[Marxism] RE: 'Brokeback Mountain', a film on the love of two cowboys
paul_illich at hotmail.com
Thu Mar 9 14:44:27 MST 2006
The Wilderness Within
by Amanda Kovattana
The buzz about Brokeback Mountain is that mainstream audiences come away
recognizing the power of love. I came away with a lingering impression of
the power of nature and wonder if there are lessons the gay community might
A movie like Brokeback Mountain is no longer a story we allow ourselves to
tell in the gay community, but Ang Lee, the director of this seasons
critically acclaimed "gay cowboy movie", is an outsider looking in. So is
Annie Proulx who wrote the short story upon which it is based. A story that
reveals universal truths about denying love and the cost of not being true
to yourself. We in the gay community see this theme of internal flagellation
as a failure of spirit and seek to break through it, demanding in our films,
self-discovery, revelation and celebration. Brokeback Mountain has been
called the crossover movie that brings queer cinema to mainstream audiences
in order to tell a great love story. If this is so, we owe Ang Lee and Annie
Proulx our heartfelt thanks.
What struck me about the movie was that what happens to those men out on the
mountain was also about being viscerally connected to unmitigated
wilderness. The mountain took them outside of society, free from the
violence of homophobia and social mores, but more so to a wild place of
attentiveness that allowed them to connect with their feelings and let a
forbidden love seep in. Only by returning to the mountain could they
continue to tap into this wilderness within.
It is this power of nature that the environmental writer, Wendell Berry,
talks about when he counsels us to preserve the wilderness so that it may
sustain our deepest selves. In closing ourselves off to nature, we are in
danger of not only losing the planet, but ourselves as well. How did we end
up getting so cut off from the vitality of the earth that supports us?
Author Richard Louv has set off a flurry of discussion with his book Last
child left in the woods. He attributes childhood obesity, ADD and
hyperactivity in children, to what he calls nature-deficit-disorder. Local
environmentalists at the Foundation for Global Community, started a program
called Hooked on Nature to make sure children got a chance to appreciate
nature, because, they reasoned, only by bonding with nature as children,
would future generations care enough about the environment to save it. Scary
to think that humans could grow up so estranged from the earth that they did
not know enough to save it.
What about animals? And the imagination? Children are a natural for animal
stories. The Narnia Chronicles might embody the story of Christ, but it
still has, as its messenger, a lion. The Wind In The Willows was a classic
of my literary English heritage. Harry Potter and his friends have their
animal companions and take instruction in the care of Magical Creatures.
Animals are still part of our human narrative.
So when our navy dominates the ocean with sonic blasts capable of bursting
the eardrums of whales and carbon emissions have warmed the earth to the
melting point, reducing the ice fields that polar bears need to survive, the
beings of my childhood start to disappear. Such wholesale harming of these
large and beautiful animals fills me with outrage that we are so shameless
in our capacity to destroy, so disrespectful of such power animals, hardly
pausing to realize we would soon destroy ourselves. But what could I do with
such feelings? Would despair drive me to nihilism?
The field of ecopsychology came together in the '90s with a conference
called "Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered." Those attending
concluded that our own healing depended on restoring the health of the
earth. Our own happiness was linked to the well being of the planet. Yes, I
thought reading this recently in the book Ecopsychology: Restoring the
Earth, Healing the Mind, now the field of psychology could grow up. Finally
I felt that my dis-ease with the state of the planet could be validated.
Repressing feelings, whether of dismay about planetary degradation or
forbidden sexuality, not only takes a lot of energy, but leads to
reactionary behavior, actions of blaming, scapegoating, violence against
others and self. A story we have already lived in the gay community.
Deep ecologist, Joanna Macy, points out that "it is our refusal to
acknowledge and feel despair that keeps it in its place." The ability to
feel pain for our world speaks of our ability to be part of it and what we
discover as we move through this pain, is that we are all connected, she
observes. It is not enough to simply be informed about the effects of toxic
pollution and environmental destruction, she counsels "we need to process
this information on the psychological and emotional level in order to fully
respond on the cognitive level. We already know we are in danger. The
essential question is: can we free ourselves to respond?"
Here environmentalists have been struggling to garner interest in dire
environmental issues, but have become mired in a dialogue of half measures
that pits the appetite of civilization against the preservation of the
wilderness. The suggestions made hardly seem to surmount the problem, while
the message continues to be "saving the earth does not mean sacrificing our
lifestyle, just tweak the technology a bit".
