What's awry in our loving the perfect couple, in "Loving"
What could be wrong with telling a story about an absolutely beautiful, loving couple, gaining the right to stand proudly married in a heartland of bigotry? How about if the setting is actually convenient for you to stage how you're finding yourself driven to imagine your own psychic reality: on the side you're on, all good and purity; and on the other, all foreboding, encroaching villainy. For if this were the case, the interest in those actually afflicted -- Mildred and Richard Loving -- isn't as profound as they deserve, and as you're pretending it to be. You're feeling anxious, and so you make use of the past and your art to stage a psychological resistance which quiets your own terrors, but remits actual people that deserved your full attention, to your convenience.
For the person viewing this film, Mildred and Richard's home offers a sort of inlet into a vast Southern "sea" of bigotry. It's recognizably attached, part of and not completely alien to the rest of Southern society. These are not New Yorkers trying to tough out living there, but a couple who've only known living in this area and whose descendants have been there for generations: it's their milk and honey. So it seems a point of entry where you can see up close Southern culture, but there is no chance that you'll be ambushed within the household with the same dense bigotry you're creeping up on. What we have here then is the same staging that people who've known being hemmed in early in life by their needy parents -- who were threatened by their children's emerging desire for autonomy and self-actualization -- erect when they're regressing. That is, they project onto the outside world a face of scary people encircling them, who represent their parents, ready to once again dominate them for their embracing unallowed trespasses into the world of self-autonomy, and within their own "home" they fill it with the pure and the good, defended by great "monsters" of their own, of such great majesty they can take beat up the villains outside.
In this film, the "monsters" we've got on "our" side are the ACLU, which in the 1960s -- the setting for the story -- was beginning to pretty much wear society's superman cape of unquestioned legitimacy as well as know the unconquerable power of his muscles. So the story is of Southern bigots targeting a sweet couple, and finding their unsuspecting, overconfident sorry asses before the Supreme Court! They dumb 1950s-ruled imagination poked what proved to be an awakening 1960s' bear! Does this sound like the sort of narrative, not someone of the left, but that a paranoid nationalist would evoke to explain their situation vis-a-vis the rest of the world? It does to me, and akin to the one that's dominant now: a threatened America which had ISIS and immigrants pouring in on all sides, finally finds a Trump visiting them who intends to, and who will, balk back incursions onto a nation of proud and simple folk so to finally restore decency.
What actually would have been best evidence that this was an incontrovertibly liberal film is if it allowed some evidence that the mind taking in this film was prepared to accept a portrayal of the Loving family that would surely threaten anyone who needed a simple good vs. evil story, with cognitive dissonance: it would have been to their point of view, confounding and distressful, but to our point of view, appropriately complex and multi-variant, even while in some aspects appropriately straightforward: anti-miscegenation laws are anti-freedom and must, after all, only be defeated and die. I mean, if what we liberals think is that anti-miscegenation laws are grotesque affronts to people's civil liberties -- which they most certainly are -- we don't really need to show a couple that is being denied full happiness owing to these laws as an absolutely perfectly loving couple, do we? These laws are evil for their own sakes, period; their evilness is not dependent on the fact that they happen to squash the happiness of especially endearing couples, but simply because they serve to kill happiness. There's a reporter in the film, very sympathetic to the Lovings, who uses photos to sculpt a careful picture of them so their cause will be popular in what was still a broadly racist nation, wary of a new emerging age of massive cultural change; but we're 2010, and this is a film not for the majority of Americans to learn from -- an advocacy film -- but probably only for the educated to mull over, so why are we getting this simpleton version, appropriate for propaganda purposes in the1960s, now?
What we risk is betraying our own defence of decent people by inadvertently fooling ourselves into believing our defence is dependent on them being as we've chosen, as we've needed, to depict them -- as Rousseauian perfect and splendid, that is. We are not for much longer going to be controlling the universities and mainstream news sources. With Trump, this will all change. And if we have been doing the right thing by defending people from prejudice and ensuring they live as freely as anybody else in society, but the mistaken thing in making it so that we can only see righteously afflicted peoples as great giants of goodness and soul, then when we're more and more forced by the emerging alt-right to see people stripped of our projections, we risk blanching at immediately defending people who'll never more need instantly summonable support.
