m inside,” I say with impatience and fear. “Now what am I supposed to do?”

Talk to me, the voice says in my imagination. Talk.

“Talk about what?”

About any and every pain you’ve ever had in your whole life.

“Very well. I’ll start at the very beginning. Mother?”

Emerging from the centre of the void is an older woman in regal, Oriental clothes. I can’t quite make out her face. She must be my long-lost mother, the queen who died about a week after I was born.

I never knew her, but I saw plenty of pictures of her, so I’ll recognize her face when she comes close enough to me.

“Mother? Is that you? It’s your son, Sidney. Please come here and let me see you. Come and talk to me.”

She is coming closer, but I still can’t see her face clearly.

I grow anxious and impatient as she continues approaching.

Finally, she’s close enough for me to see her face.

“Queen Maya! My mother!” I shout in sobs.

I see her face, but she isn’t smiling, as my mother did in her pictures. This queen is scowling a familiar scowl.

My stepmother?

No, my mother!

There never was a stepmother.

There never was an ideal mother from which my stepmother represented a sad decline.

There never was an ideal world, a garden where she gave birth to me, an Eden from which our present world was a sad decline.

There are no ideal people, contrasted with contemptible people. There are only real people, a grey in between the imagined black and white. My ‘stepmother’ wasn’t all bad; my actual mother was far from all-good.

There is no heaven, no hell. Just life here on Earth, a mix of good and bad.

It hurts to know there’s no paradise to aspire to, yet it’s good to know the truth, not to be deceived by illusions. Knowing the truth is like an abrasion on the skin, but one can rub the hurt surface and soothe oneself.

I hear some more gunfire and explosions from further off, but they aren’t as loud or startling, so I can bear them better.

I’m making progress.

Analysis of ‘Trilogy of Terror’

Trilogy of Terror is a 1975 made-for-TV horror anthology film directed by Dan Curtis. It features three segments based on unrelated short stories by Richard Matheson; the first two segments were adapted by William F. Nolan, while the third–and by far, the best–was adapted by Matheson himself, based on his 1969 short story, “Prey.”

All three segments star Karen Black in the roles of “Julie,” “Millicent and Therese,” and “Amelia,” which are also the names of the segments, since each story, as I’ll argue below, is really about the inner mental life of each character Black plays here. “Julie” costars Robert Burton, Black’s husband at the time. “Millicent and Therese” costars George Gaynes. “Amelia” is essentially a one-woman-play, with only Black and Walker Edmiston doing the voice of the Zuni doll.

Here is a link to a few quotes from the film.

The essential reason to watch, or own a DVD of, Trilogy of Terror is to watch “Amelia,” the excellent third segment, as the first two are rather mediocre stories. It’s never properly explained how Julie lures Chad Foster (Burton) into a brief sexual relationship before poisoning him: is she a witch, or some kind of succubus? And how come her sister (played by Kathryn Reynolds) never even suspects Julie of any kind of wrongdoing? That Millicent and Therese are two personalities in one woman’s body is pretty easy to predict–we never see the two together in the same scene.

It is, however, worthwhile to examine all three stories in terms of their common themes and elements, in order to grasp a deeper meaning in the superb and genuinely scary “Amelia.” All three stories are psychological studies of their titular characters, emotionally repressed women who are rigid, prudish, or otherwise neurotic on the outside, but who each have a hidden, inner dark side that is finally revealed at the end of each story.

These dark sides, or what Jung called the Shadow, are kept from the titular characters’ conscious minds (until the end of each story) through the use of a number of ego defence mechanisms: repression, projection (including projective identification), splitting, denial, and reaction formation. A merging with this repressed, projected, or split-off Shadow occurs at the conclusion of each story.

The sexual predator in Julie is projected (through projective identification) onto her young and handsome American literature student, Chad; the stereotypically male sexual predator becomes the victim of the erstwhile stereotypically female victim of sexual predation, thus reversing the stereotypes. He as a predator parallels the aggression of the Zuni fetish doll against Amelia.

Therese’s seduction of her father (or was it his seduction of her, as repressed by prudish Millicent?), of Thomas Anmar (played by John Karlen), and attempted seduction of Dr. Chester Ramsey (Gaynes) are all instances of Therese as a sexual predator. The Zuni fetish doll, with its phallic spear, and later, the phallic little knife, is symbolically predatory in a sexual sense.

Julie splits off her Shadow side onto Chad. Millicent splits off her Shadow side onto her “sister,” Therese. Amelia splits off hers onto the Zuni fetish doll, making it into what Wilfred R. Bion would have called a bizarre object, a hallucinatory projection of Amelia’s unconscious matricidal instincts.

All three stories involve some kind of strained family relations, the all-too-typical causes of mental disturbances. Julie’s sister, perpetually kept in the dark about Julie’s private life, just wants to help her, but doesn’t even know the half of the problem.

Was Therese’s incest with her father an expression of the Electra complex, including her killing of her mother; or was it (as I see as a possibility) that her father raped her, causing her to split into two personalities, and did her mother, knowing of the rape, kill herself in heartbreak?

Amelia’s mother places great restrictions on her social life, driving her to move out for the sake of at least some independence. The man she’s dating is named Arthur, which sounds like a pun on father and thus symbolically suggests, through transference, more of the Electra complex (which is further intensified by her plan to kill her mother at the end of the story), thus thematically linking this story to that of “Millicent and Therese.”

Along with this literal expression of the Electra complex in “Millicent and Therese,” and the metaphorical one (as I see it) in “Amelia,” there’s also–in how possibly forty-something Julie could be old enough to be the mother of her handsome young male students–a possible mother/son transference in her relationship with them, suggesting a Jocasta complex in her. We thus can see a thematic link among all three stories.

