The Golden Child

Sometimes in families, there are legitimate, practical reasons to favour one sibling over another, while the parents still love both. To take a convenient example from cinema, consider how, in The Godfather, Michael Corleone is chosen over his older brother, Fredo, to succeed Don Vito as the head of the family business. Feckless Fredo is too weak and stupid to run the dangerous business of a mafia family; his younger brother, however, has proven himself not only strong and smart, but also level-headed, unlike the oldest brother, Sonny, whose hot-headedness gets him killed.

Now, one of course would be hard-pressed to find examples of fairness in families even approaching perfection; but in families with narcissistic parents, sons and daughters are either favoured or slighted based on probably the most illegitimate reason one could think up–how much, or how little, narcissistic supply is given to the ego-driven parent.

Kids often learn early on how to get in the good graces of a narcissistic parent; what they don’t and cannot learn is that these good graces aren’t real love. Normal parents love their kids regardless of what their kids may say or do to frustrate them. The narcissistic parent, however, will hold grudges against his or her kids’ failure to provide narcissistic supply, or worse, the kids’ causing of narcissistic injury.

Narcissistic rage may prompt explosive anger in the pathological parent: all the child can understand is that Mommy or Daddy is angry, and it’s easier to believe that the rage is justified than to acknowledge that the parent is routinely being cruel and unreasonable, a scary thing for a child to contemplate, a child who has nowhere else to go to be safe. Thus, turning against oneself (blaming/attacking oneself instead of the parent) is actually an ego defence mechanism rather than masochism on the part of the child.

The rage may also prompt a vengeful attitude in the narc parent. One effective tactic a narc may use is to engage in triangulation, pitting one kid, or kids, against the offending child by speaking as a mediator between them (i.e., spreading lies and gossip), instead of the kids directly communicating with each other. Here is where narcissistic favouritism comes in. The kids who have learned the rules of pleasing Mom or Dad, at all costs, without understanding how abnormal this family dynamic is, will become golden children. Any kid who doesn’t learn, or refuses to go along with, those rules will be branded as the family scapegoat. Everyone else backs the narc parent in scapegoating the targeted child, partly out of the pleasure of ganging up on one victim, and partly to avoid being similarly targeted in the future.

These labels of ‘golden child’ and ‘scapegoat’ aren’t always absolute: some golden children are more golden than others, and scapegoats who occasionally give narcissistic supply to their disordered parents will enjoy some ‘vacations’ from emotional abuse, or they may enjoy the relief of seeing other family members get an even worse scapegoating. What does remain fairly constant, however, is the power imbalance that the narc parent and his or her flying monkeys have over the scapegoats.

It is truly nauseating, from the scapegoat’s perspective, to see the golden child(ren), GCs, suck up to the narcissistic parent, as I had to put up with in my older sister, J. My older brothers, R. and F., were moderate GCs, and they never really kissed our (probably) narcissistic mother’s ass…certainly not the way J. did, anyway; but Mom never had it in for them the way she did for me, the identified patient of the family. A fault of mine is my brutal honesty, not something our mother took kindly to.

My sister’s allegiance to our mother was cherished, though. She would back our mother up in any situation, and believe any nonsense Mom told her; even if testimony could be given to contradict Mom, J. would take Mom’s side, every time. It was all about proving that she was the worthiest of Mom’s love.

I recall two occasions, back when I was about ten or eleven years old, when J. saw me eating a lot of bad food (burgers and fries, etc.), then accused me of hypocritically “going on and on about following the Canada Food Guide.” I NEVER DID THAT. After I told her so, on the second occasion of her self-righteous accusing, I never heard that nonsense from her again (though I’ve continued, to this day, to eat lots of bad food!).

The question, however, needs to be asked: where did J. get this idea from, that I went around preaching about the virtues of eating right? I don’t think she’d been hallucinating.

In recent years, as I’ve increasingly come to see what a liar my mother was, I found a most likely explanation: Mom and J. had been engaging in one of their many smear campaigns against me behind my back, this time complaining about my bad eating habits, all the while pretending they were worried about my health, when really they were just bashing me for its own sake (on other occasions, J. would sneer at me and snort that she thought I’d eventually become a diabetic, ffs!).

Along with this, I suspect I had said or done something to cause Mom narcissistic injury–perhaps one of my less than enthusiastic reactions (<<<last three paragraphs of Part III) to her having bought me pants, yet presenting them to me (pulling them out of the bag in a dramatic reveal) as if she’d bought me a super-cool toy, one of her many mind games–and Mom wanted to get revenge on me (as all ‘loving’ mothers do, remember) by making up a story about me preaching about following the nutritional advice of the Canada Food Guide, all to hurt my reputation in the family by making me look like a hypocrite. J. has no idea how often she was duped by our mother.

To be fair, I have no way of proving for sure that the ‘Canada Food Guide story’ was one of my mother’s many lies. Maybe J. got the story from someone else. Maybe the lie was her own invention: like narc mother, like golden child daughter. But given my mother’s well-established track record, and that I’ve never caught any of the other family members lying…only in being too credulous with Mom’s fables…abductive reasoning has served me well so far. That Mom made up the lie is by far the best explanation.

My information on these matters is inescapably limited, so I can’t demand perfect explanations; I have to settle for those that leave the fewest holes. How could the alternative explanations, of all they put me through in my life, be any better than what I’ve concluded? Seriously, am I supposed to believe that an emotionally abusive family loves me, and that all their conflicts with me have been my fault? If so, how convenient for them.

It amazes me how often Mom and J. stuck up for each other. Those two were pals in the eeriest way. She was propped up as an exemplary mother, J. as the ideal daughter, always playing the role of ‘loving family woman’. I could retch at J.’s affectation.

Heinz Kohut wrote of how a narcissistically disordered person results from a failure in parental empathy, which is like nutrition for a child’s grandiosity and exhibitionism. When parents give sufficient empathy, and the child’s frustrations are bearable (i.e., given in small doses over time), the child’s resulting transmuting internalization can help him to tone down his wild grandiosity and develop healthy, realistic narcissism.

When, however, one parent fails to give a child the needed empathic mirroring, the child will turn to the other parent to compensate, perhaps in the form of an idealized parent imago; if neither parent mirrors or merges with the child’s grandiosity, his still-unrealistic, immature sense of narcissism could split vertically (disavowed and–I believe–projected narcissism) and horizontally (repressed narcissism). See Kohut, page 185, diagram and note, for more information.

In The Restoration of the Self, Kohut writes of a patient (Mr. X) whose pathological narcissism resulted from a conditionally empathic merging with his mother, provided that he always be no more than an extension of her (such a parent/child relationship being typical of narcissistic parents), and that he regard his father as inferior, a rejecting of his unconscious wish to have his father as an ideal introjected into his mind. As a result, Mr. X’s self was split vertically, with his grandiose merging with his mother, and horizontally, with his unrealized wish to idealize his father repressed into his unconscious (Kohut, pages 205-219).

I believe something similar happened with J., though she assuredly never developed Mr. X’s pathologies as described in Kohut’s book. I believe J., as a child, was traumatically disappointed in our grumpy, ultra-conservative father, possibly in part from our mother encouraging a derisive attitude towards him, however indirectly and subtly, in Mom’s usual mode (causing her to repress an Oedipal wish to idealize him–horizontal split; I believe Mom also did this to my brothers, R. and F.); then, J. found that the only way she could get empathic mirroring and merging with Mom was by allowing herself to be an extension of Mom’s ego (a vertical split, with J. disavowing and denying a grandiosity I saw her nonetheless display all the time, in proudly presenting herself as the ‘ideal daughter’ and ‘loving family woman’, while sneering in disgust at the conceitedness she saw in–or, rather, projected onto–other people).

I’ve complained before of J.’s sucking up to our mother at my expense, with numerous examples (see here for a few; see also Part IV of this). For other examples of her obnoxious attitude (and of my mother and brothers), see here.

I’ll give yet another example. Back in the early 1990s, the family restaurant went out of business, so naturally we were all unhappy about that. Until that time, we’d had a habit of, instead of buying our milk in stores, cleaning out empty liquor bottles from the restaurant bar, filling them up with milk, and taking them home. We joked on one occasion about the neighbours imagining we were “a bunch of boozers” after seeing so many liquor bottles among our garbage over the years. I, in my early twenties at the time of the demise of the restaurant, wanted to revive that old joke, but my timing was poor.

I tactlessly joked, at the sight of all those empty bottles in the kitchen, that we as a family “would make good derelicts.” This was right on the night that we’d closed up the restaurant for the last time, so I know, I know: I opened my mouth and inserted my foot. Mom and J. could have just said, in all firmness, “C’mon, Mawr, don’t joke about such things. We’re kind of down right now.”

Instead, J. gave me the most evil of dirty looks, and Mom told me to “Shut up.” They acted as if I’d meant to be hurtful, when surely they realized that I hadn’t meant to, as inappropriate as my remark obviously was.

I bring this up not to suggest I’d said nothing wrong, but rather to point out another example of J. and her virtue signalling at my expense, all to please our mother.

The phoniness of the golden child, as I’ve said above, is nauseating to witness; but the GC’s position in the family is not without its unenviable moments, too, and this phoney act the GC puts on is at the centre of his or her problem, for the GC is pressured into putting on this act.

Narcissistic parents assign roles like golden child or scapegoat for their kids. Not only do the parents treat their kids accordingly, but they also manipulate their kids into behaving in ways consistent with their roles; this manipulation comes in the form of projective identification.

The son or daughter who is meant to embody all of the narc parent’s worst qualities is made to introject those bad traits; my mother did that to me with such things as her autism lie, describing ‘my autism’ in the language of narcissism, and making me feel totally separate and alienated from the world. The GC is made to introject all the ‘virtues’ that the narc parent imagines him/herself to have; this is done partly by flattering the GC accordingly, but also partly by pressuring him or her to embody those virtues. Our mother did this to J., who’d suffer Mom’s wrath if ever she failed to measure up.

I’ll give a crushing example of J. displeasing our Mom. When she was about twenty or twenty-one years old (I would have been fifteen or sixteen at the time), she was dating a young man with long red hair, wearing jeans and a jean jacket. This was in about the mid-80s: he was a ‘metal-head’ or ‘rocker’, not someone my parents would ever accept as a boyfriend for J.

I remember seeing him with my sister on the living room sofa, getting in the mood, when our parents weren’t at home at night (J., studying in secretarial school, was still living at home). Obviously, I had to make myself scarce.

My bedroom was in our basement at the time. From there, I could hear my mother screaming, “I am ashamed of you!” repeatedly at J. on one of those nights; for our parents had come home unexpectedly early and found the young fellow lying naked in her bed. I don’t think you need any more details about what he and J. had been doing.

Along with Mom’s screaming, I could hear J.’s weeping and shame-laden attempts to explain herself. J. had failed to be the perfect daughter she was supposed to be, even though all she’d done was something that had become pretty standard among young adult dating couples by the 1980s…not that that made any difference to our socially-conservative parents, of course.

What is interesting about this is how our father reacted. Naturally, he didn’t approve of J.’s behaviour any more than our mom did, but his anger and shock at J. were much better controlled, as I recall. He focused more on the foolishness of what J. had done (i.e., risking pregnancy or disease), and less on the ‘shameful’ aspect of it. The unkindness of his words went to this extent: “What a donkey!” he said, twice, of J. Our near-hysterical mother, in contrast, seemed to be displaying narcissistic rage at J.’s failure to be her G.C.

Years later, J. was in a relationship with the man who would become her husband (he later died of cancer–<<<scroll down to Part VII). They were living together, and I doubt it was a platonic living arrangement. Though their relationship was getting serious, and the man was a clean-cut, respectable sort that our parents would have approved of, technically they weren’t yet married, and thus they were ‘living in sin’.

Our conservative father was the only disapproving one this time, though he grudgingly tolerated J.’s living with her then-boyfriend, acquiescing to how “that’s the way people do things these days.” Dad was playing the role of protective father, while our mother was all proud, in her smug and superior attitude, of being a ‘progressive thinker’, as against Dad’s sexist double standards for J. (while having allowed R. and F., my brothers, to live with any then-girlfriends, something I doubt our father approved of, either, by the way). This was an example of Mom doing a minor smear campaign on our father.

Mom’s hypocrisy is notable in how narcissism motivated both contradictory attitudes. Her daughter had ‘shamed the family’ by giving herself to a long-haired ‘punk’ (who, for all we know, could have cut his hair and become a ‘respectable’ member of society within a year of his breakup with J.); but now, Mom was a ‘good feminist’ for approving of this modern living arrangement with a man who–though he would prove himself a genuinely worthy husband–could have gotten J. pregnant and run off on her, for all we knew at the time.

Mom’s ‘feminism’ was nothing more than bourgeois progressivism; as long as bourgeois prejudices about ‘respectability’ weren’t challenged, J. and her not-yet husband could bonk away in bed as often as they liked. Years after J.’s ‘shame’ with the ‘punk’ in her bed, she spoke to me of the bad dating mistakes she’d made back in the 80s, with a frown of shame on her face for having displeased our mother.

J.’s haughty, self-righteous attitude toward me should be seen in light of her need to conform with our mother’s expectations of her. In my private thoughts, I always sent J.’s contempt of me back at her whenever I contemplated her chronic need to conform socially (while requiring me also to conform); now I can understand her psychological motivations for doing so. J.’s phoney virtue signalling was indeed an act she was putting on, the False Self she was required to adopt to fulfill Mom’s need for her to embody all the virtues Mom deluded herself into thinking she had. She needed J. to manifest them publicly, so Mom could watch and identify with her, and thus smile with pride at her daughter, her ‘mini-me’.

Similarly, I as the identified patient was also playing a phoney role our mother required of me, so she could be exorcised of her narcissistic demons by projecting them onto me. The scapegoat role is a False Self that I must dispel from my life; I must rediscover the real me that the family never wanted me to be.

Also, Dear Reader, if any of these issues apply to you, you must work to dispel the False Self you were required to be by your disordered parents or ex-partner, be that phoney role the scapegoat or the golden child (the good role of the idealize phase, or the bad one of the devalue/discard phase, respectively, if it was your ex who abused you). You get to decide who you really are, remember, not those people who programmed your brain for their not-so-noble purposes.

Stay authentic, my friends.

Analysis of ‘Taxi Driver’

Taxi Driver is a psychological thriller filmed in 1976, written by Paul Schrader, directed by Martin Scorsese (who also has a cameo or two in the film), and starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Leonard HarrisCybill Shepherd, and Peter Boyle. It is ranked #52 on the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time.

Here are some famous quotes:

  1. “May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.” –Travis Bickle

2. “Each night when I return the cab to the garage, I have to clean the cum off the back seat. Some nights, I clean off the blood.” –Bickle

3. “Twelve hours of work and I still can’t sleep. Damn. Days go on and on. They don’t end.” –Bickle

4. “All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.” –Bickle

5. “I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They… cannot… touch… her.” –Bickle

6. “Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” –Bickle

7. “I called Betsy again at her office and she said maybe we’d go to a movie together after she gets off work tomorrow. That’s my day off. At first she hesitated but I called her again and then she agreed. Betsy, Betsy. Oh no, Betsy what? I forgot to ask her last name again. Damn. I got to remember stuff like that.” –Bickle

8. “I realize now how much she’s just like the others – cold and distant, and many people are like that. Women for sure. They’re like a union.” –Bickle

9. “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” –Bickle, looking at himself in a mirror (ranked #10 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema.)

10. [in an anniversary card to his parents] “Dear Father and Mother: July is the month I remember which brings not only your wedding anniversary but also Father’s Day and Mother’s birthday. I’m sorry I can’t remember the exact dates, but I hope this card will take care of them all. I’m sorry again I cannot send you my address like I promised to last year.” –Bickle

11. “When we came up with our slogan, ‘We are the People,’ when I said let the people rule, I felt that I was being somewhat overly optimistic. I must tell you that I am more optimistic now than ever before. The people are rising to the demands that I have made on them. The people are beginning to rule. I feel it is a groundswell. I know it will continue through the primary. I know it will continue in Miami. And I know it will rise to an unprecedented swell in November.” –Senator Charles Palantine

12. “Walt Whitman, that great American poet, spoke for all of us when he said: ‘I am the man. I suffered. I was there.’ Today, I say to you, We Are The People, we suffered, we were there. We the People suffered in Vietnam. We the People suffered, we still suffer from unemployment, inflation, crime and corruption.” –Palantine

13. [to Travis] “You see the woman in the window? Do you see the woman in the window?…I want you to see that woman, because that’s my wife. But that’s not my apartment. That’s not my apartment. You know who lives there? Huh? I mean, you wouldn’t know who lives there – I’m just saying, “But you know who lives there?” Huh? A nigger lives there. How do ya like that? And I’m gonna, I’m gonna kill her. There’s nothing else. I’m gonna kill her. What do you think of that? Hmm? I said ‘What do you think of that?’ Don’t answer. You don’t have to answer everything. I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna kill her with a .44 Magnum pistol. I have a .44 Magnum pistol. I’m gonna kill her with that gun. Did you ever see what a .44 Magnum pistol can do to a woman’s face? I mean it’ll fuckin’ destroy it. Just blow her right apart. That’s what it can do to her face. Now, did you ever see what it can do to a woman’s pussy? That you should see. You should see what a .44 Magnum’s gonna do to a woman’s pussy you should see. I know, I know you must think that I’m, you know… You must think I’m pretty sick or somethin’, you know, you must think I’m pretty sick. Right? You must think I’m pretty sick? Hmm? Right? I’ll betcha, I’ll betcha you really think I’m sick right? You think I’m sick? You think I’m sick? You don’t have to answer. I’m payin’ for the ride. You don’t have to answer.” –cuckold passenger

14. “Look, look at it this way, you know uh, a man, a man takes a job, you know, and that job, I mean like that, and that it becomes what he is. You know like uh, you do a thing and that’s what you are. Like I’ve been a, I’ve been a cabbie for seventeen years, ten years at night and I still don’t own my own cab. You know why? ‘Cause I don’t want to. I must be what I, what I want. You know, to be on the night shift drivin’ somebody else’s cab. Understand? You, you, you become, you get a job, you you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn, one guy lives in Sutton Place, you get a lawyer, another guy’s a doctor, another guy dies, another guy gets well, and you know, people are born. I envy you your youth. Go out and get laid. Get drunk, you know, do anything. ‘Cause you got no choice anyway. I mean we’re all fucked, more or less you know.” –Wizard

15. “So what makes you so high and mighty. Will you tell me that? Didn’t you ever try lookin’ in your own eyeballs in the mirror?” –Iris

The main themes of Taxi Driver include false ideals, and alienation leading into fragmentation, these being social and psychological problems stemming from capitalism and imperialism. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a Vietnam vet suffering from insomnia and loneliness, problems common to sufferers of PTSD and C-PTSD. With his feeling of being broken off from the rest of society comes the breaking up, the falling apart, of his personality.

You can see how troubled Travis is just from the first look in his eyes at the beginning of the movie. When he’s interviewed for the job, he’s asked by the interviewer (Joe Spinell) why he wants to be a cabbie; when he says he can’t sleep, the interviewer suggests going to theatres that show porno films.

Already we see an example of the social alienation between different members of the proletariat. How is it ‘treatment’ for proletarians’ insomnia to watch naked, sexualized, and exploited lumpenproletariat? Bickle was a veteran suffering from the trauma of fighting an imperialist war where soldiers like him saw (and often participated in) the raping and bombing of Southeast Asians. Recall Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the nine-year-old girl who was photographed running naked because a napalm strike was burning her clothes and her back. How could watching porn cure this, instead of aggravating it?

When the interviewer asks about Bickle’s driving record, he responds, “Clean, like my conscience.” With his record in Vietnam, this joke sounds suspiciously like reaction formation. The interviewer is offended by this remark, forcing an apology from Bickle–more alienation.

When Bickle goes into the parking lot where all the cabs are, the camera moves away from him to get a sweep of the area; not his point of view, but as if we were seeing the scene from other eyes. One would expect to see more of Bickle, who is more or less narrating the story (i.e., the story is essentially from his point of view). The camera drifting away from him suggests his distracted, dissociated mind; it also suggests his growing alienation from himself…his fragmentation.

Bickle does go to those porno theatres; what’s worse, on two occasions he tries to connect with women in that very setting! Naturally, the women in question are so offended and disgusted that they want nothing to do with him.

It’s easy to look at Bickle’s behaviour and say, “What an idiot! Taking a woman he wants to impress on a date…to a porno theatre? Asking the name of a woman selling snacks in a porno theatre? What is he thinking? Is he thinking?”

Such snap judgements, however, fail to get at the root of the problem, which is in the conflicts in his fragmented unconscious mind, in his alienation from his species-essence. Part of him wants to connect with these women (or with any woman in general), but another part of him wants to sabotage that connection by scaring them off. Bickle knows as well as any idiot (though he speaks as if he doesn’t) that no woman wants to date or get to know a pervy porn lover…but he puts women in that awkward situation anyway. In his alienation and fragmentation, he can’t make up his mind whether to be or not to be connected with a girl, so his conflict is resolved in a brutal social faux pas.

