Some of us remember the discomfort we felt watching the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Columnist Diane Carman explained that it “challenged white folks to confront their deep-seated and often unacknowledged racism in a very personal way.” Now, nearly four decades later, we can acknowledge our racism with less shame and fear, understanding that it is less a personal failing than cultural conditioning which we can transcend even as it still continues to show up in our reactions to events in our lives. In short, our True identity is not defined by our emotions, thoughts or reactive physical energy. We can experience these reactions as growth opportunities.
Apparently, many American males are not able to do that with the current challenges that homosexuality provides. The subject of two homosexual Wyoming cowboys in the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain, seems to elicit the response of denial among many of Carman’s male acquaintances. The film “has left many of my strapping heterosexual friends cowering behind fabulous rationalizations while their wives go to the movies without them.”
A sampling of some of the ways that males avoid their afflictive emotions are very revealing and remind me how valuable the art of film is in revealing human unconsciousness. “I’m very traditional when it comes to Westerns or I just don’t like relationship movies and I just don’t want to see two guys humping, not that there’s anything wrong with that.” And I suspect that these are among the more open-minded males in Denver given that Carman is a “liberal” columnist.
Another reaction to the film among men who did go to see the film was inappropriate laughter. Dr. Robert Davies, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado had his own reaction to this expression of uneasiness. “That really disturbed me. It seemed as if some people were so uncomfortable with the subject matter, they had to divorce themselves from the emotional impact. They had to laugh so they wouldn’t have to acknowledge the pain.”
What is the deeper psychological explanation of this male panic? “To put it bluntly, it’s not the humping it’s the heartbreak. Great movies make us identify with the characters and feel their longing and pain.”
Great movies, and indeed great art in general confront us with The Buddha’s First Noble Truth: life is painful. The second reaction is one of fear. “Brokeback Mountain lays bare our homophobia. It forces us to confront our fears. It dares us once and for all to understand.” Acknowledging that pain and fear and taking responsibility for it is the first step on the road to wholeness. Avoiding or denying our pain keeps us in a state of existential anxiety and crippling paralysis. But the most disturbing realization is that our denial keeps us unconscious.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.