Amelia attempts to kill the Shadow in herself by stabbing the Zuni fetish doll; Millicent kills Therese (and herself, of course) by pricking a voodoo doll with a pin. Chad drugs Julie’s drink at the drive-in; Julie later poisons his drink.

Julie, in behaving so frigidly and unsociably, is engaging in reaction formation to hide her predatory interest in her handsome young male students. Millicent’s prudery is a similar reaction formation hiding how she, being in the same body as Therese, has the same sexual desires. In being so intimidated by her domineering, clingy mother, Amelia is using reaction formation to hide her wish to kill her mother and thus free herself from her.

Each of Black’s characters, in a symbolic or literal sense, merges with her Shadow at the end of each segment. Julie, in drugging Chad’s drink as he’d drugged hers, has merged with him (through their sexual relationship), her projected Shadow. Millicent pricks the voodoo doll representing Therese (since it’s she who wants to kill Therese, not vice versa), but has done so in Therese’s blonde wig, makeup, and clothes; in other words, both personalities had to have been present at the time of the killing, both of them sharing consciousness, or both “on the spot,” to borrow an expression from Billy Milligan, a merging of them in suicide. Amelia opens the oven in which the Zuni doll is burning, and its spirit enters her body, the resulting demonic possession being a symbolic merging of her with her Shadow.

Let’s now turn the discussion towards sharp teeth. There are the fangs in the vampire movie that Chad takes Julie to see. After he drugs her drink and she falls asleep in his car, he takes her to a motel, where he checks himself and her in as Mr. and Mrs., get this…Jonathan Harker, an allusion to the character in Bram Stoker‘s Dracula; Harker at one point is terrorized by Dracula’s vampiress brides, suggesting already that Chad is being used by Julie, not vice versa.

Then there are the sharp teeth on Amelia’s Zuni fetish doll, teeth that end up in her mouth at the end of the story. As with the drug or poison put in, respectively, Julie’s and Chad’s drinks, the biting teeth are symbols of projective and introjective identification, understood especially in the context of Bion’s notion of container and contained…that is, not the kind that mothers use to soothe their agitated babies, but rather negative containment, which leads to a nameless dread (see Bion, Chapter 28; for more on Bion and other psychoanalytic concepts, go here).

Bion used masculine and feminine symbols to represent, respectively, the contained and the container, suggesting phallic and yonic symbolism. In turn, the sharp teeth, like the spear and little knife the Zuni doll uses, are phallic (also like the vampire’s fangs), and the bite and stab wounds are yonic. In this negative containment, trauma (as opposed to the processing of pain that a mother does for her baby) is projected from the attacker and introjected into the victim.

The pricking of the pin into the voodoo doll representing Therese, as well as Amelia’s stabbing in the Zuni doll’s face as it tries to get out of the suitcase she’s trapped it in, are also symbolic examples of this projection and introjection.

With all these points of thematic comparison and contrast made, we can now focus on the deeper psychoanalytic meaning of the best segment, “Amelia.” As I said above, it’s fitting that these stories are all named after the women Black plays in each of them, because the real theatre of these stories dramatize what’s going on in the heads of these three mentally ill characters. That “Amelia” is more or less a solo performance emphasizes that we’re dealing with a drama happening entirely inside her mind.

I believe the Zuni fetish doll coming to life and attacking her is a hallucination, a projection of her repressed wish to kill her mother, who oppresses her with guilt trips to keep her from living a free life.

She buys the doll knowing about the warning not to remove the chain from it, that its removal will bring it to life. She doesn’t believe such a thing will really happen, of course, but the idea exists in unconscious phantasy for her. She looks at it, saying it’s so ugly that even its mother wouldn’t love it; saying this is a reflection of how the doll is a projection of her own unconscious matricidal urges–no mother, Amelia imagines, would ever love her daughter for having such feelings.

After arguing with her mother on the phone in the living room over whether they can cancel one night together (a regular Friday night get-together she and her mother always have) so Amelia can spend it with her boyfriend on his birthday, she–oppressed with guilt from her mother’s manipulations–brings up the doll, telling her mom of how it will supposedly come to life with the removal of the chain. Her bringing up of this is a wish-fulfillment and an implied warning to her mother, who, significantly, hangs up at just that moment.

Amelia then holds the doll, and she seems to have touched the chain at least a little. She sets it on the table and walks away. As we know, the chain falls off the doll’s waist. Now, consciously, she shouldn’t be concerned about this, since she doesn’t believe there really is a spirit inside the doll; but unconsciously, she has a wish that this spirit will come out, with the possibility of it one day attacking and killing her controlling mother. Therefore, Amelia’s fondling of the doll, leading to the chain falling off, is a parapraxis indicating her unconscious matricidal urges.

After being in the kitchen to slice up some meat (with that little knife) and put it in the oven, she returns to the living room to find the doll no longer standing on her coffee table. She looks around, including under the sofa (the obscurity below being symbolic of the unconscious), but can find only the Zuni doll’s spear, the tip of which pricks her finger. Her inability, at this point, to find the doll is representative of her repression of “He Who Kills.”

The living room lamp suddenly switching off represents further repression. Right when she goes to turn it back on is when the doll attacks her, at her foot. This attack represents the return of the repressed, in which the forbidden, repressed feelings return to consciousness, but in a totally unrecognizable form. In Amelia’s case, her matricidal desires have returned to consciousness in the form of a hallucination: the doll trying to kill her, rather than kill her mother.

So on the surface, conscious level, Amelia is terrified of the doll killing her, of course; on the unconscious level, though, she is afraid of what the doll represents–her matricidal Shadow merging with her, a merging caused by all those projective/introjective cuts and bites, the container wounds and the stabbing and biting of the contained.