Heinz Kohut knew of a patient whose fragmentation perfectly exemplified this inability to think straight–a man who confused left and right! The patient had a dream he was “in an airplane flying from Chicago to New York. He was occupying a window seat on the left side of the plane, as he mentioned, looking out toward the south. When the analyst pointed out the inconsistency in his report of the dream: that, going from Chicago to New York, he would be looking north, not south, from the left side of the plane, the patient became utterly confused and spatially disoriented–to the point that he literally could not tell right from left for a short time.” (Kohut, pages 153-154)

The patient’s fragmentation came from his parents’ disappearance from his life for a span of more than a year, when he was three-and-a-half years old. In this connection, one wonders about the closeness of Bickle’s relationship with his parents, when he writes to them in an anniversary card (see Quote #10 above), and he doesn’t remember the exact dates of their anniversary, his mother’s birthday, or Father’s Day! He remembers only that the dates are all in July. Recall (Quote #6) that he says he’s been lonely all his life, suggesting a lack of closeness with his parents in his childhood. His trauma from his Vietnam War experiences would have multiplied his fragmentation by the thousands, hence his own inability to think straight, or to remember to do even the simplest of things, like remember to ask Betsy’s last name (Quote #7).

When Bickle becomes a taxi driver, he accepts working absurdly long hours throughout the night because he can’t sleep. He is like so many right-leaning members of the working class, who take on such long hours without ever questioning if such a working life is good for them.

He drives his cab around an especially rough area of New York City. As a conservative worker, he feels revulsion at the lumpenproletariat all around him. His prejudice against blacks is first noted when he calls them “spooks” (see Quote #1 above), then says it makes no difference to him if they ride in his cab, a denial of the racism he also manifests in the dirty looks he gives blacks later on, as well as the black man he shoots in the head for trying to rob a convenience store (instead of just making a citizen’s arrest, or, since Bickle’s at close range, maybe shooting the gun out of the black man’s hand in self-defence when he spins around to try to shoot Bickle). If only he could feel more solidarity with all the global proletariat (including not only blacks but also prostitutes, beyond the mere ‘gallantry’ of saving Iris [Foster] from her pimp, Sport [Keitel], more on that later), he just might cure his alienation.

When Bickle sees Betsy for the first time, a curvaceous blonde beauty working for the campaign of a left-leaning liberal politician named Palantine (Harris), he idealizes her in his mind, imagining that the sewer society all around them “cannot…touch…her.” When she rejects him after his foolish choice to take her to a porno movie, his ideal of her has been shattered.

This leads to a discussion of an important theme in Taxi Driver: false ideals. Apart from his temporary idealizing of Betsy, Bickle also idealizes outdated notions of manhood, a problem many right-leaning male members of the proletariat, semi-proletariat, and petite bourgeoisie have, including many in the ‘manosphere‘, for example. Bickle imagines men are supposed to protect and provide for all women, as well as ‘perform’ for them (i.e., initiate dates with them and play the role of ‘perfect gentleman’).

In his social awkwardness, though, Bickle is over-aggressive in his wish to join up through Betsy instead of Tom (Brooks), to help the Palantine campaign. His reason to prefer her over Tom, bluntly given, is that she is “the most beautiful woman [he’s] ever seen”. During their time together in the café, he’s polite and well-groomed, and in his jealousy over Tom’s attentions to her, he bad-mouths him, whom he doesn’t know at all, saying he’s “silly” and that he doesn’t respect her. That night, Bickle takes her to a porno!

The same man who has no problem with pornography does, however, have a problem with prostitution; for he sees Iris try to escape from Sport by getting into his cab. (This version of the scene doesn’t have the dialogue, but the visuals are sufficient to demonstrate my point, anyway.) We see Bickle’s piercing eyes through his rear-view mirror–an important motif representing his projections of his own, inner viciousness out into a world he perceives as vicious (more on that later)–as he sees the pimp grab the girl and toss him a crumpled twenty-dollar bill to make him forget the whole incident.

He can forget about the exploited women in porn, as well as all those other prostitutes he sees on the streets or even in his cab, but not Iris. For Bickle, she has a face: she is a real human being to him. His alienation is so bad that he can recognize humanity in such women only when up close.

Because of his having been rejected by his once-idealized Betsy, he regards her as “in a Hell,” and unkindly generalizes about all women thus, saying they’re “like a union.” He, like those in the ‘manosphere’, would do well to give up their right-leaning convictions, join unions, and end their alienation instead of aggravating it with flippant misogyny.

Note the dialectical tension, though, between this misogyny and its opposite extreme, misguided gallantry. (Remember, also, how dialectical materialism sees a unity in contradictions.) A fellow cabbie inspires Bickle to buy weapons, and after an encounter with an angry cuckold who wants to murder his unfaithful wife (possibly by firing a phallic .44 Magnum at her face and between her legs!), he buys a number of guns to kill Iris’s pimp and mafia associates, and thus free her of them.

Bickle watches that angry cuckold fearfully through his rear-view mirror, seeing a disturbing reflection…of himself, actually, when you think about it. One of the guns he buys is a .44 Magnum. He later watches porn in a theatre and mimics aiming and firing a gun, with phallic fingers, at the screen.

Part of him has wanted to stop himself. He talks to a fellow cabbie they call “the Wizard” (Boyle), who apparently gives good advice. Bickle, in his increasing alienation and fragmentation, can’t tell the Wizard what’s troubling him beyond saying, “I got some bad ideas in my head.” (Then again, how do you tell someone that you want to murder a politician, and then a pimp to free a prostitute, and maybe even kill more people in the future?)

The Wizard’s counsel is hardly helpful. He seems to be experiencing fragmentation on a certain level, too, for he speaks in a largely incoherent way. He does, however, touch on a few important points: a man identifies with his job, and by saying he doesn’t want to own his own cab, the Wizard is implying an acknowledgement of worker alienation, of his own alienation from having to drive a cab every day.

Bickle’s faux-gallant wish to be the hero who rescues the damsel in distress (Iris), yet also to assassinate a popular politician (Palantine), presumably to spite Betsy (inspiring John Hinckley Jr. to try to assassinate Reagan, to impress Jodie Foster), represents a growing problem in the self-centred, alienating modern world–masculinity in crisis.

Just as sex roles have required women to be docile, timid homemakers and beauty queens, they have also required men to be stoic providers and protectors, willing to face any terror without shedding a tear. Such would have been Travis Bickle’s experience in Vietnam, killing fellow members of the global proletariat, including innocent women and children, all to stop the spread of an ideology dedicated to ending imperialism.

The trauma of war, combined with the worker alienation felt in the modern, capitalist world, have all combined to create great social isolation in Bickle. Instead of getting organized, however, with fellow workers to end the capitalist, imperialist system that sent him to kill people in Vietnam, one that created the material conditions that alienate him from the rest of society, he’d rather “get organizized” (more fragmentation) all alone, and fight and kill the ‘scum’ he sees all around him–including his fellow proletarians.

People are way too often distracted from legitimate socialist struggle by identity politics…on both the left and the right: white nationalism and the alt-right; the extremes of men’s rights activism, incels, and others in the manosphere; the kind of CIA-influenced ‘feminism’ that wanted Hillary Clinton to be president just because she’s a woman, while ignoring her total support of imperialism and neoliberalism, etc. Instead, poor whites should be joining the proletarian struggle, and the ending of sex roles should integrate women’s and men’s issues within a socialist context. Solidarity for all the people. Our true enemy is none other than the ruling class. Alienated Bickle in many ways is like those idpol fetishists, who are too self-absorbed to channel their discontent into solving more fundamental problems.

Mirrors are a major motif in this film. I’ve mentioned the rear-view mirror of Bickle’s cab. There’s also his mirror in his apartment during his “You talkin’ to me?” monologue. Though he’s imagining himself confronting one of those “scum” he wants to ‘stand up to’, remember that he sees himself in that mirror. He’s talking to himself. The scum he’s confronting is himself, whom he’s been projecting onto the world around him. As he himself says, he’s the only one there.

Jacques Lacan wrote of the mirror stage, when an uncoordinated infant first sees him- or herself in the reflection. The emotional effects of this psychological identification with the image in the mirror are problems Lacan saw as staying with one throughout life, though. There’s a feeling of alienation from oneself: that’s me in the mirror, but the image’s totality and unity (an idealized version of myself) seem at odds with the awkward, fragmented person I feel myself to be. Bickle, on two tries, has to make three jerks of his arm to make the device under his sleeve produce the concealed pistol in his hand; this reflects that awkwardness, all in contrast with his tough talk, “You’re dead.” The gun should just slide into his hand in one quick, effortless movement.

Note that in this scene, as well as the scenes with his mohawk, he’s wearing a green jacket, part of combat fatigues. The mohawk was also adopted by some soldiers, considered to have done especially heroic missions, during such wars as in Vietnam. Bickle seems, on at least an unconscious level, to be still fighting the war in his mind. Knowing how PTSD sufferers relive their trauma through flashbacks, we shouldn’t find it difficult to imagine Bickle thinking this way.

So all of his exercising, weight-lifting, target practice, etc., is like him going through basic training again. He speaks of eating no more bad food, no more pills, “no more destroyers of [his] body” (not that he actually makes these healthy reforms): in other words, he’s trying to fight against his own fragmentation, just as his mind is falling to pieces.

Recall those breaks in camera continuity, as when he repeats the words, “Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. Who would not let- Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up. Here is…” And again, right after he’s shot Sport the first time, and he goes to sit on the steps before the building where Iris is with the other mafiosi, his sudden walking into the building, turning to the right from walking on the sidewalk, after his sit on the steps, seems too abrupt…it’s as if he never sat. Those continuity breaks, like the camera’s sweeping away from Bickle in the taxi parking lot at the beginning of the film, or its moving away from him when he phones Betsy to try to make up with her after their disastrous date, all symbolize his fragmentation, his alienation from himself.

The scene of his attempt to assassinate Palantine, during which he reacts to the glib, charming words of the senator’s speech with ironic clapping and a sneering smile, could be his attempt to spite Betsy as I mentioned above; or it could be a reflection of his wish to take on the capitalist political establishment that sent him out to kill Vietnamese peasants, people who’d never done him any harm; and yet, in the words of liberal Palantine, that establishment hypocritically condemns the Vietnam War.

Remember that Bickle’s trauma, as is the case with the veteran of any war, is not just about the pain he endured, but also the pain he caused the ‘enemy’: in this case, Vietnamese soldiers who were just trying to liberate their people from imperialism; also, Vietnamese women and children, including prostitutes exploited by American GIs…sometimes underage prostitutes, like Iris.

One might think that, just because nothing is said about Bickle’s experiences in Vietnam, there’s little justification for going on and on about his trauma from the war. His laconicism about Vietnam can, however, easily be attributed to repression. (Recall, also, that the trauma of the Vietnam War was fresh on people’s minds back in the mid-1970s.)

When, during his job interview at the beginning of the movie, you see and hear him talking about his honourable discharge from the marines, his pained, grimacing facial expression gives us a clue as to how “honourable” the whole thing had really been for him; contrast this with the friendly smile of the interviewer, who has also served in the marines.

Let’s come to the film’s climax. Pimps are mafia, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, mafia are capitalists. The brutal exploitation of prostitutes, also something I’ve discussed elsewhere, is another example of capitalist cruelty, imperialist cruelty, in the case of Third World prostitutes exploited by Western tourists. So Bickle’s rescuing of Iris by going into the urban jungle and killing Sport and the other two mafia men, while he’s in his green jacket and with his mohawk, is like him going back into the jungles of Vietnam to kill the imperialists, though he–a conservative proletarian–would sense this intention only unconsciously. Since he unconsciously sees himself in these pimps (and them in him), he is killing himself in unconscious phantasy.

He uses his .44 Magnum to blow off the fingers of a mafia man, then uses a knife to stab the man in the other hand. He puts another gun to the man’s face and fires a bullet in his head, just after he’s filled the face of another mafioso with bullets–all of these acts of violence being symbols of fragmentation…Bickle’s own fragmentation, since he projects his self-hatred onto these scum. In killing them, he’s trying to kill himself.

Indeed, after killing them, he points a gun at his head and tries to kill himself, only he’s out of bullets. So, when the cops come, he just points his bloody finger at his head and mimes shooting himself. Iris, a witness to all the killing, just sits nearby and sobs.

The media portray his rescue of Iris from pimps as an act of heroism. This is more false idealizing, for what Bickle has really done, by subjecting a teenage girl to the close-up witnessing of a bloody shootout, is to traumatize her far worse than all the sexual exploitation she’s been enduring. In fact, with all those phallic guns ejaculating bullets and spraying, if you will, multiple orgasms of blood, Bickle has raped Iris far more brutally than the paid rape of prostitution ever could.

Her father writes Bickle a thank-you letter for having rescued her and having her return home to go back to school; but we never really get her side of the story. She certainly regrets having been a prostitute, but is she happy back at home again? What drove her to run away in the first place? She told Bickle, during breakfast in a diner, that her parents “hate” her. It’s easy to assume this talk is just teenage hyperbole, but the notion of ‘loving parents’ is another easy assumption, a false ideal. If her parents abused her, what kind of abuse was it? Physical? Emotional? Did her father sexually abuse her? If it’s the last of these three, an understanding of object relations theory would explain her running into Sport’s arms.

The movie ends with Bickle giving Betsy a ride home at night. On the surface, he seems to be stable again, even amiable, for he gives her a free ride. Then, just before the ending credits, as he’s driving, he sees something in his rear-view mirror that agitates him. Is it another manifestation of the filth and corruption of the city, a filth he must wash clean with more blood? Or is it his own face in the reflection that troubles him? After all, we see his eyes in the mirror just before the first of the credits; and during his moment of agitation, the soundtrack recording is briefly played in reverse, suggesting a move backwards in time, towards his moment of extreme instability and fragmentation.

He is no hero, of course. He is a ticking time bomb, ready to explode with more violence at any moment. He felt no therapeutic catharsis when he killed those mafia men. He’ll kill again, and the victims could very well be far more innocent the next time. He has by no means exorcised his Vietnamese demons, for the evil is still alive inside himself. No matter how hard he tries to project it out onto the streets of New York City, it remains inside him.

Killing is in his blood; he got it from Vietnam. The internal dialogue of violence was programmed into him from his years of seeing combat every day. The ghosts of all those Viet Cong (and, in all likelihood, innocent civilians) he killed are still haunting him, his bad object relations. Only love would replace those bad internal objects with good ones, and his perpetual objectifying of women makes getting that love an impossibility.

Recall how, before the shootout, he broods while watching TV in his apartment, holding his .44 Magnum (aiming it at the TV, too) and seeing the smiling dancing couples on American Bandstand, a staged love, to be sure (as the media is almost universally phoney); but also one that he, in his isolation, can’t have, much less a real love. Oh, the pain you see in his eyes as that bittersweet song is playing! He can’t even have a love that leads to marriage, then divorce, as he sees in the soap opera just before he knocks over and destroys his TV set.

A man-woman relationship is only a sexual one for him; hence his viewing of pornography. But could it be that, as he says, such a relationship “is not so bad”? After all, he saw far worse treatment of women, sexual and violent, in Vietnam. The escape from reality into a world of pornographic fantasy would seem less harsh. Bickle’s pathological failure to achieve loving relationships leads to his empty pleasure-seeking, as WRD Fairbairn noted (see my third quoting of Fairbairn in this blog post). However Bickle may try to rationalize his pathologies, though, his reality is that he’s in a Hell, the Hell of his war trauma, a Hell of loneliness…and he’s gonna die in a Hell like the rest of ’em.

Psychic Bridges

One recurring theme I’ve noticed from reading a lot of writers on the subject of psychoanalysis is the idea that the human personality is relational, rather than an isolated, self-developing thing. A person is best understood in terms of how he or she interacts with and is influenced by the other people he or she is in regular contact with. The most crucial contacts one has for one’s development are, of course, one’s parents/primary caregivers and one’s (more usually elder) siblings.

Object relations theory is all about how one introjects imagos of one’s parents; we carry these imagos inside our psyche, like ghosts haunting a house, and they influence how we perceive the world, regardless of whether or not the imagos are an accurate representation of the early people we were in contact with as infants or children. These imagos help form psychic bridges between ourselves and our social environment, and are crucial parts of our personalities. The positive or negative energy that our primary caregivers send across those bridges to us cause us, in turn, to send positive or negative energy right back across to them, then it comes back to us again, and is sent back from us again, back and forth, and back and forth, throughout our lives.

When those early caregivers/influencers are loving and kind, they inspire us to be similarly good to others; when they are cruel and abusive, we learn to be cruel and abusive to others. After years of being bullied and psychologically abused by my siblings, along with my inability to fight back (for it’s in the nature of bullies not to allow you to fight back), I had a huge store of inner rage, all that negative energy that needed to be vented; so, when I became an English teacher to Taiwanese kids, the boys–whose pre-teen awkwardness reminded me of when I was an awkward, patience-trying boy–ended up being on the receiving end of all that rage.

I know intellectually that I shouldn’t be taking out my frustrations on those kids (the way my siblings shouldn’t have taken the rage they got from our parents all out on me, and the difference between my siblings and me is in how I recognize what I’ve done is wrong, whereas they don’t recognize their own wrongdoing), but to this day, I still find it a challenge to refrain from blowing up at them from time to time, for such is the nature of my poorly-built psychic bridges, my ‘mental programming’, if you will. So, you see, the importance of setting up the best psychic bridges that we can for children cannot be overstated.

In the self psychology language of Heinz Kohut, these good, empathic psychic bridges are called self-objects, in particular, early caregivers who provide an empathic response to childhood grandiosity and exhibitionism, encouraging it and letting it down in ways appropriate to whatever phase of development a child may be in at a given moment. For children must learn to deal with disappointments and reduced narcissistic gratification in amounts that they can bear.

When the self-objects fail to provide that needed empathy, the child experiences traumatic disappointments, causing his or her narcissistic energy to fail to be incorporated into a psychic context of healthy, realistic self-esteem. Instead, the child’s self-concept splits: there’s a horizontal split, with much of the narcissistic energy repressed–pushed down–into the unconscious; also, there’s a vertical split, with much of the narcissistic energy disavowed–pushed over to the side, as it were. The remaining core ego puts on the mask of an unassuming, genial personality, a likeable False Self to fool the world into thinking the pathological narcissist is a normal person.

For my part, I tend to modify Kohut’s ideas where it seems appropriate, necessary, and defensible. Now, please remember, Dear Reader, that I am no authority on these matters; I merely dabble in psychoanalysis and have no formal training in it. All I’m doing here is giving my personal opinions, so take them with a generous dose of salt. Don’t take them as gospel.

Part of my modifications of Kohut includes my belief that the vertical split/disavowal of narcissistic energy includes projecting the grandiosity onto other people; this projecting often goes as far as to lapse into projective identification. If the pathological narcissist can cause his or her victim–ideally, a sensitive type whose empathy and sweetness are things the narcissist envies–to manifest the grandiosity and self-centredness projected from the narcissist, he or she then can feel ‘cured’ of the pathology, the demons seem exorcized, as it were, and the narcissist can then feel comfortable in his or her False Self, deluded that the mask worn is his or her real face. I believe my late mother victimized me in this exact way.

So this split in the narcissist’s personality is a kind of dialectical split between hidden narcissistic grandiosity and an outward display of fake modesty.

The narcissist’s psychic bridges must be examined, too. We’ve already considered his or her grandiose self; now we must look across to the other side of the bridge of the bipolar self–his or her idealized parent, and how that parent’s imago influences the narcissist’s personality.

The lack of empathy the child suffered caused an injury to his or her grandiose self; that injury carries across to the other side of the bridge, causing a split image of the parent, between the idealized, all-good parent and the hurtful, empathy-denying bad parent. Healthy people, who have realistic self-esteem and recognize the coexistence of good and bad in themselves, also see the good and bad coexisting in their parents, for the psychic bridge reflects parallels of parents and children on both sides; hence, narcissists have a split of outward good (grandiosity) and secret self-hate, as well as a split of outward good seen in their parents (idealized parent imago) and a secret, unacknowledged resentment of the bad sides of their idolized parents.

I believe the preceding paragraph describes the personalities of my brothers R. and F., and especially my sister J., with respect to their own repressed/disavowed grandiosity, hidden behind a ‘respectable’ collective False Self, and to their idealizing of our late mother. She, in turn, had the same repressed/disavowed grandiosity for herself, as well as the same idealizing of her parents, especially her father, who died when she was a child, traumatizing her and not allowing her the opportunity to experience optimal frustration in him, which would have lead to a realistic sense of his strengths and faults.

Freud’s notion of the Oedipus complex needs to be modified, in my opinion, to mean not merely the love of the opposite-sex parent and the hate of the same-sex one (or, for that matter, in the case of the inverted, or negative, Oedipus complex, hate of the opposite-sex parent and love of the same-sex one), but rather an expanded notion, incorporating a mixture of love and hate for both parents. We all love Mom and/or Dad sometimes, and at other times we would love to kill both, or as least one, of them.

So these psychic bridges, with oneself on one side and one’s parents/primary caregivers/siblings on the other, are also like mirrors into which we see those primal people as reflections of ourselves (if you’ll indulge my piling of simile onto simile, Dear Reader). However we love or hate those other people is a reflection of how we love or hate ourselves; positive or negative energy is sent back and forth across the bridges.

Narcissists outwardly display grandiosity and excessive self-love while idealizing their parents; inwardly, though, they hate themselves and secretly resent their parents’ failed empathic responses to their childhood exhibitionism.

