[Marxism] RE: 'Brokeback Mountain', a film on the love of two cowboys

paul illich 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 
teach environmentalists.

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 Kovattana
    –  Blogspot: amandakovattana.blogspot.com

[Amanda Kovattana]

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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