Her real fear is her wish to kill her mother.

This fear/desire is what makes this third segment so scary.

So her attempts to stop the doll–wrapping it in a towel and drowning it in the bath water, stabbing it in the face, smashing it against a lamp, shutting doors to keep it out, locking it up in a suitcase, and burning it in the oven–are really attempts to prevent it from merging with her.

Now, there’s her wish to prevent the merging, but there’s also the wish for the merging to happen, hence, as I said above, her ‘accidental’ causing of the chain to come off, then her slipping and falling when running away from the doll–which allows it to get to her again–and, when she tries calling the cops, she oddly can’t remember the address of her apartment and thus can’t help the cops find her. This ‘forgetting’ is another parapraxis serving her unconscious wish to merge with her murderous Shadow as personified in the Zuni fetish doll.

Its unintelligible babbling, combined with her screams, is an expression of Lacan‘s notion of the Real, a realm of non-differentiation, of unverbalized trauma.The doll’s possibly killing her is far less horrifying that its merging with her to commit matricide, which–as the psychiatrist said at the end of Psycho–is the most unbearable crime of all. Amelia’s conflict is of the classic id vs. superego kind, or of gratification vs. morality.

As the doll is using the little knife to cut a hole in the suitcase she’s trapped it in, she tries to grab it by the blade with her fingers, a foolish, futile move that only gives her a bloody cut. Again, though, this act reflects her conflict between wanting to disarm the doll and stop its attacks on the one hand, and her unconscious wish to merge with it (i.e., the cut on her finger, the container, from the knife blade, the contained, as an act of projective and introjective identification).

Similarly, after she’s thrown the doll in the oven to burn it (as Julie burned down Chad’s apartment and him in it after poisoning him), she has to open the oven door…consciously, because she needs to make sure it’s ‘dead,’ but unconsciously because she wants to be merged with its spirit, which of course she does.

Now, just as I believe the doll’s coming to life is a hallucination that we, the viewers, share with her, so do I believe her merging with the doll’s spirit at the end, including her razor-toothed grin, is a hallucination, a delusion we viewers share with her. Her unconscious desire to kill her mother was there from the beginning; her belief that the demon in the doll has possessed her has given her a convenient excuse to kill her mother with a clear conscience. After all, it isn’t Amelia who wants to slice her mother up with that large knife she’s poking on the floor…it’s the ‘Zuni demon’ who wants to.

Similarly, Julie entertains the illusion in her mind that Chad is the sexual aggressor while she pretends to be innocent and frigid (her ‘witchcraft’ on him being a metaphorical projection onto him), and Millicent imagines Therese is a sister rather than a split-off personality bearing what’s actually Millicent’s middle name, another act of projection.

In therapy, one sometimes speaks of doing Shadow work, a confronting of and merging with one’s Shadow. Such a merging is not what’s happening here, with these three women Black is playing. Julie, Millicent/Therese, and Amelia split off, project, and repress their respective Shadows with such vehemence that the inevitable merging comes with a violent force that has tragic consequences.

One must assimilate the Shadow, but it must be the conscious personality that integrates the Shadow, not vice versa. Jekyll integrates Hyde, not the other way around. Julie projects Chad (remember that what we see on the screen is a dramatization of her inner thought processes; it’s not to be taken as literally happening), Millicent splits Therese off from her, and Amelia hallucinates the living spirit in the doll. These acts of projection result in Hyde taking over Jekyll.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Twelve

As I’m flying up high, I see myself passing by clouds that grey up the otherwise starry night sky. I must be flying sideways, because the ground so far down below me can be seen only through the far right corner of my right eye, and my left eye sees only the stars lighting up the black background. It’s if I were still lying on my side on the ground in front of my apartment.

Am I still?

No, that couldn’t be. My ketamine high is pushing me upwards.

I look to my right, which is down to the ground, and I see five Asians looking up at me: three young men and two young women who are obviously admiring my superhuman abilities as a great spiritual leader. I’ll go down and talk with them.

In front of them now, I see their five heads sideways, the tops of their heads to my left, and their bodies are seen through my right eye. I don’t think I’m reclining on the ground again; I think I’m hovering in the air in this sideways position, at eye-level with them.

I hear the five of them chatting about me. At first, I feel I’m not sure what they’re saying because I can make out only fragments of Chinese expressions.

I hear, “Poor man…sick…no doctors available…this terrible war…will die…” How can I put all of these fragments together to build meaning from them?

Oh, wait: this must be it: “We must come together to help the pitiful, poor man of the world. Everyone is sick, with no doctors available to help. Then there’s this terrible war, and everyone will die if we don’t do anything.”

That’s it! These five people want to help me organize and form an association of activists to transform society and help the world. They would help me end poverty, stop the wars, and heal the sick.

I can hear more chatting among them, more tiny fragments of Chinese phrases…did I just hear one of the two women say, “meditate”?…Yes! She wants our organization to practice meditation as a way to heal the emotional wounds of our alienating society!

Perhaps I can set an example, lead the way, by doing a little meditating myself, then these five can follow my lead. Just before I close my eyes to focus, I see the face of one of the three men. With my eyes closed, I see the silhouette of his head and shoulders…sideways, of course.

That sideways silhouette, with his head to my left and his shoulders to my right, turns clockwise until I see it properly right-side up. When the silhouette changes from a black shadow to a distinctive face again, though, I no longer see the face of that man.

I see the face of a demon, what looks like a Buddhist demon. I suddenly feel itchy all over. Am I scratching myself? I feel my itches appear, then disappear, but I can’t feel my fingers scratching myself.