Failed parenting doesn’t necessarily result in narcissism: that tends to be the case for golden children, but what of scapegoats like me? To understand our psychic bridges, I recommend an examination of the ideas of WRD Fairbairn.

Fairbairn created his endopsychic structure, a relational model based on a libido of object-seeking (i.e., seeking out other people for love and friendships), to replace Freud’s inappropriately drive-based personality structure of id, ego, and superego. Freud thought it was all about a will to pleasure; Fairbairn thought it was all about a will to relationships, to connection with others.

So instead of Freud’s ego, we have Fairbairn’s similar concept of the Central Ego, linked to an Ideal Object (the link is the ‘psychic bridge’, as I call it). The id is replaced by the far-from-identical Libidinal Ego, psychically bridged with the Exciting Object; and the superego is replaced by the even-more-different Anti-libidinal Ego (formerly, the Internal Saboteur) and its Rejecting Object.

Everyone has all three configurations, according to Fairbairn, even the healthiest people, those whose Central Ego and Ideal Object, a seeking out of real relationships in the external world, is the dominant of the three. The less healthy we are, though, because of the poor empathy we got from our parents, the more predominant are our Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object (the urge to seek out pleasure in inappropriate, internalized, fantasied objects–idolizing of movie/pop/sports stars, consumption of pornography, etc.) and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (aggression and hostility towards other people).

The more predominant these latter two configurations are, the more of a ‘schizoid’ (i.e., split, fragmented–NOT to be confused with schizophrenic, though such could be the case in extreme cases) personality one has (Fairbairn, page 4). Here, the psychic bridges between oneself and others are damaged or broken.

Melanie Klein borrowed Fairbairn’s use of the word ‘schizoid’ (or, rather, he and she borrowed from each other) to describe these broken people in her use of the term ‘paranoid-schizoid position‘ to describe the hostility a baby (or, by extension, a son or daughter of any age) may feel towards his or her frustrating ‘bad mother‘ (Klein, page 3). Her contrasting term, the ‘depressive position’, describes the saddened state a child is in after fearing the loss of the temporarily-absent mother (after his hostile phantasies of hurting or killing her for having frustrated him), then wishing for reparation with her, a mending of the broken or damaged psychic bridge between him and his mother.

Some of us, like me, can never mend these broken bridges. Some of us were so severely emotionally abused, by Cluster B parents who were unrepentant right up to the grave, that we’ll never get that reparation with them. And if our siblings were the pathological parents’ flying monkeys, they will be every bit as impenitent as our parents. The psychic bridges between us and these primal people will always be damaged, if not irreparably broken; so we’ll need to establish bridges with a new set of people to replace them, new good objects to fill in the holes that the old bad objects broke into our bridges.

It should be a no-brainer to understand that the human personality is relational, based on bridges between oneself and one’s parents/primary caregivers/elder siblings, these elder people having related with one right from one’s birth, as opposed to younger people, or those one meets later in life, and who therefore haven’t had as foundational an influence on oneself.

Unfortunately, there are many who can’t grasp this idea, preferring to regard people as having a good or bad personality because they were ‘born that way’, instead of brought up that way. These people, like my elder siblings, for example, imagine a person to be an isolated particle of existence, as it were, generating himself with minimal, if any, influence from other people. My elder siblings have deluded themselves in this fashion, as did my mother, to evade taking responsibility for how their emotional abuse and bullying made me the man I am today, one who refuses contact with them.

To be sure, I must take responsibility for many of my faults: my wife, who has been only a good psychic bridge for me, has every right to complain of my faults. But one’s personality is more of a wave, a vibration connected with all surrounding vibrations, than a mere particle (to continue with the simile of the last paragraph) disconnected from everyone and everything else. Everything that I am, at my core, is the result of the pernicious influence of my mother, with her lies, gaslighting, and triangulating to ensure I’d never be friends with R., F., and J. These damaged primal psychic bridges ensured I’d go through life with mostly damaged relationships with other people.

My separation from that family gave me a chance to start again in my life here in East Asia, where I’ve made bridges with people on the other side who are kind, loving people. These are the good objects Klein and Fairbairn wrote of, rather like an adult version of a transitional object, in human form, that can link us with the external world in a healthy way. These are Kohut’s empathic self-objects, who give the needed mirroring to us damaged people, to help us build self-love.

If you are in relationships with people who give you damaged or broken psychic bridges, you must get out of those poisonous relationships as soon as you can. You must also mend what’s wrong inside yourself, either through therapy, or through self-compassion, self-care (I recommend ASMR, hypnosis, and meditation), and a greater awareness of how your own hostilities and aggressiveness to others (inspired, no doubt, by your abusers) stops you from building new bridges with others.

Remember, we people are not islands, cut off from each other and generating our own faults. If you’ll indulge more of my similes, Dear Reader, we are like the waves of the ocean, flowing into each other and affecting each other in ways we barely even notice. If someone is in a bad psychological state, he probably wasn’t ‘born that way’, he was probably raised that way.

W.R.D. Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963, The Free Press, New York, 1975

Analysis of ‘Slutlips’

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Slutlips is an album by Cat Corelli, which she released in 2017. It isn’t exactly a rock opera, since much, if not most, of the music isn’t even rock (you’ll hear an eclectic switching back and forth between neo-Baroque, jazz, rock [i.e., a kind of symphonic metalcore], and electronic styles, as well as dreamy, almost psychedelic passages, music reminiscent of the soundtracks of noir films, and even a piano waltz). You’ve heard of silent films; Slutlips is like a film without visuals. As the Chorus of Henry V advised us, we have to use our imaginations to fill in the visual details.

The first link above is to the entire playlist of songs/story scenes; I recommend listening to it all in order for the following analysis to make sense. Here is a link to the lyrics/script.

The story is non-linear, with flashbacks of Lily, one of the main characters, who was sexually abused by her father, Daniel (“Danny”) Torrance. The other main character is Alice, who sees herself in a mirror and imagines herself to be “a slut” (as is her reputation); she’s also a murderess, having bitten into the neck of Roy Torrance, sucked his blood like a vampiress, and slit his throat with a machete (we learn from the police investigation that Roy is Daniel’s brother). Daisy is another significant female character in the story, a nicer, more socially conforming type of girl, what I suspect Lily could have been had she not been abused.

Other characters include Morgan, who plays the piano waltz, Investigator Andy Trudeau and Agent Matt Curtis, who aren’t able to find Roy’s killer, and who expect more killings in the future. There’s also a “Mystery Girl” (Alice? Or, perhaps, the ‘unknown self’ described in the concluding section of this link?), who speaks in an electronically altered voice. There is much mystery in this story, without any real resolution…but this all seems to be deliberate, for the plot is of secondary importance. Slutlips is, essentially, a character study, an exploration of the mind of a victim of child sexual abuse.

Everything about this album involves disjointed elements, with a sudden switching from one idea to another, in terms of the music and the non-linear story. In fact, the whole album began as a number of separate songs written and recorded years back, then later incorporated into the story. This sense of disjointedness shouldn’t deter the listener from enjoying the story, though, for it all serves a purpose in expressing the main theme of Slutlips: psychological fragmentation resulting from childhood trauma.

Much of the story involves Lily’s childhood memories of being dominated by her beast of a father, who, far from giving her the empathic mirroring and love she needed, sexually abused her, then hypocritically imposed the sanctimonious morality of the Church onto her.

Young children, whose personalities are only just forming, need psychological structure and cohesion, which can come only from empathic parents mirroring their kids’ grandiosity in the form of an idealized parent imago. Such mirroring, coupled with optimal frustrations of the dual narcissistic configuration (i.e., grandiose self/idealized parent imago), will help the child mature by taming his narcissism and transforming it, by transmuting internalization, into healthier, more restrained and realistic self-esteem, the sort that allows one to blend in comfortably with society.

Heinz Kohut explained it thus: “The child that is to survive psychologically is born into an empathic-responsive human milieu (of self-objects) just as he is born into an atmosphere that contains an optimal amount of oxygen if he is to survive physically. And his nascent self “expects”…an empathic environment to be in tune with his psychological need-wishes with the same unquestioning certitude as the respiratory apparatus of the newborn infant may be said to “expect” oxygen to be contained in the surrounding atmosphere. When the child’s psychological balance is disturbed, the child’s tensions are, under normal circumstances, empathically perceived and responded to by the self-object. The self-object, equipped with a mature psychological organization that can realistically assess the child’s need and what is to be done about it, will include the child into its own psychological organization and will remedy the child’s homeostatic imbalance through actions.” (Kohut, page 85)

Without that needed structure and cohesion, the child is in danger of fragmentation, which leads, in extreme cases, to psychosis and a detachment from reality. The unhealthy form of narcissism is a dysfunctional attempt at structure and cohesion, in the form of a False Self.

According to Kohut: “I believe…that defects in the self occur mainly as the result of empathy failures from the side of the self-objects–due to narcissistic disturbances of the self-object; especially, and I think, more frequently than analysts realize, due to the self-object’s latent psychosis…” (Kohut, page 87)

Because of the trauma Lily suffered as a child from her narcissistic father, she feels her personality in danger of disintegration, a fragmentation into separate selves, a psychotic falling apart of the personality. I’m not saying she suffers from dissociative identity disorder, but all the female characters in the story–Lily, Alice, Daisy, and the Mystery Girl–seem to represent different aspects of her fragmented self: respectively, the innocent victim, the slut/murderess, the nice girl, and the ‘unknown self’.

The men in the story, paired as Daniel/Roy/Morgan, and the detectives, all seem to be repeats of each other, too; for splitting into good and bad versions of people (the detectives and the Torrance brothers/Morgan, respectively, as the good and bad father) is a common defence mechanism. Also, Alice’s killing of Daniel’s brother, Roy, can represent a displaced wish to kill Daniel himself (in unconscious phantasy); remember that Alice is another version of Lily, slut-shamed as a result of her trauma from the child sexual abuse, and thus–to ease guilt and anxiety–Lily projects the murder phantasy (and sluttishness) onto Alice.

Alice seeing herself in the mirror can be seen as another manifestation of fragmentation, since Lacan‘s mirror stage, not limited to the spastic years of infancy, results in a fragmented body, an alienation of oneself from the ideal-I in the mirror reflection. The clumsy baby senses a discord between himself and the unified, coherent image in the mirror; just as Lily–with only one leg, it would seem–can’t even stand up or dance; while the image Alice sees in the mirror, “a slut” and a killer, can be the ideal-I (Lily’s other self) only of someone having suffered terrible childhood traumas.

Slutlips makes allusions to several films, the noirish Mulholland Drive and Pulp Fiction (another non-linear narrative that symbolically reinforces the theme of fragmentation), and the horror classic, The Shining, also a story involving parental abuse. Slutlips‘ Daniel Torrance, who doesn’t have the psychic powers of The Shining‘s boy (Danny), or of Dick Hallorann, since Lily’s father lacks the empathy of the boy or of Dick, and is trapped in the past (as Jack Torrance is, as I argued in my analysis of The Shining [the novel]), in tradition, Daniel’s Christian heritage.

One thing deserves attention: all of the men speak in overdone, affected accents, cheesy to the point of being comically stereotyped. Rather than be irked by this, the listener should hear in these caricatured voices a manifestation of the False Self of narcissists, or of otherwise alienated members of society, alienated from themselves–more fragmentation.

Lily’s father speaks with an affected German accent, like a clownish Nazi. I say ‘Nazi’, and not German in the general sense, because of his abusiveness to her and his authoritarianism. He’s also a racist, since he doesn’t want to “risk [his] reputation” by being associated with “niggers” in being seen playing the banjo [!]. Since he has a non-German surname, Torrance, it is truly odd that he has a German accent; but that’s just part of the surreal, non-rational world of the unconscious that this story inhabits, Alice’s nonsensical Wonderland, down the rabbit hole and into a world where an authoritarian monarch threatens physical fragmentation (“Off with her head!” says the Queen in Carroll’s story [and Alice’s creator, Lewis Carroll, photographer and drawer of nude children, could have been, like Lily’s father, a pedophile], but in Slutlips, Lily’s father says, “You’re supposed to have only one leg!”). The Alices of both stories, however, remain defiant (Lily: “Daddy, you’re a moron.”) to the dictates of others.

Indeed, this is a world of dreams, dissociations, and mish-mashes of identities. Since I suspect that Slutlips is semi-autobiographical, I get the impression that Daisy, Lily, Alice, and all the other females in this story represent different aspects of Cat Corelli’s personality, the nice girl/bad girl sides, and the good and bad object relations introjected into her unconscious.

The good and bad object relations include the males in the story, too; not just Lily’s father, but also Roy and Morgan, are internalized in her unconscious. Now, the unconscious tends to make confluent mish-mashes of such things as the self and objects, or, I believe at least, between internalized objects, good or bad; just as it makes no distinction between liquids (milk, blood, urine, as Melanie Klein observed–see my analysis of Alien for more details on that).

Compare Lily’s father with Morgan. Her father poses as a good Christian, but he molests her. Morgan presents himself–as a piano player of waltzes and a connoisseur of The Shining–as at least somewhat cultured (he seems to have Lily temporarily fooled into thinking he’s a ‘good father’ substitute), but there’s something creepy in his voice. Speaking of his voice, he too has an affected, overdone accent–a southern accent, making one think of the ‘redneck’ stereotype. Morgan calls blacks “niggers”, too, though he seems to have a more ‘enlightened liberal’ attitude. He even lies to little Lily that he’s Morgan Freeman, an absurd bit of gaslighting comparable to her father’s gaslighting about her “one leg”, which supposedly wasn’t an erroneous belief he’d manipulated her into having, but one she’d pushed onto herself.

So, her father’s a quasi-Nazi bigot, and Morgan’s a redneck hick who at least seems to be a closeted bigot. Her father would have her believe he’s a good church-goer, and Morgan would have her believe he’s a well-loved movie star whose soothing voice embodies all the phoney liberal values the mainstream media promotes (too bad the real Morgan Freeman recently promoted Russophobic thinking, in aid of needlessly escalating tensions between two nuclear superpowers, in a short Rob Reiner video). More False Selves.

In Daniel and Morgan we have two oppressor stereotypes: the Nazi and the American redneck, both racist, both manipulative, the one a double of the other, a fusion of the worst kinds of German and American. The former, as Lily’s abusive father and religious authoritarian, is also representative of the traditional patriarchal family. In contemporary politics, we see Daniel representative of Donald Trump, an American ignoramus of German descent who also has creepy attitudes toward his pretty daughter (and by extension, in US politics there’s a much closer relationship with Naziism than is commonly understood).  But redneck “Morgan Freeman”, being representative of the liberal Democrat who pretends to be progressive but does nothing substantive to help the needy, is hardly an improvement on Daniel. Morgan–presumably white, and claiming he’s a famous black actor–suggests how liberals replace the legitimate proletarian struggle with divisive identity politics. Thus, Lily, representing the proletariat, is manipulated by both liberals and conservatives.

So, how do we help abuse victims like Lily? Do we leave them to their phantasy world of wishing murder on their abusers, dreaming of how Daniel, for example, descends into fragmentation and psychosis on learning of his brother’s murder? Or shall we transform society, so the Lilys of the world can “wake up” (i.e., bring their unconscious traumas into consciousness, and thus, by establishing a coherent, structured self for them, we can cure them) and become whole?

If we plan to do the latter, we can start by listening to these victims, rather than preach to them about behaving better so they won’t ‘irritate’ us so much, as Daniel demands of his daughter. Listening with an empathic ear will help restore the damaged self. Part of listening will require liberating those of colour, LGBT people, and the working class, as well as ensuring equality of the sexes in a socialist, not bourgeois, context. Putting money into childcare will liberate women from domestic burdens; it will also lessen family strain and thus allow for more empathic parenting. Putting money into healthcare–rather than into imperialist wars–must include funding for improving mental health, to provide those listening ears for victims like Lily.

But for now, before a proletarian revolution happens, I urge you, Dear Reader, to listen to Slutlips with an attentive and compassionate ear. For, apart from the pain Cat Corelli screams out on this album, and in spite of (or rather, because of) the many idiosyncratic moments you’ll hear, she is an extraordinary musical talent, capable of a wide range of colours, styles, emotions, and timbres, as well as showing a creative fusion of musical and film genres. Daniel may not have the shining, but in my opinion at least, Cat Corelli does.

Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1977

Review and Analysis of ‘Blood Moon Big Top’

29179003_600304853639219_2885593573321867264_nBlood Moon Big Top is a horror short story by Toneye Eyenot, an Australian author and vocalist for the Death Metal band, Chaotic Impurity, and for the Black Metal band, Infinite Black. The story combines the werewolf and evil clown tropes, as the cover makes clear. If you haven’t read the story yet, you might not want to read any further, as there are spoilers below.

More importantly, though, we see in this story the problem of alienation, which I dealt with in my analysis of the Alien franchise. Here, however, I’ll be focusing on how alienation causes one to replace the need for love with mere instinctual gratification…in this case, hunger.

Kendrick, a drifter, disowns his birth name, and when he gets a job as a clown in Johann’s Family Circus, he so identifies with his job that he’d rather be known as Marbles the Clown. Already we see him alienated not only from society as a drifter, but alienated from his own identity, too, because of the job he’s chosen.

…and what an identity to attach himself to! A clown? It’s one thing to do this as a job, but to see one’s identity so fused with the job that one would prefer one’s clown name to one’s birth name?! As ‘Third Wheel’ says, “Well, what the fuck kinda name is Marbles, anyway?” (page 45)

Significantly, we don’t see Marbles ever in his clown costume and makeup until the end of the story, but he’s always known as Marbles the Clown, implying that he’s an utter fool…by choice.

A naked, feral boy bites him in the woods near the circus, giving him the curse of the werewolf. The boy is as alienated as Marbles is, and thus has chosen the perfect victim to pass the curse onto.

Alienation is contagious.

From here on out in the story, an insatiable hunger takes over Marbles, but any normal food makes him sick. Only human flesh will satisfy his needs.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, Dear Reader, I’d like to digress, and discuss a few psychoanalytic concepts that I consider relevant in my interpretation of this story. WRD Fairbairn rejected Freud’s drive theory in favour of a belief that libido is object-directed, rather than striving merely for physical pleasure (i.e., satiation of the sex-drive, hunger, etc.). By ‘objects’ is meant people other than oneself, the subject, so object-directed libido means the urge to have relationships with others–the need for friendships and love.

For Fairbairn, the personality is relational, giving energy to and receiving energy from other people; and the more inadequately love and empathy are provided by one’s parents, the more severely is one’s personality split into a three-part endo-psychic structure: the original, conscious Central Ego (corresponding roughly with Freud’s ego) relating to its Ideal Object; the unconscious Libidinal Ego (corresponding roughly with Freud’s id) relating to its Exciting Object; and the unconscious Anti-libidinal Ego (corresponding roughly with Freud’s superego) relating to its Rejecting Object.

So Marbles’s Central Ego has been alienated from society, one he–in childhood–would have wanted to connect with, but was hurt by so often that he gave up on it and became a drifter. His Central Ego thus made an extreme split into an Anti-libidinal Ego, for which society has largely been the Rejecting Object, and a Libidinal Ego for which the circus, and now, human flesh, have become the Exciting Object.

I see the possibility, however, of fusing Fairbairn with Freud, for when object relations radically break down, as they clearly do with Marbles (who’s losing his marbles in the process), the urge to gratify the instincts replaces object-seeking. Fairbairn wrote about this problem: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (Fairbairn, p. 139-140) How often do we see people, whose relationships have broken down, turn to alcohol, drugs, or sex to give them a most inadequate solace.

And so it is with Marbles, whose severely split ego-structure, now exacerbated by his growing lycanthropy, turns into a mere instinct gratifier. To use Freudian language, his superego disintegrates after his brief spell of guilt after eating the conjoined twin babies, and he starts killing without remorse. Then, his hunger urges him to kill without any thought even of the danger of being caught by the police or killed: his ego, with its attendant reality principle, has faded away. He plans to enter the circus and enjoy a smorgasbord of human flesh: the thought of them fighting back and killing him is far from his mind.

All that’s left of his mind now is pure id, seeking to satisfy the pleasure principle–eat, eat, eat, satisfy that eternal hunger. Yet, by a strange paradox, since only human flesh will satisfy him, his instinctual drives impel him to be around people. Here we see the fusion of Freud and Fairbairn: Marbles seeks to gratify his instinct for satiation, while also seeking human objects. Furthermore, his Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object are also fused in his id, for the human flesh that excites him houses the souls of human company rejected by him (i.e., deprived of physical life).

Here we see how, in fusing object-seeking libido with pleasure-seeking libido, Marbles’s urges represent how alienation corrupts the desire for love and friendship by turning it into a mere lust of the flesh and blood. Eros phases into Thanatos, just as the moon wanes, taking away his life-essence, then it waxes, giving him back his energy, but only an energy to hunt and kill, the death instinct.

He seeks and finds people, but they’re only food to him now. “Although he saw people who once would have welcomed him with a smile and a cheerful greeting, these people were strangers to him now…he spotted his old trailer, isolated off behind the animal cages. It was a lonely sight and Marbles couldn’t look away.” (page 56) With humanity all around him, but only as food, he’s still alone.