In the early 80's the gay community entered a life threatening perfect storm
called AIDS. At the time the community congregated in large numbers at the
bars and the baths. Those who knew of the ramifications of the disease
pressured the bath owners and bar owners to do everything in their power to
spread the word, to warn men about the danger of certain sexual practices,
even to close down the baths to stop promiscuous, unsafe sex. Discreet
posters appeared in back rooms warning of the spread of AIDS through
unprotected sex. Condoms were recommended. When criticized for doing so
little, the bath owners explained that were they to really come down hard
with the news of the spread of AIDS through unsafe sex, the men would take
it as an act of oppression on their hard won liberation and rebel against
any measure of protection. And since the baths were the centers of
communication in the community, to close them would be to stop the flow of
information that would save lives.
This is the point at which I see the environmental movement standing today.
While the leaders are listening to scientists tell of the dire consequences
of global warming, they discuss among themselves how much they can really
tell people, how much can they really pressure people into drastically
changing their lifestyles, before the public stops listening to them and
calls them alarmists. The scientists advise education on the monumental
consequences of global warming and the drastic measures needed to stop its
impact. Environmentalists, meanwhile, talk of solutions, preferring not to
discuss consequences and offer the equivalent of condoms, encouraging solar
panels and hybrids, but only if you can afford them, meanwhile try pumping
up your tires to save on gas.
In the AIDS crisis, the science won out when men were dying in such numbers
that the community went into a tailspin of despair and funerals became the
places where survivors congregated. The baths were closed and gay men were
forced to take a hard look at the lifestyle they had been espousing under
the guise of liberation. Fortunately for a community used to pulling
together, it took only a short time for a new movement to be born that was
part grief counseling, health counseling, community building, education on
every level and support for the dying.
Science and the consequences of global warming will very likely win out in
the environmental crisis, before environmentalists build up enough of a
movement to prevent much of the damage. Businesses might well take up the
call and even the military. As we learned from the report that came out of
the Pentagon, the military fully recognizes what measures may need to be
taken given the consequences of global warming. And we might not like these
measures, as we are left to the fate of Katrina victims, told to evacuate,
but without the means to do so, while taxpayers' money is used to finance
the war for remaining resources.
But if we recognize, now, that our psychological health is directly tied to
the health of the environment, then saving the planet becomes a different
sort of task than just a pragmatic preserving of resources so that we might
have enough for later. To begin with, we would really see the damage being
done from the intimate focus of a lover.
Such wholehearted embracing of the facts would be so distressful that we
would experience a disconnect that would force us to change to survive.
Force a shift of consciousness; force us to evolve a different way of
living. Sustainable consumption would be foremost in our minds, just as safe
sex was for the gay community. We would begin to rebuild every aspect of our
lives around safeguarding the planet and its occupants, evolve healing
relationships in our business practices and commerce instead of exploitative
one night stands, build stable long-term relationships with fair trade
policies, surround ourselves with life affirming agriculture and
architecture, build a global community that affirms our existence as part of
We would have to stop pretending that we are separate from nature through
our clever technology and realize we are beings of the earth, rather than
dominators of the earth. And in our individual decisions to come out on the
side of the planet and shift into saving our part of it, we would be
participating in our own healing and redemption, improving our own state of
mind, finding joy even.
Indoors in the dark of cineplex theatres, our unconscious desires surface as
we look to movies to both catalog nature and remind us of the great natural
beauty of the earth and its creatures. How magical is the stunning New
Zealand landscape featured in Lord of the Rings, how adorable the creatures
in The March of the Penguins, how heroic the birds of Winged Migration.
(Moralists commend the penguins for embodying family values in raising their
young, yet say nothing of the thinning ice that will soon fail to support
their ritual reproduction.)
Brokeback Mountain takes place in Wyoming (but was shot in Canada). Its
vistas of a valley devoid of human structure made me ache for such wildness.
I overlay another love story on the beauty of that landscape. A longing for
the land itself, the lost love of a landscape we reject at our own peril.
Amanda is a free range writer who offers fresh, organically grown
perspectives while cultivating a fruitful living as a professional
organizer. She was born in England, raised in Bangkok and lives in the San
Francisco Bay area.
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