I know: this is the demon, Itch. He doesn’t just cause literal, physical itches, but also the itches, the temptations, to do wrong: to lust after promiscuous women, to be selfish and fear death or pain rather than sacrifice oneself for the good of others.

I see Itch’s face more clearly now: apart from his horns, fangs, and red skin, he looks a lot like me.

He is flashing images of beautiful naked women dancing before me. What troubles me about this tempting sight is not some prudish attitude in me, but rather that images of idealized feminine beauty are a way I can escape from the real world that I must confront.

The king, my father, used to tempt me with nude, dancing women. He didn’t want me to see the real world, with its real, imperfect, suffering people, and now that I’ve renounced the privileges of the royal family, I shouldn’t be allowing myself to be tempted by fantasies here.

I hear more machine gun fire from not too far away. A few fireballs just exploded high in the air. A few fiery mushroom clouds, or so they look from here, are lighting up from the ground, too. I see a long line of fire, from my far left to my far right (I no longer seem to be floating sideways; I still seem to be right-side up), lighting up the horizon.

Itch is laughing the laugh of a maniacal villain as he looks at me, as if taunting me, challenging me to do something about the violence that is plaguing this island we’re living on.

A funny thing, though: I’m feeling no fear of pain or death, since firstly, I’m still peaking on my ketamine high and am therefore still dissociated from my body; and secondly, I still welcome death, since the hell of war that I see all around me seems to sum up life in general.

And now, Itch is trying to trouble me with guilt feelings over my having left the palace and renounced the family. The demon is flashing images of my wife, Jessie, and our son, Raoul, whom she’s holding in her arms. I hear her weeping, saying, “Sid, my husband, we miss you.”

I also see the king and my stepmother queen, both looking at me and frowning.

“What kind of a prince are you?” she hisses at me.

God, I hate her.

Since I know that this war has been caused to a great extent by my parents’ machinations–that is, their investments in weapons manufacturers and their war profiteering–I know that my abandoning of them is far from my conscience. My wife and son are living in luxury; they have little to complain about. The poor out here have much more to complain about.

I bring my hand down to the ground and touch it…at least, I see myself doing that, though I can’t feel either of my hands or the ground.

Itch is frowning; he and his temptations suddenly vanish.

I open my eyes and see, right-side up, those five people. (Did they sit me up on a chair or something?) They’re walking away from me, chattering away in Chinese. Again, I can make out only fragments of what they’re saying. I hear, “Give up…no hope…filthy man.”

Speaking of filth, the smell of vomit is gone. Someone must have cleaned it all up. I’m trying to make sense of what they just said.

Oh, I know! Those three men and two women, who at first thought I’d make a great spiritual and revolutionary leader, have given up on me because they think that I am not committed to our cause. After all, in opening my eyes, I showed my lack of concentration while meditating. A great spiritual leader would never show such a lack of concentration or discipline.

I must try harder to prove my worthiness to lead our movement. I’ll close my eyes again, keep them closed, and not stray from this place where I’m sitting (under the tree where I saw the meditating wise old man? It looks that way.); nor will I stray from my commitment to achieve spiritual enlightenment. With that enlightenment, I can lead a movement to end the war and help the poor!

I just hope my K-high won’t be too much of an obstacle to my efforts.

Bulbs

White
light
bulbs
glow in my
great apartment
of thought, but there
are far too few people
to share their brightness
in this lonely room of
iconoclastic ideas
that burn so.

Not
one
soul
wants
a warning
of war from a
great apartment
of flashing, blinding
light bulbs, hurting their
sensitive, unseeing eyes,
all squinted to keep
out the truth.

Such
souls
wish
to have a
black apartment
of ignorance, without
any insight into the ills
of the world. The comfort
of darkness makes it easier
to sleep, unburdened by
knowledge and need
that rouses us.

Yet
one
day,
without
the light, we
might find ourselves
in eternal darkness, a black
from broken light bulbs we’d
ever
have
off,
to
see
no

glow
that
gives
hope or
comfort. We
would surely open
our useless eyes and
rue
the
day
we

did
not
want
shining,
stinging light to
warn us not to close
our
eyes
and
ears.

Analysis of ‘Easy Rider’

Easy Rider is a 1969 film produced by Peter Fonda, directed by Dennis Hopper, starring both of them, and written by them and Terry Southern. The film co-stars Jack Nicholson (in a role that made him a star), Karen Black, Toni Basil (later of “Mickey” fame), and Luke Askew.

A landmark counterculture film, Easy Rider not only explored the rise of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle, but it also helped spark the New Hollywood era of filmmaking in the early 1970s. Real drugs were used in the film.

Critics praised the performances, directing, writing, soundtrack, and visuals. Easy Rider was nominated for two Oscars, for Best Original Screenplay and for Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson).

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

Though the film is understood to be a film for ‘rebels,’ one needs to look deeper. Wyatt, or “Captain America [!]” (Fonda), and Billy (Hopper) have names inspired by Wyatt Earp and outlaw Billy the Kid, reinforcing their image as anti-establishment rebels by associating them with the rough and violent types of the Old West. Instead of horses, they’re on bikes. What immediately should strike one with suspicion, though, is Wyatt’s display of the Stars and Stripes on his black leather jacket, helmet, and the chopper he buys after he and Billy profit off of a sale of cocaine. Wearing such colours indicates the duo’s acceptance of the values of American capitalism, not a rebellion against them.

Indeed, the film begins with Wyatt and Billy in Mexico, riding on dirt bikes to a bar where they’ll buy cocaine so they can smuggle it into the US to sell for a much higher price. Their clothes are as humble as their bikes at this time. They sell the cocaine to their “connection” (played by none other than Phil Spector, of “Wall of Sound” fame) outside at an airport, where airplanes are flying noisily overhead, as if representing the heavenly host watching over Wyatt and Billy, and judging them for their sins.