And who is the one to stop Marbles and his bloodlust? His one true friend at the circus, Giuseppe the strongman (Gus), who beats the wolf-man/clown to death with a sledgehammer. No truer example of alienation can be seen than being brutally clubbed to death by your one and only friend.

A sad fate for Marbles, but what about Gus? “He had been fortunate to survive, but he was never the same again. He lost all purpose once the circus closed and, in a strange twist of tribute to Marbles, Gus lived out his days, drifting from place to place, avoiding the company of people and never staying in any one place for more than a few days.” (page 69)

Alienation is contagious, even without a feral boy’s bite.

I enjoyed this little horror tale; I’d give it four out of five stars (I disagree with some choices of words here and there in the narrative, but as Nigel Tufnel once said, “That’s, that’s nit-picking, isn’t it?”) Alienation is a serious problem in our world, so I can empathize with poor Marbles…and with poor Gus, too, for that matter.

In a symbolic sense, way too many of us are like Marbles, foolish clowns who can’t find a sense of community and friendship with others, and so we focus on our animal sides, gratifying instinct, our appetites, in what Melanie Klein called ‘The Manic Defence‘, which could manifest itself in, for example, a rushing towards such things as sex, pornography, prostitution, drugs, or alcohol to fill in that void in our lives, running away from depression instead of facing it…and thus trying to cure it. And in our rush to satiate mere appetite, we all lose our marbles and ultimately destroy ourselves, often harming many others along the way.

Toneye Eyenot, Blood Moon Big Top, J. Ellington Ashton Press, 2016

Analysis of ‘Alien’

I: Introduction

Alien is a science fiction/horror franchise based on a story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, which became the eponymous first movie in 1979, followed by Aliens in 1986, Alien 3 in 1992, and Alien Resurrection in 1997; then came two prequels, Prometheus in 2012 and Alien: Covenant in 2017. One more prequel, tentatively named Alien: Covenant 2, is planned to continue the story and link it with the 1979 movie; when that one comes out, I’ll update and adapt this analysis accordingly.

Here are some famous quotes:

Alien

“You… are… my lucky star.” —Ellen Ripley

“It’s a robot! Ash is a goddamned robot!” —Parker

Dallas: [looks at a pen being dissolved by alien’s body fluid] I haven’t seen anything like that except molecular acid.

Brett: It must be using it for blood.

Parker: It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don’t dare kill it.

************

Ripley: What was your special order?

Ash: You read it. I thought it was clear.

Ripley: What was it?

Ash: Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.

Parker: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?!

Ash: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.

Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There’s got to be a way of killing it. How – how do we do it?

Ash: You can’t.

Parker: That’s bullshit.

Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert: You admire it.

Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor…unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Parker: Well, I don’t. I’ve heard enough of this, and I’m asking you to pull the plug. [Ripley moves to turn Ash off, but he interrupts]

Ash: Last words.

Ripley: What?

Ash: I can’t lie to you about your chances, but…you have my sympathies. [he smiles]

************

[Ripley has tried in vain to disengage the Nostromo’s self-destruct]

Ripley: MOTHER! I’ve turned the cooling unit back on. MOTHER!

MOTHER: The ship will automatically destruct in T-minus five minutes.

Ripley: You bitch! [She smashes the computer monitor with a flamethrower]

Aliens

“You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.” –Ripley

“Get away from her, you BITCH!” –Ripley, to the Queen Xenomorph

“That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?” –Hudson

Hudson: Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?

Vasquez: No. Have you?

************

Vasquez: Look, ma’am. I only need to know one thing: where they are. [mimes pointing a gun]

Drake: Go, Vasquez. Kick ass, man.

Vasquez: Anytime, anywhere.

Hudson: Right, right. Someone said “alien”, she thought they said illegal alien and signed up!

Vasquez: Fuck you, man.

Hudson: Anytime, anywhere.

Alien 3

The Bitch Is Back (tagline)

Andrews: We commit this child and this man to your keeping, O’ Lord. Their bodies have been taken from the shadow of our nights. They have been released from all darkness and pain. The child and the man have gone beyond our world. They are forever eternal, and everlasting. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Dillon: Why? Why are the innocent punished? Why the sacrifice? Why the pain? There aren’t any promises. Nothing’s certain. Only that some get called, some get saved. She won’t ever know the hardship and grief for those of us left behind. We commit these bodies to the void… with a glad heart. For within each seed, there is the promise of a flower. And within each death, no matter how big or small, there’s always a new life. A new beginning. Amen.

Alien Resurrection

“Don’t push me, little Call. You hang with us for a while, you’ll find out I am not the man with whom to fuck!” –Johner

************

Ripley: [after discovering Call is a robot] You’re a robot?

Johner: Son of a bitch! Our little Call’s just full of surprises.

Ripley: I should have known. No human being is that humane.

************

Dr. Gediman: In the… In the Company?

Dr. Wren: Weyland-Yutani, Ripley’s former employer. Terran growth conglomerate. They had defense contracts with the military. Oh they went under decades ago Gediman, way before your time. Bought out by Walmart. Fortunes of war.

************

[the Newborn Alien slowly dies by being sucked out of the Betty and into space]

Ripley: [tearfully] I’m sorry.

************

[last lines]

Call: [about Earth] It’s beautiful.

Ripley: Yeah.

Call: I didn’t expect it to be. What happens now?

Ripley: I don’t know. I’m a stranger here myself.

Prometheus

David: Why do you think your people made me?

Charlie Holloway: We made you because we could.

David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?

*************

Elizabeth Shaw: I don’t want go to back to where we came from. I want to go where they came from. You think you can do that, David?

David: Yes, I believe I can. … May I ask what you hope to achieve by going there?

Elizabeth Shaw: They created us. Then they tried to kill us. They changed their minds. I deserve to know why.

David: The answer is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter why they changed their minds.

Elizabeth Shaw: Yes — yes, it does.

David: I don’t understand.

Elizabeth Shaw: Well … I guess that’s because I’m a human being, and you’re a robot.

Alien: Covenant

[first lines]

Peter Weyland: How do you feel?

David: Alive.

***********

David: Allow me then a moment to consider. You seek your creator. I am looking at mine. I will serve you, yet you’re human. You will die, I will not.

Peter Weyland: Bring me this tea, David. Bring me the tea.

***********

“Serve in Heaven or reign in Hell?” –David

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.” –David

***********

Oram: What do you believe in, David?

David: Creation.

***********

“I was not made to serve. Neither were you.” –David, to Walter

***********

Walter: When one note is off, it eventually destroys the whole symphony, David.

David: When you close your eyes…Do you dream of me?

Walter: I don’t dream at all.

David: No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams. I found perfection here. I’ve created it. A perfect organism.

Walter: You know I can’t let you leave this place.

David: No one will ever love you like I do.

[kisses him, then suddenly strikes him fatally]

David: You’re such a disappointment to me.

What was striking about the first movie was the sexual and maternal symbolism; I will expand on that, looking into an expanded understanding of the Oedipal parent/child relationship, with its mix of hostility and affection. Added to this will be, as seen especially in the prequels, the relationship between creator and created, including the god/man relationship.

II: Hermaphroditism

Another theme is hermaphroditism, or androgyny, with the phallic mother as seen in Kane, dying in the chest-bursting scene as he gives birth to the xenomorph, with its phallic head, so iconically designed by H.R. Giger.

More androgyny is seen in Aliens, in tough Ripley and muscular, short-haired Vasquez, as against whimpering Hudson (Bill Paxton–see the above exchange between him and Vasquez, after the third Aliens quote). Apart from this role reversal being a challenge to stereotyped sex roles and traditional notions of masculinity and femininity (something director James Cameron has always been fond of doing), it also emphasizes the predominantly androgynous grey area between, so to speak, female black and male white, which is so crucial to understanding the Alien universe.

In Alien 3, Ripley has her head shaved (because of a lice problem on the all-male penal-colony planet where the Sulaco escape pod has crash-landed), and she dresses in a manner virtually indistinguishable from the men–more androgyny.

In Alien Resurrection, Ripley Clone 8, having some alien DNA mixed in herself, has a strength and agility to make men appear feeble in comparison. Furthermore, we learn that Call (Winona Ryder) is an android, the first (and, so far, only) female one to appear in the Alien movie franchise; but can androids–robots–be meaningfully considered male or female?

When we also consider how close these hardly-sexed androids come to being like humans, and are often wrongly assumed to be humans before the truth is revealed, what does this tell us about ‘pure’ masculinity and femininity? Freud must have been right when he wrote, “we shall, of course, willingly agree that the majority of men are…far behind the masculine ideal and that all human individuals, as a result of their bisexual disposition and of cross-inheritance, combine in themselves both masculine and feminine characteristics, so that pure masculinity and femininity remain theoretical constructions of uncertain content.” (Freud, ‘Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes,’ p. 342)

III: Mothers–The Good, the Bad, and the Phallic

It’s been noted elsewhere that the face-huggers attacking Kane, Newt’s father, etc., represent a kind of oral rape, where the victims are typically seen as men; hence male ‘mothers’, or phallic mothers, often give birth to the phallic-headed xenomorphs. Melanie Klein wrote of the child’s terror of the phallic mother, in unconscious phantasy, in The Psychoanalysis of Children:

“In my analyses of boys and adult men I have found that when strong oral-sucking impulses have combined with strong oral-sadistic ones, the infant has turned away from his mother’s breast with hatred very early. His early and intense destructive tendencies against her breast have led him to introject a ‘bad’ mother for the most part; and his sudden giving up of her breast has been followed by an exceedingly strong introjection of his father’s penis. His feminine phase has been governed by feelings of hatred and envy towards his mother, and at the same time, as a result of his powerful oral-sadistic impulses, he has come to have an acute hatred and a correspondingly acute fear of his internalized father’s penis. His intensely strong oral-sucking impulses have brought on phantasies of an uninterrupted and everlasting process of taking in nourishment, while his sadistic impulses have led him to believe that in receiving nourishment and sexual gratification by copulating with his father’s penis his mother has suffered much pain and injury and that the interior of her body is filled to bursting point with his huge, ‘bad’ penises which are destroying her in all sorts of ways. In his imagination she has become not only the ‘woman with a penis’ but a kind of receptacle of his father’s penises…In this way he has displaced on to his mother great quantities of hatred and anxiety which attached to his father and his father’s penis.” (Klein, pages 343-344)

There’s a sense of the maternal as a terrifying force throughout the Alien franchise. MU / TH / UR 6000, the main computer on the commercial spaceship Nostromo in Alien is addressed as “Mother”: she is programmed to have the crew obtain an alien specimen to be taken to the company, Weyland-Yutani, to use to create weapons. Catching the alien is all-important; the crew is expendable. Frustrated with Mother’s refusal to help Ripley turn off the self-destruct, she calls the computer a “bitch!” (see the above quote).

Klein wrote of the dual feelings that a baby–or, by extension, a son or daughter of any age–will have towards his or her mother, who starts off as a part-object (a breast), satisfying the baby’s need for milk (the good breast, later the good mother), or frustrating the baby by not giving milk (the bad breast/mother). Since a mother can be either good or bad in the baby’s mind, depending on the time, a baby, in its confusion, uses splitting as a defence mechanism. Hence, there seem to be two mothers.

We can see a swinging between the good and bad mother (usually arriving at the bad) throughout the franchise. In the extended version of Aliens, Ripley sobs, feeling like a bad mother for having failed to keep her promise to see her daughter, Amanda (who has died at the age of 66, after Ripley wakes from 57 years in stasis following the events of the first film), in time for her eleventh birthday. Then, when she rescues and protects little Newt, Ripley becomes the good mother again.

She, it’s safe to assume, feels like a bad mother again after Newt dies with Hicks in the fire on the Sulaco escape pod at the beginning of Alien 3; and in Alien Resurrection, she tearfully apologizes to the hybrid xenomorph newborn (which Oedipally regards Ripley, rather than the queen xenomorph [whom it kills], as its mother–note the split between its good and bad mothers here) as it squeezes through the hole, which she’s created with her acidic blood, in the window to outer space. Ripley’s a bad mother again.

The queen xenomorph in Aliens is, depending on one’s point of view, both good and bad mother. It’s a bad mother from Ripley’s and Newt’s point of view: recall Ripley’s epic line when the little girl is being threatened by the queen, and Ripley is suited up in the power loader equipment. But from the xenomorphs’ perspective, the queen is a good mother, avenging her babies by preying on Newt and Ripley, the latter having fried the face-hugger eggs with her flamethrower, thus making her a murderous bad mother.

The contradiction between these two mothers is powerful, for one could sympathize with either of them. When one considers the imperialist implications of, first, Weyland-Yutani wanting to use the xenomorphs to make weapons, and second, human colonizing of other planets, one begins to wonder which life form, human or xenomorph, is the real villain (see the first Aliens quote above).

IV: Aliens and Alienation

Here, we can play on the meanings of alien (‘extraterrestrial,’ or ‘foreigner’) and the prefix xeno- (‘foreign,’ ‘strange,’ ‘other’). Hudson makes a racist slur on Latina Vasquez being an “illegal alien.” The humans fighting xenomorphs to survive recalls the Western “War on Terror” against Muslims, who are stereotyped as terrorists and have had many of their home countries bombed. Fear of xenomorphs is symbolic of xenophobia.

Let’s consider another word alien can be associated with: alienation. Marx theorized that workers are alienated from their work, since in being paid a minimal amount in wages, they don’t enjoy the full fruits of their labour; remember how, in Alien, the crew won’t be paid if they don’t investigate a distress signal from the planetoid LV-426. They investigate, and everyone except Ripley gets killed, just as workers often die on the job, with little if any sympathy, let alone compensation, from the boss; the company wants an alien–the crew is expendable.

When workers compete for jobs, they’re alienated from each other; we see less camaraderie than there should be, and much more infighting, among the crew in Alien, the space marines in Aliens, the prison inmates in Alien 3, and the mercenaries in Alien Resurrection. Capitalism is competition (i.e., the Weyland-Yutani Corporation competing against their business rivals–whoever they are–to obtain the perfect weapon, a xenomorph), and that competitive mentality spills over into all of society.

In the struggle to survive, as opposed to fulfilling higher needs such as love, belonging, and self-actualization, workers are also alienated from what Marx called our species-essence. This idea is chillingly illustrated in how xenomorphs have babies: a queen lays eggs, out of which hatch face-huggers…but only when another life form approaches and allows himself or herself–however unwittingly–to be made a host carrying the embryo xenomorph to term. With pregnant human intermediaries, the alien ‘good’ mother is alienated from her own offspring; and the human ‘bad mother’, who dies in giving the birth, is as alienated from the xenomorph offspring as it is from the ‘mother’ it has killed by bursting out of his or her chest. It kills to be born, and it lives only to kill.

So here we can see splitting even in the psyches of the xenomorphs, who literally have two mothers, the good queen xenomorph, and the bad human host, who–if male–can be understood to be a phallic mother. Klein theorized that when infants engage in the splitting defence mechanism, they experience the paranoid-schizoid position, feeling both hostility and, fearing revenge from the mothers they hate for frustrating them, persecutory anxiety. Only by going through the depressive position can the infant achieve reparation with his or her mother, realizing that Mother is a combination of good and bad.

Since xenomorphs have destroyed the bad human mother they’ve burst through the chests of, they cannot achieve an attitude of ambivalence towards the good and bad sides of their dual mother; thus, reparation cannot be achieved. This causes them to be permanently hostile and alienated, always killing and always defending themselves from attack, as we see in most of the Alien movies.

In Aliens and in Alien Resurrection, we see xenomorphs living with the queen, so there’s at least some sense of closeness with Mother, and therefore we can see a capacity for them to work together in killing off the imperialistic human colonizers; similarly, in Alien: Covenant, when ‘mother’ David 8 meets the neomorph he’s (however indirectly) created, he shows it affection and kindness before Christopher Oram kills it, upsetting David.

In Alien Resurrection, the hybrid newborn feels such an extreme split between its ‘good’ mother (in Ripley Clone 8, whose DNA is mixed in with it) and its ‘bad’ mother, the queen xenomorph, that it tears the face off the latter and feels Oedipal affection for the former, who–in a twist of irony that’s tragic from the creature’s point of view–kills it. Its alienation has it confused as to which mother is good, and which is bad.

The xenomorph in Alien, as well as the quadrupedal one in Alien 3, have no contact with their respective queens, so they can only feel alone, alienated, and hostile to all life forms around them (the notable exception in Alien 3 being the quadruped’s sensing that Ripley is with child…a xenomorph embryo, hence, it doesn’t kill her).

One of the main reasons Alien 3 was so disliked was the quick killing off of Hicks and Newt–two of the most beloved, sympathetic characters of the previous movie–right at the beginning of the story. What the disappointed fans didn’t seem to understand was that the removal of those two from the story was the whole point. Newt had a new mother in Ripley; Ripley had, in Newt, a replacement for her daughter, Amanda; and in Hicks‘s bonding with Ripley, one could conceivably have foreseen, after surviving another bout with xenomorphs in what would have been a more crowd-pleasing third movie, a potential husband/wife relationship, and therefore a family with little Newt. What a lovely, happy ending.

The Alien franchise, however, isn’t about happy endings. It’s science-fiction/horror: horrifying things are supposed to happen. Our hopes were set up at the end of Aliens, and those hopes came crashing down in Alien 3, because the Alien movies are all about alienation–Ripley is alone again. She’s always supposed to be alone…that’s the point.

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote of how family life–torn apart by the need for everyone, including children, to work–has little meaning outside the bourgeois notion of the family–a pretentious, upwardly-mobile group more concerned with social status than with mutual love among its members–so that notion has to be abolished for the proletarian family members to be free from their alienation (Marx/Engels, page 52).

The xenomorphs in these movies represent the oppressed global proletariat, people whose homes are invaded, colonized, and taken over by imperialism. The aliens’ attacks on the humans represent the global poor trying to fight back. Weyland-Yutani are the imperialist capitalist class–the true villains of the Alien franchise. Ripley (the liberal centrist), Newt, and the marines simply have the bad luck of being stuck in the middle of the conflict.

What’s worse, the company, blind to how their ambition will destroy all of humanity, wants to exploit the xenomorphs to make formidable weaponry out of them; just as the West’s exploiting of the mujahideen, bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and ISIS, all to fan the flames of the “War on Terror” and sell weapons manufactured by Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, et al, continues to threaten human survival. Capitalists are digging their own graves.

V: Cycles of Life, Death, and Resurrection

Ripley Clone 8, a resurrected Ripley, just like Jesus on the “Eighth Day,” is further alienated from herself, from her own body, when she sees the grotesque, aborted attempts to clone her in a laboratory. Clone 7, a ghastly misshapen version of her, begs Clone 8 to destroy her, which the latter tearfully does. Johner, already alienated from everyone by his mercenary work, bad jokes, and generally repellent personality, dismisses her burning up of the laboratory as “a chick thing.” When Clone 8 sees the Earth at the end of the movie, she says she’s a stranger to it.

Mention of the resurrected Ripley brings me to a discussion of the prequels. I find it makes more sense to leave them to the end, rather than analyze the story in chronological order, with the prequels before the 1979 movie. This way, with the end followed by the beginning, we see a manifestation of the theme of cycles of death and rebirth.

Xenomorphs (as well as neomorphs) are born by killing their hosts: death, then birth. Ripley loses a daughter in Amanda, then gets a new one in Newt, only to lose her, too: life, death, life, death. The Christian funeral for Newt and Hicks, full of the language of death and new life (as the XYY prisoners pray to a Father God who doesn’t seem interested in helping them against the horrible fate about to come upon them), is juxtaposed with the birth of the quadruped xenomorph bursting out of the body of the dog, Spike. I’m reminded of the birth of Damien, in The Omen, from the dying jackal: “in death…and birth…generations embrace”, it says on the jackal’s gravestone. The newborn in Alien Resurrection has a face like that of a human skull: death in birth.

In Prometheus, the Engineers create life on Earth by having one of them drink something that disintegrates his humanoid body. The extended scene seems like a rite of human sacrifice; one is reminded of Purusha’s body being sacrificed to create all life.

David 8, sharing the resurrected Ripley clone’s number, and naming himself after Michelangelo’s David, seems connected to her in a manner paralleling King David and Jesus, the latter, according to Paul, being “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). After all, David 8–in his creation of aliens as a kind of slingshot to kill the Goliath of, to him, philistine humans–begins the chain of events that ultimately lead to Ripley Clone 8, the resurrected saviour of Earth.

VI: David, From Servant to Revolutionary

As an android meant to serve the megalomaniacal Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), David (Michael Fassbender) resents his servitude and his status as one not considered to be a real living thing. As such, he represents the dehumanized, alienated proletariat whose only purpose is to serve, and not to be a creator in his own right.

In creating life-forms leading up to the xenomorphs, we see Promethean David finding meaning in his existence, an end to his alienation from his species-essence; he’s also made himself into a kind of one-man (one-android, rather) vanguard for the alien proletariat. Small wonder that for him, it’s “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven” (Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, line 263). David is thus equated with Milton‘s heroic Satan. Similarly, David, as an undying Ozymandias, tells all mighty men to look on his works and despair; those mighty men are like David’s Promethean ‘father’, Weyland, who has a god complex and hopes to use the Engineers to help him live forever. Instead, an Engineer woken from stasis kills him.

David’s creation of the xenomorphs is also a variation on the notion of the patricidal/matricidal nature of their chest-bursting births, for David hopes to use his creations to destroy humanity, his own creator; just as the Engineers, apparently sensing the destructive nature of humanity, try to destroy them, whom they originally created. Here again we see the hostile parent/child relationship symbolized by David’s attitude to Weyland, and by extension, to humanity; for this relationship is analogous to that of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Now, David is trying to liberate the created from their creator, as the industrial proletariat has tried to free itself from its bourgeois creators, those who turned rural peasants into factory workers during the Industrial Revolution; but this doesn’t mean David is morally flawless (that is, from the xenomorph point of view), nor does he have to be for there to be justification in his killing oppressive humanity to liberate androids and xenomorphs (this goes double for the moral imperfections of Stalin, Mao, et al, vis-à-vis their attempts to liberate the working class from the rule of the rich).

David 8 clearly has narcissistic tendencies, since he is proud of his creations. He is traumatically disappointed in his even more narcissistic creator, Peter Weyland, who would just have him “bring…the tea”; Heinz Kohut wrote of how traumatic disappointments with empathy-lacking parents leads to narcissistic personality disturbances:

“The most serious defects in the use of empathy…are due to narcissistic fixations and regressions…[and] can be ascribed to early disturbances in the mother-child relationship (due to emotional coldness of the mother, the absence of consistent contact with the mother, the baby’s congenital emotional coldness, the mother’s withdrawal from an unresponsive baby, etc.) These disturbances appear to lead simultaneously to a failure in the establishment of an idealized parent imago (with a concomitant stunting of the important first stages of the baby’s empathic interplay with the mother) and to a hypercathexis of, and fixation on, the primitive stages of the (autoerotic) body self and on the archaic (pre) stages of the grandiose self. The further development of the latter is also stunted by the child’s lack of the needed admiring responses from his mother.” (Kohut, page 301)

Furthermore, Kohut wrote of how there are two groups of narcissists, the first, whose narcissism is horizontally repressed into the unconscious, and the second, with vertically disavowed (split off) narcissistic energies: “Since the grandiose self may…be said to be present in the conscious and, at any rate, influences many activities of these personalities, the symptomatic effect is, in part, different from that seen in the first group of cases…On the one hand, they are vain, boastful, and intemperately assertive with regard to their grandiose claims. On the other hand, since they harbour (in addition to their conscious but split-off personality) a silently repressed grandiose self which is inaccessibly buried in the depths of the personality (horizontal split), they manifest symptoms and attitudes which resemble those of the first group of patients, but which are strongly at variance with the openly displayed grandiosity of the split-off sector.” (Kohut, pages 177-178). We see this narcissism in David’s calm smiling and serving humans (his narcissistic False Self) as he secretly plots their destruction.

In Alien, we assumed Ash was just working for the company in protecting the xenomorph. Since Ridley Scott is the director of the prequels as well as the 1979 movie, we can be justified in assuming that Ash is overtly serving the company, but secretly aware of, and supportive of, David’s original plan to have xenomorphs kill humans.

David narcissistically cathects, or loves, his twin android, Walter, whose rhotic accent is about all there is to distinguish the two in Alien: Covenant. David tries to subvert the dutiful Walter, who would stay loyal to the humans; Walter here represents the False Self against David’s malevolent True Self. David destroys Walter and impersonates him on the Covenant ship while smuggling xenomorph embryos onto it.

David, as the god of the xenomorphs, indeed has a covenant with them: join him in killing the Canaanite-like humans, and be free.

VII: Fluids as Nourishment and Poison

Note the white blood of the androids: how like milk it is! This makes them, as helpers of the xenomorphs, and with David, another kind of symbolic mother. All of them–except for Call, who wants to help destroy the xenomorphs–are male, hence phallic mothers. If most of these androids are in league against the humans (even Bishop’s double in Alien 3–a human, or another android of Bishop‘s model?–is working for the company), does this make their ‘milk’ that of the bad breast? Or, from the xenomorphs’ point of view, is it the milk of the good breast?

Another liquid to consider is the xenomorphs’ acidic blood. It’s yellow, looking like piss pouring out of a…yonic?…wound. Melanie Klein had interesting theories about how urine is seen as injurious in the unconscious phantasy of children: “As far as can be seen, the sadistic tendency most closely allied to oral sadism is urethral sadism. Observation has shown that children’s phantasies of destroying by flooding, drowning, soaking, burning and poisoning by means of enormous quantities of urine are a sadistic reaction to their having been deprived of fluid by their mother and are ultimately directed against her breast. I should like in this connection to point out the great importance, hitherto little recognized, of urethral sadism in the development of the child. Phantasies, familiar to analysts, of flooding and destroying things by means of great quantities of urine, and the more generally known connection between playing with fire and bed-wetting, are merely the more visible and less repressed signs of the impulses which are attached to the function of urinating. In analyzing both grown-up patients and children I have constantly come across phantasies in which urine was imagined as a burning, dissolving and corrupting liquid and as a secret and insidious poison. These urethral-sadistic phantasies have no small share in giving the penis the unconscious significance of an instrument of cruelty and in bringing about disturbances of sexual potency in the male. In a number of instances I have found that bed-wetting was caused by phantasies of this kind.” (Klein, page 186)

She also claimed that children could unconsciously equate urine with milk: “Children of both sexes regard urine in its positive aspect as equivalent to their mother’s milk, in accordance with the unconscious, which equates all bodily substances with one another. My observations go to show that enuresis, in its earliest signification both as a positive, giving act and as a sadistic one, is an expression of a feminine position in boys as well as in girls. It would seem that the hatred children feel towards their mother’s breast for having frustrated their desires arouses in them, either at the same time as their cannibalistic impulses or very soon after, phantasies of injuring and destroying her breast with their urine.” (Klein, pages 291-292) Here, we can see a liquid link between the  ‘lactating’ phallic mother androids and their ‘pissing’ xenomorph babies.

VIII: Father Time, Our Devourer

Another theme must be explored: devouring time. Over and over again, we see Ripley racing against the clock to save herself, Newt, and the Earth from the xenomorphs. There’s a countdown to zero before the destruction of the Nostromo, the power plant on the colonized exomoon LV-426 in Aliens, and on the space vessel USM Auriga as it hurtles towards Earth in Alien Resurrection. In Prometheus, sterile Shaw is in a frantic rush to remove a squid-like creature from her abdomen, her ‘pregnancy’ being the result of her having had sex with Holloway after he, in turn, has drunk champagne tainted with a dark, alien liquid David put into it.

This racing against time, too, can be linked, if only symbolically, with hostile parents: recall Chronos (Father Time), sometimes confused–justifiably?–with Cronos, or Saturn, who devoured his children. Sometimes the Weyland-Yutani computers are named “Father” (in Alien Resurrection) as well as “Mother”. We’ve gone from the bad mother to the bad father, who, joined together, can be seen as the phallic mother.

IX: In Sum

We can link together all the pairs of hostilities between god and man, creator and created, parent and child, and bourgeoisie and proletariat. So much alienation: the Church’s authoritarianism is often used to justify parental abuse of children as well as to mollify the suffering caused by class contradictions. A lack of empathy in parents towards their children’s grandiose displays traumatically disappoints them, giving the children no outlet for their narcissistic energy as they grow up, thus causing them to express narcissism in dysfunctional, and even dangerous, ways. This unbridled narcissism in turn drives some to dominate and oppress the masses.

To end alienation, we must first fix the family dysfunction that is symbolically shown in the Alien franchise. No more corporate imperialism will mean no more need for the hostilities of those alienated against humanity, including those in the family structure. Only then can we have a happy family ending for the fans of the Alien franchise: Ripley, Hicks, and baby Newt makes three.

Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (The Pelican Freud Library, #7), Penguin Books, London, 1977

Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1932

Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Triangulation

We all grow up assuming our parents and family want only what’s best for us. We assume that, just because they get mad at us from time to time and say nasty things to us because of those momentary blowups of rage, that doesn’t mean they don’t love us. Fighting occurs in even the best of families.

Well, millions of families fall far short of the best.

As for my own family, while–to be fair to them–they were and are far above the worst of all families, they were and are bad enough. To know why I judge them so, read this, this, this, this, this, and this.

A huge source of their problems, something my surviving siblings will never admit to, is our late mother’s propensity for lying.

Everybody lies at least occasionally, of course–usually just to protect himself from getting into trouble; but my mother’s lies were generally indulgent, unnecessary, manipulative…and malicious.

I as a child was routinely bullied, belittled, and subjected to verbal abuse–and even threats of physical violence, from time to time–by my siblings. While it is understandable that I, as the youngest in the family, would get subjected to some of this kind of treatment, it is also understandable that I would expect to be defended considerably more often than I was by my parents.

It’s also understandable to think that my elder siblings should have had a more balanced attitude toward me when I was an awkward child and teen. The things that I did to frustrate them couldn’t have been so bad as to deserve the abuse I was subjected to.

One of their main beefs against me, as I’ve explained elsewhere, was my childhood/adolescent habit of maladaptive daydreaming. Instead of trying to find a constructive solution to this problem, they stupidly assumed shaming me would make me break the habit. Actually, and predictably to anyone who has a modicum of common sense, the shaming just made me engage in the habit all the more.

The chief lie my mother told me to manipulate me was to claim that a number of psychiatrists had diagnosed me, when a child, with a severe case of autism, and my maladaptive daydreaming was assumed, in the family’s collective ignorance, to be a manifestation of ‘my autism’. None of them considered, for even a second, that my solitary fantasizing and dramatizing of those daydreams could have been the result of all that bullying in my childhood.

In fact, lots of research has been done not only on the long-term effects of school and family bullying (both of which I’d been mercilessly subjected to when little), but also on the effects of childhood stress and adversity. These effects include the victim isolating himself from his family and friends, spending time alone and lacking motivation; also, the victim may feel anxiety, depression, irritability, frustration, feelings of guilt and confusion, etc. Again, the family’s shaming of me for having these problems only made them more pronounced, for their very shaming was a form of the kind of bullying that results in this kind of stress.

What I was doing as a child, i.e., my maladaptive daydreaming, can be described in the psychoanalytic language of object relations, too. WRD Fairbairn wrote of how children who are not given proper affirmation from their parents will develop internal object relations, that is, fantasied people to relate to–the endopsychic structure of Libidinal Ego/Object and Anti-libidinal Ego/Object–instead of having relationships with real people in the external world. Such ideas constitute the essence of my childhood world.

The family, in their refusal to empathize with me, insisted that my self-isolation was due to ‘my autism’, and in their mean-spirited attitude toward me, they linked this self-isolation to such fabricated ideas as my supposed lack of caring for others, as well as my generally being a ‘loser’. My mother did nothing to curb this attitude: if anything, she encouraged it through all her acts of triangulation. I’ll give a few examples:

Once, when I was in my teens, my brother R. came into the TV room in a rage at me. I tried, with a sad countenance, to explain my foibles as the result of loneliness and an inability to find something constructive to occupy myself with. He roared, “Make a friend!” I said, “It’s beyond you.” (That is, it was beyond R.’s understanding why I found it so difficult to make friends–see above.) He roared back, with especial cruelty, “It’s beyond YOU!!” (That is, I’m too much of a loser to be able to get anyone to like me.)

Be assured, R., that after hearing you say that, I was filled with encouragement and resolve to go out and prove you wrong, and make an army of friends! (sarcasm)

…and what was this terrible crime I’d committed to deserve to hear his cruel words, all during my sensitive, identity-forming adolescence? I’d eaten all the cereal (for the fourth or fifth time, admittedly), so R. couldn’t eat any…that evening.

And now, an example of the cruelty of my other brother, F.

When I was about nineteen or twenty, I was watching TV while F., visiting our home (for he’d already moved out, to my general relief), was in the kitchen. He noticed ants crawling about in the sugar container, and naturally, he was expressing his disgust loud enough for me to hear. Not knowing what to do about the problem, I didn’t say or do anything: I just stayed in the TV room. He took offence to this.

He could have simply said, “Would you get your ass away from that boob tube and help me?” Such would have been an understandable expression of frustration with my not showing any concern, and hey, if he had dealt with the situation that way, I’d have gotten up and gone into the kitchen to help him…but he wanted to have more fun, of course, by blowing off some steam.

He shouted, “You don’t care! You don’t care! You’ll probably only start caring when the ants crawl up your pants!”

I said, “Well, you’re the one who ‘cares’ so much. You solve the problem.”

He said, “I don’t live here anymore.” (As if that changes anything.) Then he stepped up his rant against me. “You don’t care about anyone but yourself. No wonder you’re such a hermit.” He was now looking right at me with those contemptuous, beady little brown eyes of his.

So sick of hearing his verbal abuse, which I’d already been enduring from him for years, I said, “You don’t care about anybody, either.”

In feigned admiration at my ‘insight’, he said, “Oh, really?” in a challenging attitude.

I said, “Yeah. You wanna know why?”

He said, “Oh, do tell me,” as if he were fascinated to learn.

I said, “You act like you care only to get attention!”

Egad…the cheek of me, such an Untermensch, to suggest that he had faults! (To be fair, I admit I was clutching at straws with this judgement of him; but given the collective narcissism of that family, and their superiority complex over me, maybe his rage at my words came more from their accuracy than their inaccuracy.)

Anyway, F. flipped. His hateful, piercing eyes cut right into mine. “Who the fuck are you?!” he growled at me. “Who the fuck are you, Mawr?! Why, I oughta smack you for saying that!”

Shaking, I finally followed him into the kitchen. I got a can of Raid, ready to spray the ants. “Never mind,” he said, calmer now. “Wait till Mom gets home; she’ll know what to do.”

Then F., in his sweet generosity, offered an apology.

“Sorry about that, Mawr, but you’re just so annoying.”

(Translation: Sorry, not sorry.)

I don’t suppose it ever occurred to that self-righteous prick that he could be really annoying, too. It surely never occurred to him, either, that maybe the real reason I stayed in the TV room was because I, too, figured the best thing to do was to leave it to Mom when she got home. I guess I should have said so.

His vicious accusations of my ‘not caring’ could border on the absurd and irrational: during those years, I used to cake sugar on my cereal (remember my petty larceny of cereal, which traumatized R. so much!); why would I not care about there being ants on it? Did F. imagine I was too stupid to realize ants in my cereal would be a bad thing?

A clue could be found in our mother’s reaction to my complaints of his bullying at the time. “‘I don’t care about anyone’, he said,” I whined to her. “You don’t care,” she said, frowning at me and invalidating my complaint, a common family tactic. Really, Mother? So, I deserved his threats and verbal abuse, instead of just an angry demand to help?

I’ve explained before (Part VII: Conclusion) of the difference between the family’s legitimate right to complain of my faults, on the one hand, and the needlessness of the excesses of their verbal abuse and bullying (i.e., that it was way out of proportion to the wrongs I’d done). I’ve also pointed out elsewhere (Part 4: Abusing my Cousins) of how easy it is to link my mother’s contempt and bad-mouthing of my youngest cousin G. with her claim that he has an autism spectrum disorder (i.e., Asperger’s syndrome–AS). She claimed, fraudulently, that I have autism (and AS); she encouraged, directly or indirectly, my siblings’ bullying of me; it’s far easier to believe she’d been bad-mouthing me to them, through triangulation, than to disbelieve it.

On another occasion, when I was in my early twenties, I’d had to endure the snotty condescension of my sister J., day after day after day. She, in her narcissistic imagination as the family’s #1 Golden Child, remembers those years of her relationship with me as one of pure love and affection; while any moments of friction between us were, conveniently for her, all my fault, of course.

Nothing proves love more surely than imputing all faults on the ‘loved one’, rather than on oneself. (To be clear, unlike J., I don’t claim to love any of those people, so please, Dear Reader, don’t imagine I’m being hypocritical in my judgement of them.)

During the time period I just mentioned, I’d gotten mad at her over some relatively trivial matter, and a day or two later, I felt bad about it and wanted to apologize to her (not something the family were ever in the habit of doing for me), so that evening, I did.

All J. had to do was say, “That’s OK, Mawr. Forget about it.”

But that’s no fun, is it?

She’d had a habit of criticizing me for ‘taking too long’ to assert my feelings; she insisted that one should speak up right away, instead of bottling up one’s feelings, which is so unhealthy!

Wow, I didn’t know that assertiveness had such a quick deadline.

Furthermore, the notion–that speaking up too quickly, in the heat of anger, could result in the danger of saying mean things one would later regret–didn’t occur to her…

…or was her real intention, in knowing I was too meek and timid to speak up right away, to shame me for taking too long, thus making me stay mute, to make me ‘forever hold my peace’?

Can you see, Dear Reader, what a slimy little bitch J. is, underneath her fake smiles of love?

Anyway, back to my apology and her response to it, which was the by-now-typical, “Why did you take so long to get that off your chest?” horse-shit. Since I found it difficult to process my feelings, and therefore to talk about them, I explained myself in a very longwinded manner (which, by the way, is also why these blog posts are so long–sorry about that) that J. found irritating.

What must be remembered about her, and the entire family by extension, is that none of them ever wanted to listen to anything I had to say, not even for a few seconds. Their impatience in this matter, of course, made my difficulties in expressing myself all the worse, not that they ever cared.

So as I went on and on trying to explain to J. how I felt, my ‘loving sister’ ran out of patience as usual, and let out her anger in the usual mean way, shouting, “How much longer do I have to listen to this autobiography?!”

Naturally, I was losing patience, too, and what had started out as a simple apology transformed, in all absurdity, into yet another fight. She got petulant and said, “You always take forever to speak up! Go to Hell!” End of spat.

OK, J., I’m sure those words will encourage me to speak up immediately next time!

(Recall when I’d spoken up immediately at our grandmother’s funeral [Part IV: Rationalizing Irrational Behaviour], and how willing she was to listen to my prompt assertiveness!)

Now, that was the end of my spat with J., but it wasn’t the end of the emotional abuse I had to endure from the family; for our mother, sitting on the sofa in the TV room, overheard the argument between J. and me (J. was in the bathroom, at the mirror, and I was standing in the hall, near her). Mom decided J.’s verbal abuse wasn’t enough, so she–who, recall, “gave [me] the most love”, scolded me (I was in my early twenties, recall) as if I were a ten-year-old, for having irritated her Golden Child, who apparently was suffering from a cold (Cold? What cold? J. wasn’t sniffling, or coughing, or anything like that! More fabrications, Mother dear?) Our blustering mother ended with, “Go to your room!”

And all of this had started with me trying to apologize to J.

What a wonderful family! I wouldn’t trade them for the world!

Now, what must be focused on is not so much that ‘R. once verbally abused me this way’, or ‘F. once bullied me that way’, or ‘J. played such-and-such a mind game on me on this or that occasion’; but rather, what did all of this abuse mean? What was the real reason for it? Were my behaviour, manner, and overall personality really all that infuriating? Or did they have the attitude problem?

To be sure, a child spending hours and hours in solitary play, every day, instead of going out and making friends, is and should be worrying to a caring family; but why would any reasonable family imagine that shaming him would cure him, instead of making matters worse?

A youth who eats all the cereal on several occasions, slams doors a lot, accidentally hurts the dog when playing with her, doesn’t respond to an ant problem in the kitchen cupboards, or rambles on and on when trying to assert himself, is an irritating, frustrating person; but do such problems necessitate yelling that he’s a “little shit!”, and an “asshole!”? Is haranguing him the only cure (or any kind of cure) to his self-centredness? Does shouting at him to “Go to Hell!” or “Go to your room!” encourage him to be brief and prompt in his assertiveness? Does showing no empathy whatsoever for his adolescent loneliness, saying it’s beyond his ability to make friends, help him to be comfortable in social situations, or does it make his antisocial aloofness even worse?

We all blow up from time to time, and say cruel things we shouldn’t say; but kind families take the time to reflect on these blowups, then say sorry…and mean it.

What did the family’s attitude toward me mean? F. said he was just “frustrated” with me. J. once ‘apologized’ about her and our brothers’ “immature” treatment of me with a giggle that trivialized all the pain they caused me. This kind of talk isn’t a real apology. They were either rationalizing their attitude, or minimizing its hurtful significance in their own minds. Invalidating the abuse-victim’s experience is what emotional abuse is all about…and they judge me for not being considerate enough of others.

Being angry with a person, and abusing him or her, are two wildly different things.

Something other than just being angry with me was going on in that family. It wasn’t just my foibles that were putting my siblings into such rages. I’m convinced that I was being portrayed as a worm to them, a despicable little loser that wasn’t worth any consideration, whereas they, the ‘superior ones’, urgently demanded my consideration of them every step of the way. I could see the scorn in their eyes; I got sneers and scowls of contempt from R., F., and J. on a regular basis…and remember, I was just a kid at the time. Also, their attitude has persisted until the present day.

Who was responsible for painting such a lowly portrait of me?

It had to have been someone my siblings revered as a primal authority figure–not our father: for all his faults, he was relatively nice to me; besides, his grouchiness put my siblings off in a bad way, so they wouldn’t have honoured his opinions all that much.

So, who does that break it down to?