And what is their sin? I’m not so much interested in moralizing about their drug trafficking as I am in discussing what Marx wrote about in Capital, vol. 3, about “Commercial Capital” (chapter 16, pages 379-383). A merchant buys a commodity from a producer, then sells it again for a higher price to obtain a profit. Wyatt and Billy sell the cocaine they bought in Mexico to their American connection for a much, much higher price. Some might call this white Wyatt’s and Billy’s exploitation of the poor Mexicans they bought from.

Small wonder we hear, right at the end of the deal with the American connection, “The Pusher,” in which originally Hoyt Axton sang “Goddamn the pusher man” because he “is a monster,” selling you hard drugs like heroin or cocaine, and not caring “if you live or if you die.” (In the film, though, we hear Steppenwolf‘s cover of the song.) We hear these lyrics as Wyatt is stuffing their dollar bills down a plastic tube hidden inside his US-flag designed chopper. Hence, his bike is symbolic of American capitalism…Wyatt and Billy are just as much the establishment as are all the hicks who later antagonize them.

So when we see these two cool dudes riding their new choppers on the road, and we hear “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf as the credits flash across the screen, we have to be clear about what the contradiction is that is examined in Easy Rider. It isn’t between the right and the left: both sides here are capitalists through and through. It’s between conservatives and liberals. This distinction is important to make because there are many politically illiterate people out there who confuse the left with bourgeois liberalism (e.g., hippies, the Democratic Party, etc.). It’s significant that we hear Steppenwolf perform both the Hoyt Axton song and “Born to be Wild,” one immediately after the other, at this point in the film; this juxtaposition of songs emphasizes the dual nature of Wyatt and Billy, being both establishment (commercial capitalists) and anti-establishment (biker rebels) at the same time.

Now, conservative capitalists–owners of such private property as motels–won’t accommodate these two liberal capitalists. This lack of shelter for Wyatt and Billy puts them in a paradoxical situation: that of being, on the one hand, a pair of privileged white men with that secret stash of cash in Wyatt’s bike, their profit from the drug deal; and on the other hand, two men reduced to the status of the homeless.

Bourgeois lumpenproletariat: who’d a thunk it? In a sense, one might even think of what happens to King Lear.

One is reminded, in contemplating how the conservative capitalists are bullying these two liberal capitalists, of something Marx said in Capital, vol. 1: “One capitalist always strikes down many others,”(Marx, page 929)…or in this case, some capitalists often strike down these two others.

…and some far-right dummies out there equate the likes of Wyatt and Billy with communists. Give me strength.

Still, we see these two riding their choppers on roads with beautiful American landscapes and scenery on either side. One thing to remember about this land, though, is who it belonged to originally.

In a movie largely about white male rebels, we might not pay too much attention to those who are marginalized in it…probably because these people are so very marginalized: blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and women. It can be just as instructive to note who or what is not seen in a movie as who is seen in it.

Our two biker rebels stop at the home of a humble farmer to fix a flat tire on Wyatt’s bike. They have dinner with the farmer’s family, who say Grace before eating. This is a humble, conservative Christian family, though the father is liberal and unprejudiced enough to marry a Hispanic Catholic. Still, he expects her to run off and get more coffee.

What should be noted is not so much the contrast between, on the one side, Wyatt, Billy, and the hippies they’ll meet soon enough, and on the other side, the bigoted and outright dangerous conservatives. One should rather see these opposing sides as on a continuum with people like this farmer’s family as somewhere in between. All of these people play a role of some kind in the white settler colonial state that is the US. It is those aforementioned marginalized people (including the Mexican seller of the cocaine and the farmer’s wife) who should be set in opposition to all the others, including Wyatt and Billy, in this film.

Indeed, this dinner with the farmer’s family has a double in the later dinner at the hippie commune, before which they also pray, the camera slowly moving and showing us the faces of everyone about to eat. We’ll see that the hippies, for all their drug use and practice of free love, have a lot more in common with the Christian farmers than meets the eye.

Wyatt and Billy ride on, and soon they pick up a hitchhiking hippie, a Stranger on the Highway (Askew). When at a gas station, the hippie fills up Wyatt’s bike, having taken off the gas cap and leaving the possibility of him seeing the plastic tube with all the money in it, Billy gets nervous and wants to stop him. He’s just as protective of his wealth as any capitalist would be.

At nightfall, the three stop by the side of the road to smoke some grass, then to sleep. When Billy asks the hippie where he’s from, he’s evasive in his answer, feeling that all cities are the same. People who’ve done LSD, something the hippie will give Wyatt and Billy to do at a fitting time later, often sense a unity in everything and everyone, that everywhere is ‘here,’ so to speak. The hippie would also have Wyatt and Billy take heart of how this land they’re sitting on has its original owners, the Native Americans, buried under it.

He says that Wyatt and Billy could be “a trifle polite” in their attitude towards those dead aboriginals whose land the white man has taken from them. Billy chuckles at the hippie’s words; his attitude should be a reminder to us, as much as Wyatt’s Stars and Stripes, that these two bikers are not sticking it to the Man the way they should be.

All the two men want to do is pursue a life of physical pleasure: drugs, drinking, chasing women, and freely riding their choppers along the American landscape…from a land taken from the aboriginals. Wyatt and Billy are going to New Orleans to enjoy the Mardi Gras festival: “Fat Tuesday,” a great indulgence in pleasure before the great abstinence of Lent…in which they, of course, have no interest.

Their rebellion is against repressive, right-wing conservative authority, but it doesn’t go far enough. One cannot just do one’s own thing while coexisting with those reactionary types, for the reactionaries refuse to coexist with society’s long-haired rebels, as we’ll see by the end of the movie. Those reactionaries must be defeated and wiped out, not merely given the finger to, or else they’ll wipe out the rebels. This is the reality as understood in the intensification of class struggle, and why a dictatorship of the proletariat is needed to prevent the return of reactionary capitalism.

Wyatt and Billy take the hippie to his commune, where we see two young women who show an immediate sexual interest in the two bikers, just as they’ve been openly affectionate with the hippie. (One of these women thinks Wyatt is “beautiful,” in his Stars and Stripes outfit, which should tell you something about her and her attitude towards straight America.) Billy briefly plays ‘cowboys and Indians’ with the children of the commune, an indication not only of the spirit of levity felt by these whites towards the genocide of the Native Americans as noted above, but also how these hippies, in not teaching their kids that even playing war might lead to a warlike mentality when they grow up, don’t seem all that committed to the anti-war cause, a reminder that hippies are liberals, not revolutionaries–they’re the phonies that Zappa accused them of being.

Yet there are right-wing morons out there who claim that hippies are communists. Pathetic.

Other examples of traditionalism among these hippies–which give the lie to their ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘counterculture’ posturing–include, apart from the prayer before eating mentioned above, their singing of old-fashioned, traditional songs like “Does Your Hair [originally “Do Your Ears”] Hang Low?” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” (as opposed to singing, for example, 60s antiwar/pro-drug songs), and their reluctance to accommodate any more visitors. Such a reluctance isn’t too far removed from when Archie Bunker refused to accommodate two unmarried hippie visitors to his house.

As I said above, all these groups of people in Easy Rider lie on a continuum, ranging from the bigoted hecklers and killers of Wyatt, Billy, and George Hanson (Nicholson) on the far-right side, then a little to the left of the bigots, there are the Christian farmer and his Catholic, Hispanic wife, then a little further left from them are the people in this hippie commune, then further left are Hanson, then Wyatt and Billy, and finally the hippie hitchhiker, who acknowledges the genocide of the aboriginals (without helping to do anything about it), on the other side. A real far-left opposition would include people like the Black Panthers and any Native American activists struggling against white settler colonialism, something we’ll never see in this film. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, the mainstream media ensures a very narrow, but lively, range of debate between the “left” and the right.

Wyatt and Billy–after engaging in skinny-dipping and free love with those two women from the commune, then taking some LSD from the hippie hitchhiker–continue on their way into a town in New Mexico where a parade is going on. They ride their choppers along with the parade, as if to join it, then they get arrested for “parading without a permit.” Actually, the cops just don’t like long-haired men.

Here is where they meet alcoholic Hanson, himself locked up for having overindulged in booze the night before.

Now, George Hanson, as a lawyer who has done work for the ACLU, is rather square, but also liberal and open-minded, as well as knowledgeable about the social issues of the day. He knows that this town they’re in is full of right-wing reactionaries who’d love to shave the heads of Wyatt and Billy, taking away their symbol of rebellion…like taking away Samson‘s strength by cutting his hair.

George can help Wyatt and Billy get out of jail as long as the two bikers haven’t done anything like killing someone…white, which George says with a sardonic grin, indicating his awareness of his society’s double standards against the marginalized black community.

He gets them and himself out of jail, has a bit of the hair of the dog, sees their impressive bikes, and learns of their plan to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. George is so intrigued that he’d like to tag along; he even tells them about a whorehouse there, calling the girls “US prime.” Once again, we see that these ‘rebels’ can be just as marginalizing of people as the ‘hicks’ they’re rebelling against.

So George rides as a passenger on Wyatt’s bike (something Nicholson would metaphorically be in a later film also dealing with an uncommitted progressive), wearing his nerdy helmet. They stop somewhere off of the road, as usual, that night and smoke some marijuana, which George has for the first time, him at first being reluctant, then opening his mind to it.

As they’re getting high, Billy speaks of a ‘satellite’ he’s just seen in the night sky (which, incidentally, can be vaguely associated with those airplanes flying overhead during the cocaine deal). George tells him and Wyatt about the “Venusian” pilots of the UFOs, about whom the world governments apparently know, but keep a secret for fear of creating a general panic among the world population.

Apparently, these “Venusians” have a far more advanced civilization than ours: egalitarian, pacifist, money-less, and with futuristic technology. George says they’ve been coming here since 1946…which by the way was around the beginning of the Cold War. They’re people just like us, George says, working with us all over the Earth in an advisory capacity.

These “Venusians” sound an awful lots like communists (egalitarian, money-less, and with advanced technology) and Marxists (i.e., leftist professors in Western universities–working ‘in an advisory capacity’) to me. The capitalist governments don’t want us to know about them (as they did so embarrassingly, via McCarthy, during the 1950s) because our antiquated capitalist system, with our leaders, is no match for theirs.

You don’t believe me? That’s because the US government doesn’t want you to know how the Soviet Union went from a backward, agrarian society in the 1920s to a nuclear-armed superpower that won the space race in the late 1950s…technological advances all achieved within a mere three decades, along with progress towards equal rights for women, universal housing, education, employment, and healthcare for all. To this day, Stalin–far from being regarded as a ‘cruel dictator,’ is loved by millions of Russians for his leadership in defeating the Nazis, and majorities of Russians have consistently preferred the Soviet era, for all of its imperfections, to current-day, capitalist Russia. The same can be said of China, from the Maoist era to today.

Now, Billy, like most people brainwashed by bourgeois propaganda, thinks that what George is saying is “a crackpot idea,” because he and Wyatt are, at heart, not all that far from establishment thinking as they might seem to be. The two bikers just want to get stoned, each of the two an easy-going rider of a chopper.