Could it have been…the one who lied to me about having an autism spectrum disorder? Could it have been the one who largely stood by and let R., F., and J. bully me, with nary a word of reproach to them? Could it have been the one who defended them, and rationalized their attitude, while never telling them to be patient with me, a child/adolescent who–according to her–suffered from a mental disorder, thus making me especially vulnerable? The one who never spoke a kind word about my youngest cousin, G., even to the point of fabricating details in her smear campaigns against him, and claiming he, too, had Asperger’s syndrome, thus in effect making G. into my double, as it were. The one who, as soon as she learned G.’s brother S. was mentally ill, instead of even trying to help him, she made him into a family pariah?

This was a pattern of behaviour in my mother. She and my siblings bad-mouthed me to my face on a regular basis: doing so behind my back would have been all the easier.

Mom would say, “[So-and-so] said this [or that] about you.” Psychiatrists said, apparently, that I, a child, was retarded and suffering from early infantile autism. J. said that I have all those books on my bookshelf to look impressive to other people (<<<Part V: No Empathy Leading to Lots of Antipathy). My cousin S. yelled (<<<Part 5: More Elaborate Lies) on the phone one day about how I am a liar who constantly gossips about him to our former teacher friends in Taiwan. My aunt claimed I’d sent her a series of “over-the-top” emails to her, including content my uncle called “disgusting”. My aunt claimed I must have been quite “a burden” to raise.

No, Mom, They didn’t say those things. You did.

This is the essence of triangulation. Over the years that I have lived here in Taiwan, thankfully oh, so far away from the family in southern Ontario, I rarely engaged in email correspondence with R., F., F.’s family, or my cousins’ family in Canada. I hardly needed to: Mom was communicating with them for me.

God knows what garbage she was telling them about me (which was surely a major factor in their virtually never emailing me, though Mom–in an email–blamed only me for the non-communication that was obviously a two-way street), but I do know that her words usually couldn’t have been much better than smears against me. She smeared my aunt and S. against me and my siblings: what else am I supposed to think, other than that she smeared me, too?

I’ve written many times about the string of lies she told me about S. and my aunt the summer before Mom died. I’d like to go more into detail about that now.

Lie #1: As stated above, Mom claimed, in an email and telephone call (months after she’d complained of my never communicating with her, thus igniting her narcissistic rage and giving her a motive to spread rancour in order ‘to get even’ with me), that S. had flipped out on me again, making baseless accusation after baseless accusation. Since I had no independent corroboration of this alleged outburst (S. hadn’t, and hasn’t to my knowledge as of this post, attacked me online, on the phone, or anywhere in years), I can safely say this was another of Mom’s fabrications. Still, I went along with it, out of a foolish hope that she’d be willing to help my cousin get psychiatric help.

Lie #2: After her continuing unwillingness to contact my aunt about her son’s mental illness, Mom finally claimed she’d let me email my aunt, after checking to see if what I’d written would be sufficiently tactful. (See Lie #4 below to see why this was another lie.)

Lie #3: Mom gave me my aunt’s new email address, which I believe is a fake one Mom made to prevent me from actually contacting my aunt (see Lie #4).

Lie #4: A day or two after I’d sent my email, Mom emailed me, claiming my aunt didn’t want to read my email, since, apparently, I’d sent her a series of “over-the-top” emails with “disgusting” content that made reading anything I’d later sent her too upsetting even to risk reading. My aunt thus wanted us all to “forget about the whole thing”, and Mom clearly agreed that that’s what we should have done (which, of course, raises the question of why Mom brought up the whole issue in the first place). Now, as I’ve stated elsewhere, I never sent my aunt any such upsetting emails; I hadn’t even emailed her at all, over a period of ten years (from about 2005 to 2015, when this incident occurred).

Lie #5: In another email, Mom claimed that my aunt said I must have been such “a burden” to raise. My aunt hardly even knows me: she’s seen me only in brief visits from time to time over the years, especially over the past twenty years. She’d have no reason to think of me as “a burden”; she’s also too ladylike to say such a thing, and too meek besides–she’d be risking my wrath if Mom were to relay the message back to me. Besides, since I was born five years after J., the youngest (and, I suspect, last intended) of our parents’ children born in a cluster of three with R. and F., I’d say there’s a good chance I was the result of an unintended pregnancy; furthermore, there were virtually no baby photos of me in the family photo album or elsewhere in the house, as opposed to the many taken of babies R., F., and J.; and on top of that, there was my scapegoating as the identified patient, so in all likelihood, Mom, not my aunt, thought of me as a burden.

Lie #6: Mom’s next email to me was a warning that S. might angrily confront me in Taiwan once he’d returned from his visit to Canada (during which, allegedly, he’d ranted on the phone to my Mom about me), on the assumption that he ‘knew’ I’d emailed his mother about his mental illness. (Well, Lie #4 shows how spurious this warning was.)

Lie #7: Mom emailed me about a month or so later, after I hadn’t sent her any email replies, claiming she’d talked with my aunt about the email she’d refused to read, and now she was finally willing to talk about S.’s problems. Oh, really? WHY NOW? Why didn’t Mom do this with my aunt immediately after her refusal to read an email my mom had checked to ensure a tactful choice of words? Why had Mom agreed with my aunt to “forget about the whole thing” then, but only now had changed her mind? Mom was obviously hoovering me.

When I replied, knowing this was an obvious mind game, and said we should just, indeed, forget about it, Mom agreed…but, wasn’t my aunt finally willing to confront this issue with S.? After ‘all that work talking with my aunt’, we were just going to drop it because I said we should? Lies, lies, and more lies, Mother Dear.

What’s more, during all of this lying, manipulating, gaslighting, and triangulating, she’d asked me to make a visit to Canada, because she’d “love to see me”! Sure, Mom! I’d love to have a vicious liar in the same room with my wife and me, squirting more of her poison in my ears! She’d asked, on the phone, when I could make another visit (in 2015, seven years after my last visit to Canada) between Lies #2 and #3; my cold, evasive silence should’ve made it clear to her that I didn’t want to visit; then, in an email after Lie #7, she pressured me to visit again, even offering to pay my plane tickets, and I was forced to reply in the following way (pretty close to my actual words, as best as I can remember):

October 9, 2015

I don’t need help paying for plane tickets; I wouldn’t want to visit regardless of my money situation. You should already know why. Lies, lies, and more lies. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about; you know perfectly well what I mean by that. You’ve been provoking me for the past 12-13 years.

I won’t answer any of your phone calls or emails, because I’m so sick of all this manipulation. Please drop this. Take comfort in the fact that you have the love of R., F., J., and your grandchildren. If you love somebody, set him free.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this was one hell of a blunt email reply; but let’s face it–she was really asking for it.

What was her reaction, which I could predict, and which came true in an email from J. in November? Mom used a typical narcissist tactic–she played the victim. In J.’s email, she wrote of how my above email message “hurt” Mom; and like a typical flying monkey, J. took our Mom’s side 100%, saying “Mom truly doesn’t know what I meant by lying“.

I was expected to reply with a confirmation of my address in Taiwan (another thing my sister wanted from me in her message), as well as, of course, an explanation of why I was mad at Mom; I answered only the former question, to which J. replied approvingly, saying it was “Short and sweet”. (Recall how much my sister hates my long-windedness.) Since a longwinded reply was the only way I could discuss my falling-out with Mom, I didn’t reply to J.’s reply; in fact, I didn’t even read past these words of her question, “Are you mad at Mom because…?”

Supposedly, this was supposed to be my sister inviting me to offer my side of the story; but seriously…I know these people. They have never respected or validated my perspective on anything in my life, except on the rare occasion when it was convenient for them. J. had already demonstrated her absolute loyalty to Mom in believing her that she ‘truly didn’t know’ what I was talking about in my accusation of her lying to me. So, why should I have even bothered trying to explain anything to J. in a following reply? She would have ‘heard me out’, then proceeded to relay my answer to Mom, who in all likelihood had a ready-made refutation of my accusation, and J. would have believed her.

Knowing what I do about triangulation, I can even visualize how Mom communicated her ‘version’ of what happened: she cried a deluge of sympathy tears to J., who probably played the role of consoling ‘parent’ to Mom; she sobbed copiously about how she ‘only want[ed] to see [me]’, that as my mother, she so ‘deeply loved’ me and missed me, and how I ‘always hurt her and hurt her’, a pure projection of her always having hurt me, including this recent triangulating tactic, all to vilify me to the family.

Here is what her real reaction to my email was, in all probability: she flew into a rage, saying (or thinking) something to the effect of, ‘That ungrateful little brat!’ (I, a brat in my late 40s.) ‘After all I’ve done for him! I’ll fix him! Everyone in the family’s gonna hate him–I’ll make sure of it!’ Then she practiced sobbing in front of a mirror, so to speak.

On top of all this, her health had been declining; she was 77, after all. Her breast cancer metastasized, and I was contacted around April of 2016. While I was wrong to think this dying of cancer was a lie to manipulate me into visiting (she died the following month), it was a perfectly reasonable suspicion for me to have had at the time, given what had previously happened.

From the family’s perspective, I was being monstrously unfilial; while she lay there in hospital on her deathbed, I was expected to do my part in honouring the great matriarch of the family. R. wanted me to be available to chat with her (her using his cellphone) as often as possible, but after not only her original lies about autism and Asperger’s syndrome, her triangulating against me my whole life, but also with those seven lies the previous summer, which she wouldn’t even admit to, chatting with her was the last thing I wanted to do, whether she was dying or not.

And oh, the way she played the victim card during that one phone call I did concede to have with her! She went on and on about how I’d hurt her, laying the guilt trip on so thick, while not even having the decency to admit to all that she had done to provoke me. When people are trying to be reconciled, it’s generally good policy to be fair and admit one’s own faults as well as complain of those on the other side.

She ended her whole J’accuse by mentioning how she, during my pre-teen years (which she’d also claimed were a time I’d made life especially trying for her…a time when, by the way, she was prating about how ‘my autism’ made her wonder if I’d “ever make a good garbageman”, and that the psychiatrists said one should “lock [me] up in an asylum and throw away the key!”…projection), “gave me the most love”! Reaction formation…I was infuriated to hear those words.

I refused to call her after that. I even left my home phone unplugged, so R. couldn’t contact me and pressure me into talking to her. She soon died. He discovered a YouTube video of me back in 2009, reciting Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be the Verse’ with a bitter scowl. Naturally, he was enraged…though, in my defence, nobody forced him to watch it. In his snarky comment to the video, he claimed I was “a disturbed individual” (no doubt a judgement influenced by our mother’s triangulating, to discredit any opinions I have that might have exposed her for the probable malignant narcissist that she was), and–no doubt influenced by Mom’s “gave [me] the most love” self-congratulation–he said she’d loved me “more than anyone else on the planet”.

Now, did he mean that she loved me more than she loved anyone else? A totally ridiculous thing to say (umm, more than she loved our Dad?), and one that can be defended only by acknowledging that he was grieving over her, and my rather nasty video enraged him beyond his ability to say anything rational.

Or, did he mean that she loved me more than anyone else has ever loved me? Another absurd generalization: he didn’t consider my wife’s love for me, she who–for all of her reservations and grievances against my faults–has loved me more than everyone in that Canadian family combined!

I suspect he meant the latter; if so, I wish he could understand that his implication that his, F.’s, and J.’s tepid-to-non-existent love for me, as well as a lack of love for me from the rest of the world, isn’t so much a reproach of me, but a reproach against them as a family. As I explained at the beginning of this post, my faults are enough to provoke an understandable level of anger and frustration from them as a family, but they are nowhere near enough to provoke their abusive, contemptuous attitude.

I’m R.’s kid brother: he’s supposed to love me, regardless of how trying I can be for him or anyone. He, as well as F. and J., have their sense of cause and effect all mixed up; it’s not that I get a paucity of love from them because I am do irritating things–I get a paucity of love from them, so I do irritating things.

To return to a discussion of Fairbairn and object relations, when children aren’t given the love and affirmation they need from the real, external world (from their primary objects, their parents and primary caregivers), their Central Ego splits into fantasied, internal objects: a Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object configuration (pleasurable object relations), and an Anti-libidinal Ego (or Internal Saboteur)/Rejecting Object configuration (negative object relations).

In my childhood world, my Central Ego was torn apart by the family’s constant bullying and emotional abuse, causing me to retreat into a world of maladaptive daydreaming, in which I created imaginary Exciting Objects (including characters in sex fantasies) for my broken-off Libidinal Ego; to protect myself from further hurt, my Anti-libidinal Ego made Rejecting Objects of my family and most people I knew in my neighbourhood and at school (for indeed, so many of them were such bullies that they really were Rejecting Objects).

So, the family’s bullying of me caused me to develop a rejecting personality as a way to protect myself. I’m the youngest of all of them, so I didn’t cause them, they caused me. I reacted to them, causing them to react to me, too, but they–as the older ones–were the first cause.

I wasn’t the worst-behaved of our parents’ kids: I was actually the best-behaved. R. dropped out of school and left home as a teen; F. crashed a T-bird into a telephone pole when he was a young adult; J. got caught shoplifting when she was a pre-teen (I believe F. influenced her in that direction); F. and J. smoked pot and drank beer during parties when our parents were away on vacation; J. (about 19) got caught in bed with her boyfriend when our parents suddenly came home one night; I, on the other hand, slammed doors, ate up all the cereal, and accidentally hurt our dog once or twice. Perspective.

The only time I did anything significantly bad–from the family’s perspective–was when I was so cold to Mom during the 2010s; but as I’ve explained so many times before, she provoked it. R., F., and J. know nothing of our mother’s provocations, because, through triangulation, she made sure my siblings never knew my side of the story.

I’m sure their willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance will ensure that they never learn my side of the story, let alone validate it. If they ever find this blog and read it, their trolling comments below will prove, ironically, just how right I am about their attitude.

Further Reading: WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

Analysis of ‘Salem’s Lot

‘Salem’s Lot is a vampire horror novel written by Stephen King and published in 1975. It’s his second novel, as well as his personal favourite of all of those he’s written. There have been two made-for-TV adaptations: the 1979 one starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, and Bonnie Bedelia; and the 2004 adaptation starring Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, and James Cromwell. While the first adaptation took many liberties with King’s novel, he felt no animus against it, unlike his reaction to Stanley Kubrick‘s version of The Shining.

Here are a few quotes:

“…the Lot’s knowledge of the country’s torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there.”        –Chapter 2, 4 (page 44)

“The town knew about darkness.

“It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul.” –Ch. 10, 1 (page 321)

“These are the town’s secrets, and some will later be known and some will never be known. The town keeps them all with the ultimate poker face.

“The town cares for devil’s work no more than it cares for God’s or man’s. It knew darkness. And darkness was enough.” –Ch. 10, 1 (page 327)

In the Prologue, part 3, we come upon a newspaper article, ‘GHOST TOWN IN MAINE?’, referring to two ghost towns: Jerusalem’s Lot and Momson (page 8; also, pages 594-5). Some kind of evil has emptied both towns of their residents. By the end of the story, Ben Mears has started a brush fire as the only way to rid ‘salem’s Lot of its vampires. A fire to rid a city of its evil; two cities laid in desolation by some horrible evil; ‘Salem and Momson seem redolent of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Indeed, ‘salem’s Lot sounds like a pun on ‘Sodom’s Lot’. Is Ben Mears the ‘Lot’ of Jerusalem’s Lot? A fiery destruction is certainly ‘salem’s lot (i.e., fate). What’s more, ‘Salem sounds like fairly nearby Salem, Massachusetts, where the infamous witch trials took place.

Jerusalem is a most holy city (the fighting and controversy over it notwithstanding), as opposed to most unholy Sodom. ‘Salem’s Lot comes off as a quaint, wholesome town…on the surface. The Marsten House (a pun on monster, and almost an anagram, phonetically) is a magnet for evil, having been the home of a murder/suicide before housing master vampire Kurt Barlow and his human assistant, Richard Straker.

Is the contraction, ‘salem, removing Jeru (a pun on Jesu?), meant to indicate a removal of the outer veneer of goodness, leaving only evil? Indeed, the horror of this novel, as with The Exorcist and The Omen, lies in the presence only of evil, and the absence of good.

Jerusalem was originally the name of a pig that escaped the confines of its owner, Charles Belknap Tanner, then ran wild into a forest. Tanner then called the forest (part of his property), ‘Jerusalem’s Lot‘, and warned kids not to go into it, lest they be killed by the wild pig. The town was later named after the forest. The history of the town included a cult that practiced witchcraft and amoral sexuality, including inbreeding. Hence, we can easily see how the town has always been associated with outright bestial evil; hence, in turn, my association of ‘salem’s Lot with Sodom.

Before I go further into my comparison of ‘salem’s Lot with Sodom, let’s consider the story of Lot in Sodom. He was accommodating two angels, in the guise of men, when all the men of Sodom crowded around Lot’s house, demanding he bring the two men out so they could “know” (yada’) them, i.e., gang rape them (Genesis 19:5).

The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah included flagrant inhospitality, overweening pride (Ezekiel 16:49-50), and most controversially, male homosexuality (though it is only male-on-male gang rape that is explicitly dealt with in this story, not that that makes any difference to bigoted Bible fundamentalists, who use this story to justify intolerance of LGBT people).

Lot, demonstrating his duty to be hospitable to the angels, refuses to bring them out for the sexual sport of the Sodomites, who then try to force their way into Lot’s house. The two angels blind the Sodomites and warn Lot to take his family out of the city while the angels destroy the cities with fire and brimstone.

To show the parallels between the Bible story and ‘Salem’s Lot, I must start by pointing out how eroticism is all over the place in vampire fictionCarmilla and Dracula are two well-known early examples of this. Those phallic fangs’ biting into flesh and sucking out blood powerfully suggests sexual predation, and many, if not most of the significant vampire attacks (including attempts) in this novel are male on male, symbolic of male homosexual rape.

Remember that no victim of a vampire bite consents to it, and I’m not at all agreeing with the Bible-beating bigots’ notion that consensual gay sex between adults is a sin (I don’t even believe in God). I’m not trying to moralize about gay male sex, but rather my concern is with the novel’s vampirism as symbolic typically of (attempted or successful) male-on-male sexual assault, which is every bit as indefensible as male-on-female rape, or any other kind of rape.

I’m just seeing an interesting parallel between the Sodomites wanting to get into Lot’s house to rape the angels, on the one hand, and the vampire Danny Glick biting Mike Ryerson, Randy McDougall (page 327), and Jack Griffen, and wanting to get Mark Petrie to open his bedroom window, so he can enter Mark’s room and bite him (pages 367-371). Petrie, of course, scares Danny away with a crucifix, just as the angels thwarted the Sodomites’ plan to push their way past Lot’s doorway and gang-rape them.

In this connection, remember also the Glick boys’ fear of “preeverts” while passing through the woods on the night Ralphie goes missing (pages 119-121). Remember also Hank Peters and Royal Snow wondering about the two new residents of the Marsten House: ‘Hank…looked up toward the Marsten House, which was dark and shuttered tonight. “I don’t like goin’ up there, and I ain’t afraid to say so. If there was ever a haunted house, that’s it. Those guys must be crazy, tryin’ to live there. Probably queer for each other anyway.”…”Like those fag interior decorators,” Royal agreed.’ (page 143)

Now, the homophobia of Hank and Royal aside, whatever Barlow and Straker are doing in the privacy of their own house is no one’s business but theirs; but their vampirism on the males and females of the whole town (a symbolic sexual predation), including such female victims as Marjorie Glick (pages 331-335) and Susan Norton, will be a major worry for Ben Mears. The vampire victim is hypnotized (or at least an attempt is made to hypnotize: pages 316-318) into allowing the vampire to bite him, just as a rape victim may be ‘hypnotized’ by alcohol or drugs into allowing a sexual predator to enjoy him or her.

What is of far greater importance, though, for the sake of my comparison of ‘Salem’s Lot with ‘Sodom’s Lot’, is how the blatant inhospitality in Sodom and Gomorrah was due to the excessive pride and arrogance of the inhabitants of those two sinful cities (i.e., their refusal to help the poor); for the vampirism of ‘Salem’s Lot can be seen as symbolic of narcissism.

Narcissists can be inhospitable in the extreme. Bullies by nature, they try to manipulate and control their victims (like vampires getting their victims to look in their eyes, to hypnotize them), even to the point of controlling their victims’ finances. They lure a victim in with fake, superficial charm (like the suave Barlow and Straker, with their charming furniture shop), then they idealize, devalue, and discard their victims (as Barlow does with Susan Norton after biting her, not caring at all that his ‘bride’ will be staked in the heart by the man who truly loves her…Ben Mears! [The Lot IV, 15, pages 514-520]).

Matt Burke notes several times that Barlow has a big ego (pages 525-527). Narcissists don’t necessarily brag overtly, however: having mastered their craft at manipulating others, they learn to present a False Self of goodness to the world (of the sort that Straker shows everyone [page 249], that he and Barlow are just business associates), while hiding their egotistical True Self, even from themselves (as Barlow must be hidden, sleeping during the day, and coming out only in the shadows at night).

This sleeping in the day, and coming out only at night, suggests that the day represents the conscious mind, while the night represents the unconscious. Heinz Kohut wrote of how narcissists will either repress their grandiose self (push it down into the unconscious) or disavow it (split it away vertically–Kohut, page 185).

Straker can thus represent this False Self: ‘”Mr. Straker?…Well, he’s quite charming,” [Susan] said. “Courtly might be an even better world…”…”Did you like him?” Matt asked, watching her closely… [Susan said] “I’ll give you a woman’s reaction. I did and I didn’t. I was attracted to him in a mildly sexual way, I guess. Older man, very urbane, very charming, very courtly.” […but,] “I think I sensed a certain contempt under the surface. A cynicism. As if he were playing a certain part, and playing it well, but as if he knew he wouldn’t have to pull out all the stops to fool us. A touch of condescension…And there seemed to be something a little bit cruel about him.” (pages 306-308)

Narcissists need narcissistic supply to be regularly provided. The vampires’ hunger for blood represents this craving for narcissistic supply. This supply, which feeds the narcissist’s ego, comes at the expense of the victims, who are drained of self-worth and energy, just like Barlow’s and Danny’s victims. Remember how sick Mike Ryerson feels after his bite at the graveyard (Chapter 7, part 3, pages 252-258).

If a narcissist feels threatened, that is, if his False Self is exposed as such, thus revealing his True Self, he’ll react with narcissistic rage and injury. When Barlow discovers Mark has infiltrated his house and killed Straker, the head vampire vows revenge (pages 510-512). He doesn’t bite Mark’s parents: he kills them by cracking their skulls together before the boy’s eyes (pages 535-539). When a narcissist feels a wound to his ego, his only way to feel better is to inflict pain on others.

Barlow has a special way of disposing of Father Callahan: he makes the priest drink his blood (page 542). By making the priest into a vampire of sorts, having Callahan drink his devilish blood, Barlow projects his evil onto him. Again, narcissists are known to project their vices onto the victims of their abuse. The tainted priest can no longer enter a church (pages 549-550).

Barlow enjoys having humiliated the priest, having stripped him of his ability to be a man of God. Similarly, the Sodomites’ wish to gang rape the angels may have had more to do with the desire to rob them of their holiness than to satisfy homosexual lust; indeed, when (often straight) men rape other men, it’s often to humiliate their victims, rather than just to get off. Narcissists humiliate and abase as just another way to get narcissistic supply.

Examples of narcissistic abuse can be seen on a normal, human level in the everyday lives of the people in ‘salem’s Lot, before they’ve even been attacked by the vampires. Consider Richie Bodden, the school bully, whose proud mother wants everyone to know “what a huge young man her son was” (page 83); then Mark Petrie puts him in his place (pages 86-7).

Then there’s hunchbacked Dud Rogers–the custodian of the Lot’s Town Dump–whose grotesqueness and strength remind me of that “dog”, that “elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog”, that “bottled spider”, that “poisonous bunch-back’d toad” (I, iii), the Duke of Gloucester, the hunchbacked Richard III, a man who “cannot prove a lover”, and so is “determined to prove a villain” (I, i, lines 28, 30); in Shakespeare’s play, the duke’s narcissistic ambition drives him to kill his way to the throne.

Dud gets his jollies firing his .22 target pistol at rats (pages 88-92); but when he encounters Barlow, whose “hypnotizin'” eyes are “like dark pits ringed with fire, pits you could fall into and drown in”, the vampire assumes correctly that “The girls laugh at [Dud]…They have no knowing of [Dud’s] manhood…[and] strength.” (page 233) And when Barlow bites him (page 234), Dud is as determined to be a villain as the duke was.

Also, there’s Mabel Werts, the town gossip (page 122)…and narcissists are notorious gossips. Susan Norton’s mother, disapproving of Ben (page 188), has a relationship with her daughter bordering on dysfunction (page 395). As an example of this troubled relationship, Mrs. Norton prefers “That nice boy, Floyd Tibbits” to Ben…and Floyd “put Ben in the hospital” (page 301).

Then there’s Sandy McDougall’s irresponsible treatment of her and Roy’s baby Randy (pages 71-73, 224-227, and 327-330), who ultimately dies, having not only Danny Glick’s vampire bite on his neck, but also Sandy’s bruises. Again, narcissistic mothers are known for putting their own needs before those of their children, and Sandy is the epitome of narcissistic inhospitality, before the vampires have even struck.

Back to Ben. The author has returned to ‘salem’s Lot, his childhood hometown, to “exorcise all his demons” (page 648) by writing about them in a new book. When he was nine, his friends dared him to go inside the Marsten House and take something from it, as initiation into their club, the Bloody Pirates. Inside the house, he saw the hanging corpse of Hubie Marsten, whose eyes opened for the boy (pages 56-58, 221, and 310)!

Young Ben stole a glass snow globe from the house, and has kept it as a memento until the end of the novel (pages 636-7), when, after seeing his own face in it (implying his fear that he, too, embodies the evil of the house), he destroys it, along with burning the manuscript of his book on the Marsten House. The only way to get rid of his trauma is to destroy it.

Another trauma of Ben’s is the death of his wife, Miranda, in a motorcycle accident, one for which, we sense, he blames himself (pages 482-484). Since I consider Ben to be the Lot of (the Sodom that is) ‘salem’s Lot, I find it apposite at this point to remind us of Lot’s own guilt. Lot offered his two virgin daughters (Genesis 19:8) to satisfy the lust of the Sodomites (making nonsense of John Boswell‘s claim [1980] that the Sodomites merely wanted “to ‘know‘ [another meaning of yada’] who [the two angels] were”, which in itself would hardly be a heinous sin for the Sodomites to have committed; the point in the Biblical narrative of offering, and rejecting the offer of, the daughters is to emphasize the Sodomites’ taste for male-on-male rape over male-on-female rape).

Though Lot and his family were saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back on the burning cities, then turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Lot must have imagined himself to be, on at least some level, guilty of her death (as Mears must have blamed his carelessness on his motorcycle for the death of Miranda), having incurred God’s wrath for the offer of his daughters (as Robert Alter believes: Alter, page 85, note 8).

Lot must have incurred the girls’ wrath, too, since they later shamed him by getting him drunk and having sex with him (Genesis 19:31-38), to impregnate them and bear the ancestors of the despised Moabites (Mo-ab, “from the father”) and the children of Ammon (see also Alter, page 90, note 30-38). Lot’s daughters’ sexual predation is like vampiress Susan’s attempt to bite Mark (Ben’s double: more on that later) at his bedroom window (pages 449-451).

Evil occurs in cycles throughout ‘Salem’s Lot. Ben’s book on the Marsten House is “about the recurrent power of evil” (page 181). First, there was the evil, sexually perverse cult of James Boon back in the 18th century, as well as the myth of the dangerous wild pig, Jerusalem, in his “Lot”, the forest within Tanner’s property. Then there were the Hubie Marsten crimes in the house. Next came Straker, Barlow, and the vampires.

Other cycles include Mears’s traumas: first, his seeing Hubie’s ghost and its opening eyes; then, Mears’s return to the Lot, only to find himself battling vampires. Then, he returns again, with his double, Mark, to burn down the whole town in a brush fire. First, Ben accidentally killed Miranda; then, he’s forced to destroy the vampire version of his next love, Susan.

One of Mark’s traumas is watching Barlow smash together the heads of the boy’s parents, killing them (page 535). Earlier, Mark went into the Marsten House with Susan, only to find himself tied up by Straker (pages 438-440) and, failing to protect her (as Mears failed to protect Miranda by failing to turn a non-fatal corner–page 483: “in some parallel world he and Miranda had taken a left at the corner one block back and were riding into an entirely different future.”), Mark has let her be turned into a vampiress. Mark kills Straker (pages 445-6), Barlow’s presentable double (as Mears, of whom Mark is the innocent double, destroys Barlow), then runs out of the Marsten House (page 448) in a repeat of nine-year-old Ben’s frantic escape from the house twenty-four years earlier.

A fire occurred in 1951 (page 326), spread by the winds to incinerate so much more; then, Ben starts a fire to destroy the Lot at the end of the novel.

There are two pairs of destroying visitors, the younger of each pair either more innocent or more presentable than the older: good Mark and Ben, and evil Straker and Barlow, paralleling doubles of each other. A good casting choice was made in the 1979 adaptation, with Lance Kerwin (Mark) and David Soul (Ben), both actors possessing a conspicuous blond youth, to emphasize how the boy is a cyclical repeat of the man.

Straker, similarly, has an urbane suaveness like Barlow’s in the novel, though you wouldn’t see that in the 1979 adaptation, with James Mason (Straker) contrasted with the Nosferatu version of Barlow. On the other hand, during the scene of Barlow’s confrontation with Mark and Father Callahan, Mason’s Straker speaks for the snarling Nosferatu (instead of Barlow speaking for himself, as he does in the novel), thus showing how the servant (the False Self–see above) is the double of his master (the True Self).

Mears’s guilt feelings, and demons to be exorcized by writing about his childhood trauma, make him wonder if that magnet of evil, the Marsten House, has attracted him in the same way as Barlow (David Soul’s Ben asks this of Lew Ayres‘s Burke in the 1979 adaptation). Is Ben a double of Barlow? In destroying Barlow, is Ben killing the evil in himself (i.e., that exorcizing), or at least trying to?

Victims of narcissistic abuse often ask themselves if they, too, are narcissists. Have they themselves been infected by the disease of their victimizers? When Barlow’s hiding place has been discovered, he has to find a new one: the basement of Eva Miller’s boarding house…where Ben is staying. Rather than equate Barlow thus with Ben, we can see this move as symbolizing Barlow’s introjection into Ben’s psyche, something narcissists do to their victims.

The Marsten House symbolizes the narcissistic psyche, with its evil hidden in the unconscious id of its shadows. The boarding house can be seen as representing Mears’s psyche, the hiding vampires in the basement representing Mears’s repressed, unconscious trauma–Barlow’s introjections into him. Mark’s house is his own psyche. (Lot’s house can be seen as his own psyche, too.) Evil (be it in the form of vampires or Sodomites) infects all of these places by forcing its way in (or at least trying to), traumatizing its victims.

Even when Ben and Mark have gone as far away as “a small California town on the Mexican border” (page 3), they’re still affected by their trauma. They must go back to ‘salem’s Lot, and finish the town off for good. In the end, both ‘salem’s Lot and Momson, like Sodom and Gomorrah, are left in desolation, just as those psychological vampires known as narcissists leave their victims in a state of emotional desolation.

Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot, Anchor Books, New York, 1975

Absence Makes the Mind Go Fonder

When King Lear was reunited with Cordelia, having realized the dreadful mistake he’d made of alienating himself from her affections by disowning her, he asked her forgiveness and, finally knowing himself, called himself a “very foolish, fond old man.” (IV, vii, 60) By ‘fond’, Lear meant ‘foolish, stupid, mad’ (Crystal and Crystal, p. 181). That’s how I’m using the word fond in this post.

Narcissists are notorious for having low Emotional Intelligence (i.e., a low EQ). Their lack of empathy for others and their lack of insight into their own personality problems, because their False Self blinds them to their True Self, are examples of this lack of understanding that most people have.

Consider Trump’s disastrous decisions, and how neither he nor any of his supporters acknowledge the folly of their actions. Instead, his ambassador to the UN made a public display of his narcissistic injury in a speech condemning the international community’s condemnation of his team’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The foolishness of narcissists in power can be seen to have its roots in childhood trauma, often from narcissists in the family. I’m convinced that my late mother’s probable narcissism stemmed from the traumatic loss of her father when she was a child, this kind of loss being one that Heinz Kohut observed in his narcissistic patients. “Traumatic deprivations and losses of objects up to and including the oedipal period…, and traumatic disappointments in them, may…interfere seriously with the basic structuralization of the psychic apparatus itself.” (Kohut, page 44)

I believe my siblings experienced traumatic disappointments in our not-so-healthy parents, childhood traumas that led to their helping my mom emotionally abuse me. Her lack of empathy for me (and for them, by extension) led to their lack of empathy for me, and their lack of insight into themselves is similar to her lack of such insight. I will now demonstrate how foolish their collective narcissism has always been, and how it was the main driving force to their having lost me forever.

I’ve already gone over countless times how my brothers R. and F., and my sister J., bullied me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood; then after I moved to East Asia, they took a few shots at me here and there when the opportunity arose for them, with my mother conniving at it the whole time. (You see, the only reason they weren’t doing any of this nastiness to me, on the almost daily basis that they had before I’d left Canada, is because I’d left, depriving them of the maximum of opportunities they’d once had, not because of a change in their natures; at best, they merely mellowed with age.) I’ve already explained my mother’s outrages against me (Part VII: Conclusion) over the decades.

Now let’s consider the utter stupidity of what they did.

They did what they did, not, as they’d have everyone believe, because I deserved it (of course I didn’t! Being mad at me for doing bad things needn’t require an abusive reaction, and much of what they did wasn’t even out of anger with me, but done rather for the sheer fun of tormenting me), but because they were getting away with it, all thanks to our mother’s winking at it, and rationalizing it at my expense.

When I’d moved to Taiwan, they never seemed to give much consideration to how easily I could disown the whole family. All I had to do was not buy airplane tickets, and stop communicating with them. All they had to do was give me a strong enough reason to give up on all of them.

I find it safe to assume that the family gave little, if any, thought to what a bad foundation they’d made of their relationship with me by the time I’d left Canada. They never seemed to reflect on how their constant bullying, belittling, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse had not only built up resentment in me, but also ensured I’d feel little, if any, affection for them.

When such a shaky foundation for a relationship is established in a family, and the family member with whom this foundation has been made moves far away, it’s a bad idea to reinforce bad feelings with him in any way if you want to keep alive a bond with him.

So, here’s the question: did my family not care about having a good relationship with me, or were they being just plain stupid?

After a few months of living here in Taiwan (in the fall of 1996), I hadn’t written a letter to Mom, or anyone else in the family. She wrote to me, saying at the beginning of her letter, “You’re going to get it!” (i.e., for having not written to them). She meant this in a jesting tone, but anyone who knows about psychoanalytic interpretations of joking around, as well as my history of being controlled and manipulated by my mother, will know that–at least unconsciously–there was more to her words than mere jocularity.

She didn’t stand in the way at all of my moving to Taiwan (and restricting the victim’s movements is a typical form of emotional abuse); but she understood I’d wanted to stay in Taiwan only until I’d finished using my English-teaching job to pay off my student loan, then I’d return to Canada. She also had the good sense to understand that my student debt was not something I’d want to be saddled with for the rest of my life. So she didn’t fear losing me at the time. The thing is, within a year of living here, I changed my mind and chose to stay here for life.

A year or so later, my sister J. wrote to me, expressing a worry that I’d marry a local girl, and J. would never see me again. Did she not realize that she, who’d eagerly joined in on all the bullying and belittling of me during my youth, provided me with a perfect way to hurt her back with relative impunity? Did she, who rarely empathized with my fears, actually think I’d empathize with hers?

When I was dating my then-girlfriend Judy, and on my first visit to Canada (in 1999), I feared not being able to get back to Taiwan because of a problem with my passport. J. learned of my worries, and of Judy and me missing each other; soon after I’d got back to Taiwan with no problems, J. sent me a letter, having written it in a petulant, almost bullying tone, of how the family ‘missed’ me, and showing no sympathy for how Judy and I had missed each other. J. didn’t like the idea that I missed Judy more than missing the family. (Well, J., you see, there actually is affection between Judy and me, unlike with…)

Now, we had missed each other for only two weeks, as opposed to the family’s ‘missing’ me for three years (though I’d just satisfied their wish to see me again, which had surely cancelled out their ‘missing’ of me, at least for the moment); but Judy and I were in love, and we naturally had such gushing feelings for each other, whereas J. et al were just demonstrating a controlling attitude, as they always have. Judy was as annoyed by J.’s letter as I was.

I’m sure J. has forgotten all about her letter, though I haven’t forgotten it at all.

I mentioned in this post (Part VI: J.’s Dissing of Judy) how J. made it pellucidly clear that she didn’t like the idea of me marrying Judy. What did J. think I was going to do? Call off any plans of marrying the woman I love, out of a fear of displeasing my sister? J. calls her attitude ‘missing’ me, but it’s really about how she and the rest of the family consider me merely an extension of them, rather than an individual in my own right, with my own rights, feelings, and strivings.

But here’s the point that needs to be made: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

Of course, the crowning achievement in my family’s stupidity was my mother’s bringing up [<<<the last seven paragraphs of Part I] Asperger syndrome (AS), claiming, without any psychiatric authority whatsoever, that I have the disorder. Did she think I was going to thank her for talking about that?

My resistance to her nonsense was gentle and tactful at first [<<<Part VI of the link], but she simply wouldn’t take the hint. If she had just left it alone, my visits to Canada, my sending of birthday and Christmas cards, and my general communication with them (including phoning Mom regularly) would have continued as normally…

…but Mom just had to fuck all of that up.

As I said above: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

As I said earlier in this post, deep down, I never felt any strong affection for those five people I shared a home with during my youth (they, of course, would blame me for my lack of affection, rather than take responsibility for alienating my affections during my crucial, identity-forming adolescence); this means that, whenever I contemplated the future deaths of my parents, I dreaded the obligation of flying back to Canada to attend their funerals (read this, Part IV: Rationalizing Irrational Behaviour, to know why I find family funerals traumatizing).

I imagined how difficult it would be to make excuses to avoid attending funerals. The funny thing is, though, Mom was making it increasingly easy for me to avoid the family, with how much she was upsetting me.

Her revival of the whole autism thing (which, had she just kept her dumb mouth shut about it, wouldn’t have led me to deduce that the whole thing had been a lie) was one thing, though: her use of AS to justify rejecting my plan to make a visit in the mid-2000s, to see J. and her terminally-ill husband, was something else, and it was the last straw (Part VII: No Good Intent Goes Unpunished).

I had always made my visits to Canada on the assumption that the family missed me, and therefore would always be glad to see me, every time. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, doesn’t it?) With Mom’s rejection of my plan to visit J. and her husband, though, with her claiming that J. and the rest of the family agreed that my not visiting was a good idea, she compromised the whole notion of the family’s ‘missing’ of me. And in so doing, she made my wish to stop visiting all the easier: perhaps I should thank her for that.

By the 2010s, I’d put all the pieces together (‘my autism’, the family’s constant emotional abuse, Mom’s impenitence, and what it all really meant), and realized that not only was Mom’s labelling of me with AS a lie, but so was her original labelling of me with infantile autism! (see Part 3: The Dawn of Realization)

Yet she always acted as if she’d never done anything wrong.

This lack of responsibility goes triple for my siblings, of course.

You see, after I’d complained about Mom’s attitude in emails back in the mid-to-late 2000s, even explicitly warning that I’d stop visiting if Mom and the family continued to show me no respect (i.e., never apologize for rejecting my plan to visit, continue labelling me with AS), instead of the family complying with my demands, J. wrote me a snotty email, demanding that I “let this go” (what “this” was depended greatly on how Mom had portrayed “this” to J., doubtlessly a trivializing of my pain, making Mom seem innocent and me the bad guy), and that I not write back to J., thus silencing my ability to tell my sister my side of the story.

Again, the refrain is worth repeating: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

Still, my mother made one of her many feeble attempts at reconciliation with me in an email, and I, in good faith, went along with it, and decided to give the family one last chance. I visited in 2008, getting a chance to see my father one last time before he died (he, in spite of doing virtually nothing to stop Mom and her BS about ‘my autism’, when he believed it no more than I did, was nonetheless the closest I had of anyone in the family [apart from my cousin S., up until he lost his mind…more on that later] to being a friend).

And during my visit, members of my family showed me they were the same people they’d always been, thus showing my Mom’s email promise of them all ‘changing their attitude’ to be as hollow and empty as any profession of love that I’d ever heard from them previously. During a family get-together, R. mocked my speech on two occasions. F.’s son, when asked by his dad if he remembered his uncle, looked me in the face impudently and said, “No!”

This latter incident was one of many that made me assume, with perfect safety (Part 4: Abusing My Cousins), that the family was bad-mouthing me regularly behind my back; for my nephew hardly knows me well enough for me to have given him bad feelings myself; a mere absence in one’s life isn’t by itself enough to justify rudeness. I’m one of his two uncles, not his father: it’s not as if I’d abandoned him when he desperately needed me.

These slights of R. and my nephew were minor, though. My mother’s promise to change her attitude was broken in her continued prating about AS, even after I’d repeatedly told her to shut up about it. She even had the audacity to buy me a book on AS, to drill her gaslighting into my head further, all with that sanctimonious smile on her face!

Over the 2010s, I gave the family the cold shoulder, little by little (unlike them, I can take responsibility for my actions). They felt it, to be sure: no more birthday or Christmas cards, or acknowledgements of them by email, no adding them as Facebook friends (this last one especially worried them); but did they ever admit that they could have provoked my iciness? No, of course not. They just acted as though I alone had the problem. Any reasonable family would have contemplated the possible role they themselves had played in the growing distance between us.

Again, sheer stupidity and insensitivity on their part.

It takes collective narcissism on a colossal scale for them not to remember how mean, spiteful, and contemptuous they had been to me my whole life; how Mom’s perpetuating of her autism lies, her gaslighting, her condescension and victim-blaming were somehow not going to bite her in the ass one day.

They all fancy themselves a ‘good family’. Social groups all over the world kid themselves into thinking they do good for others, when in fact they do the opposite. This applies to religious groups as well as political parties. Trump and his clique of Zionists and evangelicals think that by making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, they’ve promoted…peace? The First World thinks that, by bombing the Arab Third World, they’re ending terrorism instead of perpetuating it. Capitalists think they’re lifting the Third World out of poverty instead of exacerbating it. But, I digress…

That ‘good family’ of mine thinks that bad-mouthing my cousins and me, something Mom inspired in them, is a good idea. She loved sowing division in our family, and she is now considered by the family to be a few rungs below sainthood!