…and the two of them lead me to my next point.

Duality is a major theme in Easy Rider. Apart from the two biker protagonists, there are two cocaine deals: first, the buying of it in Mexico, then the selling of it in the US–M-C-M’, or money to commodity to valorized money, that is, money with a profit, or increased value.

Wyatt and Billy visit and eat at two farms: that of the man and his Catholic wife, and that of the hippie commune, both of which include prayers before eating, and both of which have their own mixture of traditional and liberal values, in itself another duality in the film.

There are airplanes and satellites (or UFOs) flying overhead.

Wyatt and Billy spend time with two male companions, the hippie hitchhiker, and George Hanson, both of whom share valuable insights about the world while smoking dope with them (i.e., insights about the marginalized aboriginals buried in the ground where they are, and the marginalized “Venusians,” or communists, as I interpret them to be).

Wyatt and Billy have sexual encounters with two pairs of women: the two hippies they skinny dip with, and the two prostitutes they do the LSD with in New Orleans.

There are two parades: the one in New Mexico, and the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.

There are two violent assaults with intent to kill: the first in which George is bludgeoned to death at night, and the second at the end of the film, when Billy, then Wyatt, are shot and killed on their bikes.

These pairs of incidents have their parallels and their dialectical contrasts. Billy is more adversarial and self-centered; Wyatt is more laid-back and generous. The first coke deal is the buying of it: the second, a selling of it.

The first farm they visit is more conservative; the second is more liberal. The first flying machines are very real, the second are more imaginary.

The hippie hitchhiker and Hanson, as well as the pairs of women, are, in their respective ways, thoroughly paralleled.

After the first parade, Wyatt and Billy are put in jail. After the second parade, their minds are ‘freed’ with the LSD.

The first violent assault leaves Wyatt and Billy hurt, but still alive. The second assault leaves them dead.

Furthermore, there are two kinds of drugs enjoyed in this film: the narcotic kind (cocaine, marijuana, and LSD), and the religious kind (the “opium of the people“). Both kinds are attempts to escape, rather than solve, the world’s problems.

There are also doublings of performers playing songs on this famous soundtrack: I already mentioned the two Steppenwolf recordings; there are also two songs by Bob Dylan and performed by Roger McGuinn–“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “Ballad of Easy Rider.”

There is also a duality of time, the present vs the future, in the form of the film’s “flashforwards” that occur at various points in the story, a quick flashing ahead to the future, then back to the present. The most important of these is when Wyatt and Billy are in the New Orleans whorehouse: Wyatt reads something about death freezing one’s reputation forever, then there’s a premonition of his death, his chopper in flames and flying in pieces by the roadside. Such a fusing of present and future symbolically suggests the feeling of timelessness experienced when using psychedelic drugs.

Now, the ultimate duality–or rather, the ultimate two dualities, as I’ll explain immediately after–is the conservative vs liberal contradiction. Since the liberals here are capitalist white men enjoying the privileges of US settler colonialism not all that much less than the conservatives are, then the conservative/liberal contradiction is really hiding a much more profound contradiction that one can only see if one is paying close attention. This is the white bourgeois vs the marginalized black/aboriginal/proletarian contradiction.

Indeed, as Wyatt and Billy are riding their choppers, or walking the streets of New Orleans, we get brief peeks of rural black families, or blacks playing music during Mardi Gras, or someone dressed as a Native American in the Mardi Gras parade. All marginalized people.

To get back to the story, Wyatt, Billy, and George continue on their way, while we hear “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” by Fraternity of Man, then “If 6 Was 9,” by Jimi Hendrix. Both of these songs reflect our bikers’ attitude to life in general, and to reactionaries in particular: just keep on smoking dope, and who cares what’s going on in the rest of the world? We do our own thing, and who cares if the conservatives don’t like it?

Umm…actually, Wyatt, Billy, and George do need to care.

They stop off in a little diner where the locals make no secret of their surprised reaction to these three strangely dressed visitors. Once again, there’s a duality in these reactions: first, a bevy of cute teenage girls finds the three men handsome and fascinating; second, all the men, being bigoted, narrow-minded conservatives, engage in non-stop heckling of Wyatt, Billy, and George.

It doesn’t take long for our three heroes to face the fact that they’re clearly not welcome, so they leave, in spite of the girls’ coming out to talk to them at their bikes.

That night, Wyatt, Billy, and George camp outside as usual. George laments the direction he sees his country going in. He says, “This used to be a helluva good country.” He’s wrong. A country founded on black slavery and the genocide of its aboriginals was never a good country. What’s more, these old sins laid the foundation for the three men’s current predicament.

Though lip-service is routinely paid to the notion of the US being a country founded on the principles of “freedom and democracy,” a deeper investigation of the intents of the Founding Fathers reveals that these land-owning, upper-class white men were primarily out to protect their class interests. They made a few concessions to working class Americans as a result of indispensable political agitation.

Nonetheless, those class interests have to this day been continually maintained in such divide-and-conquer forms as racism against blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, and all non-WASP immigrants; other forms of the divide-and-conquer of the proletariat have included sex roles, keeping women in the home and away from such things as voting, and belief in such nonsense as ‘capitalism is freedom,’ the ‘free market,’ the ‘American Dream,‘ and the ‘land of opportunity.’ These illusory freedoms are what the reactionary nemeses of Wyatt and Billy will fight to the death for (as George explains), while condemning the freedom that our two protagonists practice.

As soon as the illusory form of freedom is exposed as such by the real exponents of freedom, these reactionaries further expose their fascist mentality through violence. This expression of violence is why one cannot coexist with these kinds of people: they must be fought and defeated; if they aren’t defeated, they’ll not only defeat, but also kill us. This harsh reality is what Wyatt and Billy won’t accept, and it’s also what gets them and George killed.

Freedom does not come for free.

One cannot escape the fascist mentality through drugs, though Wyatt and Billy continue to try to after George’s murder.

The two get to New Orleans and decide to find the brothel that George recommended. As they’re dining in a restaurant, getting drunk, and talking about going to the brothel, we hear a song by The Electric Prunes that does a psychedelic rendition of the Mass’s Kyrie. We continue to hear the song as they wander into the brothel and look around at the artwork. These two druggies are pursuing pleasure while we hear more music about the opium of the people.

They get two prostitutes, Karen (Black) and Mary (Basil), and all four of them drop the hippie hitchhiker’s acid after entering a cemetery in New Orleans’s French Quarter. As they’re all tripping out, we hear the voices of other people there reciting the Credo, Ave Maria, and Pater Noster. Again, we have a juxtaposition of drug use with the opium of the people.

Mary gets naked, and she and Wyatt screw. Karen has a bad trip. Wyatt embraces a statue of a goddess, and, weeping, complains of his abusive mother as if the statue were of her. He seems to be having an epiphany that Billy, unfortunately, isn’t having: Wyatt seems to realize that his rebellion against society is based on his rebellion against his parents, which would seem to be the basis of Billy’s own social revolt. This is why the two bikers can’t be revolutionaries: they won’t take on the system because all they want to do is stick it to their parents, their Oedipal, love/hate relationship with their parents being a universal narcissistic trauma.

The two bikers ride out the next day, and that night, camping out as usual, they chat for a while before sleeping. Billy is thrilled to be rich from their cocaine deal, thinking with the materialism of a typical capitalist and equating their material success with freedom. Wyatt, however, knows better, saying they “blew it.” That acid trip must have helped him understand how superficial their “freedom” is.

A common experience during an acid trip is a dissolving of the barrier between self and other. One feels a sense of unity between oneself and all of humanity, like the equating of Atman with Brahman, resulting in stronger empathy. Wyatt could very well have felt such an emotional connection with the marginalized aboriginals, blacks, and female lumpenproletariat (i.e., those two prostitutes, Karen and Mary). This would have made him realize that mainstream American liberalism just isn’t progressive enough.

Accordingly, he wears his “Captain America” leather jacket far more sparingly, that is, only outside at night, when it’s much too cool not to wear it. When Billy is shot by the man in the truck, the hick who doesn’t like his long hair, Wyatt rides back to help Billy and puts his star-spangled jacket on Billy’s wounds.

He’ll die anyway, because the gunman shoots Wyatt next, destroying his star-spangled bike. What does all of this mean, symbolically? It means that the American flag won’t heal your wounds, and that American capitalism will one day destroy itself through the violence of its own bigoted, reactionary, fascist mentality. Interpreted this way, the ending of Easy Rider can be seen as a prophetic warning of what would happen to the US, and to the world it dominates, decades after the film was made.

Please indulge me in a digression through recent political history.

The US of the mid-twentieth century–with its strong unions, high taxes for the rich, and welfare, to say nothing of the birth of the Civil Rights Movement, second-wave feminism, and gay liberation–had enormous progressive potential. The American government, however, was also giving safe haven to former Nazis in NASA, NATO, and the West German government, all rationalized as part of the effort to contain communism.

This tolerance of fascism (as seen in an allegorical sense in Easy Rider in the form of these reactionary hicks who are never properly fought off) has led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which, for all of its imperfections, was an effective counterweight against US/NATO imperialism, aiding liberation movements in the Third World and goading the US government to adopt more economically progressive policies to keep the American working class from resorting to socialist revolution.

Without the USSR as that effective counterweight, the US government has since been able to do anything it wants with impunity: hence, the gutting of welfare, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed the mergers and acquisitions of American media until now only six corporations control most of Americans’ access to information. Then, there’s been one imperialist war after another: Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the ongoing threats of war with Iran, Russia, and China.

Hollywood liberals (including one or two Jewish ones) are now cheering on a Ukrainian government and military under the strong influence of Neo-Nazis. Instead of using its revenue to help the poor (a huge section of which are, of course, aboriginal, black, and female), to repair roads and crumbling infrastructure, to end homelessness, to fund education and healthcare, and to create jobs, the US government sends billions and billions of dollars to those Ukrainian Nazis in a proxy war to weaken Russia (as it had in the 1980s in Afghanistan), as part of an ambitious, yet maniacal, plan to go after China in a similar way (through Taiwan). All of these events risk a nuclear WWIII, which would kill everyone on the planet.

This is what happens when we let things slide, like an easy rider on the road that leads to the far right. The violent hicks who kill Wyatt, Billy, and George aren’t literal fascists, of course, but they share the same vicious, intolerant mentality; hence, they can be easily seen as representative of the fascists I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. If one can’t tolerate something as simple as longer hair on a white man, one isn’t going to tolerate much of anything else. These intolerant people, however, have been tolerated by liberals, not just in the film, but in our society for all these decades, leading not only to the film’s ending, but also to our current political predicament, which is why I brought it up.

The hicks fear the freedom of the longhairs because such freedom has the potential to lead to the liberation of the marginalized groups I mentioned above, including, ultimately, the liberation of the global proletariat (not that the liberals, as represented by Wyatt and Billy, are doing anything to pave the way towards such liberation). The hicks have a black-and-white view of the world in which one is either absolutely like their reactionary selves, or absolutely like long-haired ‘commies’…and the only good commie is one that’s dead, remember. This conception of the world is what links the violent end of Easy Rider to the precarious state of the world today.

Once again, the hicks are coming to get us. We’ll have to do a lot more than just give them the finger.