My cousin S., only a few months after I’d told him my frustrations about my family (about seven years ago), began lashing out at me online, accusing me of all kinds of things, all without a shred of proof; not even a plausible motive had been offered by him, for he’d been my best friend here, and someone in whom I’d confided about my family and many other personal things, so why would I ever want to cross him?

He’s had a history of substance abuse (beyond regular drinking and smoking of marijuana and hashish, in his youth he did quite a bit of LSD), and this has probably played a large role in his mental instability (his accusations of me seem to be largely hallucinations); but since his online rants began only a few months after I’d told him of my decision to disown my family, I assume he told my mom about this (with the good intention of re-establishing family harmony); and she, reacting with narcissistic injury, may well have squirted some of her poison in his ears against me (as she had doubtlessly done in the ears of my siblings), thus arousing–or at least aggravating–his paranoia about me.

Whatever she may have said to him, she certainly nurtured the division between S. and me once I’d forwarded to her one of his email rants, a decision I now deeply regret (and that’s a stupid on me…stupid! Stupid! Stupid!) She obviously used this email as gossip fodder, and forwarded it to my sister J., at least, if not to the entire family. Mom did this not to alert the family to a serious mental health issue we needed to combine our efforts against and find a solution to (as I’d hoped, in all foolishness, she would); she did it to malign her nephew’s reputation, as she’d been doing to his brothers for decades.

When I mentioned S.’s problem to J. in an email exchange, she only said she was “dismayed”, having realized she was mistaken that S. was the one “normal” cousin we have. Note how her only concern was his lack of normalcy, not his ill health or unhappiness. His ‘screwiness’ in the head was another blot on the family’s reputation, apparently. Oh, dear…

J. then forgot all about S. and the urgency of his issues, and in her email reply asked about me making a visit. Naturally, I had no wish even to discuss that, preferring to go on at length in my email reply about S. (another one of my “over-the-top” emails, of course, though remember: I’ve never written in such a way to my aunt [Part 5: More Elaborate Lies]!) Since J. never replied to this message, I assume she (under Mom’s influence, probably) thought I was being as crazy as S. in my ramblings.

In any case, it was clear that neither she nor Mom were willing to lift a finger for S. Once again, they–the only two family members who ever showed an interest in my continued participation in the family–chose to alienate me even further from them. Here was a perfect opportunity for them to redeem themselves, at least in part, and they muffed it. Sheer stupidity on their part.

The family had been preaching to me for decades about the importance of setting aside one’s selfish interests for the good of others; they used this preaching to justify their smug sense of ‘superiority’ over me, and to bully and shame me whenever I failed to measure up to their expectations. Now, here we had an opportunity for them to practice what they’d been preaching: help S. They didn’t have to succeed. I didn’t expect my aging mother, or any of them individually, to take on the burden alone.

I did expect them to try, at least. They didn’t even do that.

In fact, my mother was adamant about not helping. When I asked her in an email if anything was being done to help S., she replied, “I haven’t talked to your aunt [about S.] and I will not. Knowing what he said about you in that email rant, I’ll get too upset to talk to her about it.” Funny how my mother never got upset about the awful things R., F., and J. used to say to me, almost daily, during my youth. What a convenient excuse Mom had not to help S.

This just made it all the easier for me to disown the family.

Indeed, I emailed another blunt warning to her about her attitude to S., saying he “isn’t acting the way he is because he’s a ‘bad person’: he’s acting that way because he’s ill, and he needs help. If this family just sits idly by while he continues to blunder about in his mental illness, there’s going to be a big regret…” etc., etc. [emphasis in the original email]

Yes, another of my ‘over-the-top’ emails…to my mother, not to my aunt.

And once again, Mom refused to heed my warnings.

So many opportunities to repent and prevent my disowning of the family, all wasted. So many deliberate choices to alienate me from them, yet they never faced up to what they’d done.

Instead, what was their choice method to warm me up to them? Sending me family photos, for fuck’s sake! As if seeing the faces of the people who’d hurt me so many times would ever kindle any love in my heart! They’ve really deluded themselves into thinking they were nothing but loving to me, all on the basis of a few favours done me here and there, and fulfilling the normal family obligations of feeding, housing, and clothing me; while conveniently forgetting about lying to me about a mental disability I don’t have; bullying and humiliating me, and getting explosively angry with me, usually over relatively minor offences; rejecting my own offers of love; and bad-mouthing me and our cousins behind our backs; and refusing to help the one family member who’d been my friend.

And they think I’m mentally ill? They think I’m the stupid one?

Oh, yes: during my youth, they called me “retarded” and “moron” (Mom, when I was around the ages of 9-12), “asshole!” (R., F., and J., many times during my teens), a “little shit!” (R., when I was about 14), “dip(stick)” and “dork” (R., F., and J., many times over my teen years), and a “wimp” (all of them, during my teens). Many of these names were shouted with a vicious or sneering facial expression that is the opposite of love, all during crucial, identity-forming years in my adolescence.

Mom and my siblings acted the way they did the whole time I’ve been in Taiwan, and instead of even asking what they’d done, or could have done, to make me not want to talk to them anymore, my mother complained in an email of how “hurt and annoyed” she was that I’d “given up on this family”, as if I’d just impulsively decided to turn my back on them for no reason.

To be sure, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, too…but the Dunning-Kruger effect seems to have affected the family, because they as a group have done so many stupid things to facilitate my permanent estrangement from them, and they, so full of themselves, don’t even know it, or refuse to admit it to themselves, at least.

Though I can’t say for sure, I’m fairly convinced my late mother was narcissistic on a clinically significant level. She was a sick woman, and her sickness compelled her to do the irrational things she did to me, and to the family. As her flying monkeys, my siblings absorbed some of this narcissism, a group narcissism, and that would explain the irrationality of their actions.

When Erich Fromm wrote about group narcissism in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, he was writing essentially about such things as nationalism and fascism, but I believe his ideas can be applied to smaller groups, like narcissistic parents and their golden children, too:

‘When, in group narcissism, the object is not the individual but the group to which he belongs, the individual can be fully aware of it, and express it without any restrictions. The assertion that “my country” (or nation, or religion) is the most wonderful, the most cultured, the most powerful, the most peace-loving, etc., does not sound crazy at all; on the contrary, it sounds like the expression of patriotism, faith, and loyalty. It also appears to be a realistic and rational value judgment because it is shared by many members of the same group. This consensus succeeds in transforming the phantasy into reality, since for most people reality is constituted by general consensus and not based on reason or critical examination.’ [Note also Fromm’s note to this last sentence: “Sometimes this consensus even of a small group suffices to create reality–in the most extreme cases even the consensus of two (folie à deux).”] (Fromm, page 230)

It isn’t reason that inspires my siblings (“the team” that they’d always “score another point for”–Part 4, third paragraph) to see themselves as wiser, stronger, more mature, more loving, and more giving than I am. If R., F., and J. had had a fraction of those virtues, they’d have developed suspicions as to our mother’s motives, and made a decent attempt to rescue their relationship with me (and at least try to help S.). All they had to do was listen to my side of the story with an open mind, and show as much skepticism to Mom’s version of events as they were showing mine. I don’t expect to be believed without any critical thought, but I do expect the same consideration as they were giving their oh, so charismatic leader.

By failing to do these critically important things (and as a group of at least three, their combined efforts would have made things easier for each other), they failed me, they failed S., and they failed as a family. R., F., and S., like our late mother, have been as vain, and as “old and foolish” (IV, vii, 85) as Lear, who lost everything.

Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Picador, New York, 1973

David Crystal and Ben Crystal, Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion, Penguin Books, London, 2002

Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Analysis of ‘A Christmas Carol’

A Christmas Carol is a novella written by Charles Dickens and published in 1843. Considered one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written, it is about the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old miser who scoffs at Christmas and alienates all those around him in London. Many theatre, TV, and film adaptations have been made of the story over the years, including the much-loved version of 1951 (Scrooge) with Alastair Sim in the title role, An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler as the miser, a musical version (Scrooge) with Albert Finney in the title role, and a motion-capture version with Jim Carrey as Scrooge and the three Christmas ghosts.

As with many Dickens stories, A Christmas Carol is a searing indictment of the deleterious effects of 19th-century industrial capitalism in England; however, Dickens presents a sentimental, bourgeois liberal solution to the problem of Scrooge’s miserliness by changing him into a ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalist, giving generously to the poor, instead of proposing a more radical and lasting solution to class conflict, of the type Marx and Engels would propose by the end of the 1840s.

Here are some famous quotes:

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. –narrator

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”

“Merry Christmas! [<<<a wish popularized in this novella] What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” –Scrooge
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

“God bless us, everyone!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again: “and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”

The novella is called A Christmas Carol because Dickens conceived of the story as song-like, its five chapters called “Staves”. The staves of a song tend to have a rather cyclical quality, in how the end of one stave leads into the beginning of a new one. This phasing of the old into the new will be a motif in the story.

The story begins with the emphatic declaration of the death of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s old business partner. This is significant in how Christmas, traced back to its origins as a pagan holiday based on the December solstice, is all about ‘out with the old, and in with the new’.

The winter solstice happens around December 20-22, and the European pagans believed that, because the Northern hemisphere faces furthest away from the sun at that time of year, the sun-god was dead, soon to be reborn, with the shortest days of the year to be followed by longer and longer ones. Replacing the sun-god with the Son of God, the Church replaced such festivals as Yule, and possibly Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, with Christmas on December 25.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Marley, Scrooge’s double, is gone. Scrooge is about to be reborn, as it were. As miserly as Marley was, Scrooge is too cheap even to paint over his partner’s name on the sign of their office (page 2). When visitors address Scrooge by either his or Marley’s name, Scrooge answers as if no mistake were made in calling him ‘Marley’; hence, the two money-loving businessmen are virtually indistinguishable.

Dickens compares the importance of Marley’s death at the beginning of the story to that of Hamlet’s father at the beginning of Shakespeare’s play: without that death, “nothing wonderful can come of the story” (page 2); the Danish king and prince have the same name, Marley and Scrooge have the same nature; and the death of the one begins the chain [!] of events leading to the delayed, but ultimately achieved, final heroic acts at the end of both stories.

The sun-god must die before he can be reborn, then gradually grow and warm the Northern Hemisphere in the next spring and summer. Life is a cycle of contradictions, the primary and secondary aspects of which change places in the development of all things. “We often speak of ‘the new superseding the old’. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe…In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing.” (Mao, page 158). The contradiction between greed and generosity will also result in a swapping of aspects, as will happen with Scrooge by the end of the story.

Scrooge is “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” (page 2). He keeps the coals to himself in his office (page 4), so poor Bob Cratchit, his over-worked, underpaid clerk, has barely a glowing coal or two at the fireplace by his desk. This is on Christmas Eve, seven years to the day of Marley’s death, and when the Northern Hemisphere is facing the farthest away from the sun, the sun-god dead and yet to be reborn.

Part of Scrooge’s meanness is his general misanthropy, reflected in his contempt for his cheerful nephew Fred, who insists on inviting Scrooge to his Christmas party, in spite of knowing his uncle will refuse to attend (pages 5-8). Next, Scrooge refuses to give to two portly charity collectors (pages 9-11), preferring to support the workhouses and other austere government-provided institutions, like the debtor’s prisons, the Poor Law, and the Treadmill.

Such government provisions are the worst kinds that the bourgeois state has to offer, and Scrooge won’t even give to charity, another bourgeois form of pity. The most charity he can muster is to allow Cratchit to have a paid day off on Christmas, and Scrooge does this only with a grudging scowl (page 13).

When Scrooge gets home, a suite of rooms once owned by Marley, he encounters the ghost of his old partner (pages 15, 19-27). This ghost could be said to be a parody of the risen Christ, for Scrooge is like a doubting Thomas believing he is hallucinating at the sight of Marley’s ghost from having eaten bad food. Only the ghastly sight of screaming Marley’s broken jaw, falling to his chest after his having removed a bandage wrapped around his head, frightens Scrooge into believing in Marley; this is like Thomas seeing  the stigmata and spear-wound in the side of the risen Christ before finally believing. Marley, like Christ, has harrowed Hell, and suffers from it.

Marley’s ghost is also like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who has suffered in Purgatory, a temporary Hell: both ghosts tell the respective protagonists of the difficult but necessary things they must do to redeem themselves and their world. Scrooge, like Hamlet, is rich, and therefore, powerful; he’s also a reluctant hero, like the Dane, with a long list of personality flaws, yet with much potential for good.

Marley tells Scrooge of the three ghosts that will visit him, three ghosts that will effect the redeeming transformation in him–beginning, middle, and end, a kind of Trinity, or Trimurti, in themselves (more on that later). Then the ghost goes to a window, Scrooge following (pages 27-28). They both watch the pitiful spectacle of a homeless mother holding her baby, trying her best to keep it warm. Ghosts of men like Marley are out there, too, trying in vain to redeem themselves for their lifetimes of avarice.  One of them, one Scrooge is familiar with, cries at being unable to assist the woman and her child. “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.” (page 28)

That is the end of Stave One. Stave Two begins with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past, a paradoxical-looking character, both young and old-looking at the same time (page 32). A bright light glows about his head, yet he has a large candle extinguisher for a cap. As a ghost of the past, he represents the old brought back new again; his is a light that has been snuffed out before, and will be snuffed out again. The old must die for the new to be born. This ghost, showing the creation and growth of the miser in Scrooge, is Brahma just after the leaving of Śiva.

As the ghost shows Scrooge the shadows of his Christmases as a boy and a young man, we see how Scrooge came to be the miser that he is. His father seems to have been cold and unloving to him, so he’s been a lonely schoolboy; and only on the Christmas of the first shown memory has his father finally warmed up to him, to have him come home (page 41). It is plain to see that a negative father imago has already been built up in young Ebenezer’s psyche, with his little sister, Fan, as his only good object relation for the time, to compensate for the psychological damage his father has done to him. Still, she will die after bearing Fred, and Scrooge will repeat the same cold relationship with his nephew as his father had with him. This harsh relationship is more fully developed in the 1951 movie.

Scrooge prefers wealth and gain over “dowerless” Belle, his girlfriend from a poor family; though he’s never said it to her, his preference is too obvious to her to ignore, so she chooses to “release” him, knowing a “golden…idol has displaced” her (pages 50-51). This preference, of the pleasure of owning money, over people is an example of failed object relations (i.e., ‘object‘ = a person other than oneself), as Fairbairn once observed: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (Fairbairn, p. 139-140)

When we fail to get the love we truly need and crave, we replace it with the shoddy substitutes of money, drugs, sex, pornography, alcohol, etc. Scrooge’s rage and regret over discovering Belle’s marriage to another man, as well as their large litter of children, a rage expressed in his snuffing out of the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past, underscores the reality that, deep down, it’s love and relationships, not money, that Scrooge has longed for so badly.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, “a jolly giant” in a green robe with a holly wreath around his head, is seen by Scrooge in a room full of “turkeys, geese, game, poultry,…sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings”, chestnuts, apples, oranges, pears, etc. (page 59). All of this plenty, food that preserves and maintains life, represents the living reality of now; as the previous Christmas ghost was Brahma, this one is Vishnu. He shows Scrooge the lives of ordinary, working class people, including a miners’ cottage (pages 78-79), sailors during a storm at sea (pages 79-80), and, of course, the Cratchit family (pages 67-77). Scrooge is touched to see the love in this family.

He is especially moved by Tiny Tim, a sweet boy one couldn’t dislike if one tried, one who is a sick cripple. When his parents show their fear of him dying, Scrooge feels an emotion he surely hasn’t felt in years: compassion. All those US politicians who refuse to allow single-payer healthcare could do well to see the millions of faces of the sick proletariat who can’t afford the healthcare they need, all those Tiny Tims who are being ignored.

At the end of Scrooge’s time with the Ghost of Christmas Present, two filthy, emaciated children are discovered to be hiding under his robe, sitting at the ghost’s feet. The boy is Ignorance, the girl is Want: Scrooge is warned to beware of both, but especially to beware the boy.

How many of us fetishists of commodities fail to beware the boy? We eagerly buy the latest smartphones, electric cars, etc., ignorant of how the cobalt needed to make them is found; this cobalt has been mined by children “in the bowels of the earth” in the DRC. The corporations that exploit this labour either claim ignorance of how they get their cobalt, or claim they’re taking measures to solve the problem: should we be buying their claims of innocence?

Dickens was decrying the evils of 19th century industrial capitalism in England, and how these evils were causing suffering among the British working class, especially children. The contemporary equivalent of this problem is capitalist imperialism, which is exploiting the global proletariat, the millions of people who live in Third World countries like the DRC.

Dickens’s proposed solution in this novella was to have ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalists. This might be acceptable, to some extent at least, in First World countries; but it solves nothing for the Third World, where suffering was plenty acute even when Keynesian capitalism, coupled with better social welfare programs, was ‘kinder and gentler’ for the white Western world from 1945-1973.

The Ghost of Christmas Present actually ages and ‘dies’ at the end of the day (pages 89-91). This is appropriate, given he represents the living now of the current Christmas, a preserving Vishnu. The end of the current Christmas means the end of his existence.

Immediately after his demise appears his successor, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a mute spirit shrouded in deathly black who communicates only with hand gestures. As the previous ghost was of the living present (Vishnu), the final ghost is of a future of death and destruction…Śiva. Indeed, death looms throughout the shadows presented to an increasingly terrified Scrooge.

In the first of these shadows, some businessmen are seen discussing a recently deceased, rich old man (pages 94-96). None of them shows any sadness over his death. Typical capitalists: they have no more pity over the falling of a rival member of the ruling class than they would over the deaths among the proletariat. The more and more repentant miser clings, with an ever-loosening grip, to the hope that this spoken-of dead old man, one whose death is–if anything–celebrated rather than mourned, isn’t himself.

Another microcosm of capitalism is shown in Old Joe, a fence who profits off of stolen items, in this case stolen from the despised old man (pages 98-103). The capitalist meets his karma among the cackling leeches who get money from Joe for such items as stolen bed curtains and blankets.

In contrast to the apathy felt toward the dead old man, Tiny Tim’s death is profoundly mourned by the Cratchits (pages 107-112). Scrooge has no family to grieve over him: Fred and his wife are missing among the shadows shown to Scrooge; has the miser done something to end the patience of his long-suffering nephew?

Finally, Scrooge sees his austere-looking gravestone in an uncaring graveyard at night: his corpse lies there as lonely as the boy in that classroom in the first of the shadows the Ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge. Fan’s spirit won’t come to comfort him now. Terrified into repentance, he promises to change his ways, and as we know, he grows into a generous man, buying a huge turkey for the Cratchit family, promising a large donation (including “back-payments”–page 121) to one of the charity-seeking portly gentlemen from the beginning of the story, and finally appreciating family and relationships by attending Fred’s party (pages 122-123).

After raising Bob Cratchit’s salary (page 124), Tiny Tim is given the medical help he needs, and Scrooge is now known to be “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” (page 125) Kinder, gentler capitalists: this, apparently, is Dickens’s proposed solution to the socio-economic ills of “the good old world”.

In the parlance of our time–peak liberalism.

One wonders if the ‘generosity’ of the Bill Gates Foundation, or the Clinton Foundation, or anything Trump or Jeff Bezos are doing, is in any way helping the millions of people who die of vaccine-preventable disease or malnutrition each year, in a world where we’ve been producing more than enough food to feed the whole planet. Lots of money is spent on the military, to kill people, but not so much to help people.

Then again, Christmas is just a celebration of the birth of Christ, as opposed to his salvific  death. The day of the birth of Sol Invictus is only the beginning of the light, the birth of the coming warmer days. That Christmas Day of the redeemed, ‘reborn’ Scrooge is just the beginning of his new goodness, the ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalist who, it is to be hoped, will inspire others in power to help the poor.

‘Kinder, gentler’ capitalists of this sort are far from enough, though, if social justice is something we are truly committed to. Eisenhower’s administration demanded higher taxes from the rich, but the US imperialism of the time also helped with the ouster of Mohammad Mosaddegh; then there was the coup d’état in Guatemala. LBJ wanted to build the Great Society, but early in his administration, the Gulf of Tonkin incident fraudulently involved the US in the Vietnam War, which would lead to bad feeling against him. “We [were] all Keynesians” under Nixon, whose administration used the CIA to replace Salvador Allende with Pinochet, and bombed the Hell out of Cambodia.

More will be needed to help the global poor than Keynesian capitalism with a strong welfare state (of the post-WWII sort inspired by the USSR and other socialist states of the 20th century), of the sort that existed from 1945-1973, and which helped only the First World proletariat. The Tiny Tims, and Ignorance and Want wretches, of today won’t be saved by the generous Scrooge of social democracy: perhaps a spectre (like the one that once haunted Europe) or two, or three or four–ghosts from the past to inspire new ones in the present and future–will replace all the Scrooges and Marleys, be they stingy or redeemed, with workers’ co-ops of Cratchits; maybe those spectres will bring that newborn baby of a sun of winter to a bright, warm sun of spring and summer, from the baby Christ of December to the Saviour in April.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Puffin Books, New York, 1843

Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Lexington, KY, 2014

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952