Why is it that we've made that connection in the first place? That we defend people who had previously been victims of prejudice, but also cast an ostensibly wholly unnecessary glowing makeover over them? I think it is because though the left is massively more psychologically evolved than the right, are creatures of significantly more love, they have not as much as they think freed themselves from needing to impose psychodrama over the ingredients everyday reality supplies. I've mentioned how we've imposed parental persecutors onto the like of white racists, but I think at other times what we've done is projected aspects of ourselves onto them -- unwanted aspects -- and then gone and disconnected all feeling, all empathy, towards this now forlorn group. Most of the left after all emerged out of families that were more racist, more bigoted, than they themselves are, and unless they came from a generational chain of stalwart leftist leaders who were always on societies' progressive end, the possibility that this has completely left their psyches is unlikely. They however feel that as much has happened, owing to the fact that they've projected all these still-possessed inklings to hate the different into the white working class -- especially those of the American South. What's more, as children of parents who were emotionally well-supplied enough to not be so fearful of our emerging freedom that it intimidated us off of fully self-actualizing and growing up, but not so healthy that we were able to self-actuate without it making us suspect we'll be abandoned for doing so, we've also projected "vulnerability" and "isolation" into the white working class, as we willy-nilly staked our own life gains. The fact that white working class has withered economically to the point of real and terrible despair but that it has gone unnoticed by the professional class, by the left, owes its origins to the fact that they've served a convenient grouping -- what the psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause calls, a poison container -- that contained our own vulnerability. And in detaching ourselves from these "containers," we feel much less tormented, and can go at life in a sane fashion. But if we were to begin a more realistic assessment of who bigots are, something possible to us as we've got a much greater capacity to appreciate the monstrosities that childhood trauma produces in people -- e.g. it is certainly within our reach to grapple with the truth that, universally, sexual predators were sexually abused in their own childhoods -- we'd effectively be unloosening these containers, and aspects of ourselves which had been quarantined off would set upon us again. And maybe we're now ready for it... and maybe, we unconsciously fear, we're not.
Could you imagine if we acknowledged bigots as creatures of several parental abandonment and abuse, and yet still bizarrely were inclined to hate them? We'd be coming close to finding ourselves hating the weak for bearing signs that pointed directly to their weakness. Could you imagine if we lifted the veil of people whom bigots have picked on and saw them not in a sensible and evolved fashion, that is, as the likely deformed adult products that constant abuse always produces, but in our parent's regressed fashion: as people possessed of character attributes that actually warrant caustic blame and merciless punishment? Seeing ourselves screaming at the weak would draw us to psychically die; it would be the undoing of everything we'd hoped to stand for. Our legacy would be that we had been well-loved enough that when the psychic and societal mechanisms that drew us to be the most empathic creatures we could be, were withdrawn, and we witnessed angry, bigoted monsters emerging from out of us, where others might have continued whole-hog and done much evil we'd cared enough to withdraw and self-combust.
We need to know we've got a left out there that can't get untethered, lose its shit, when it is forced to see that what it has taken as simply reality has actually only been what they have cast as "reality" in order to isolate childhood demons and provide them with the becalmed space to work and live in that psychic peace allows. Such a left would look at this film and not "feel good," but rather start peppering it with questions. Why is that this couple is so good when everyone else around them is defined by hate, is absolutely, in the worst way, mongrel? Is this absolute exceptionalism to be believed? Do we need them to be this good, and would we have felt uncomfortable if they were actually shown as the kind of complicated, even at times, unloving couple, that the soon-to-be divorce-ridden, white middle class often actually was during this period? Do we need them to be the angels to their own children that they were in the film? Would we have hated the feeling of wanting to actually withdraw away from them if we saw them yelling and screaming at their children, a development which would thereby have made the UCLA visitors from New York not just intellectually superior but in every way superior to this inter-race couple we want much more to love? They are expelled from the state for their illegally marrying and they leave for much less bigoted terrain -- Washington D.C., I believe. Why was the portrayal of this not simply as absolutely fortuitous, a blessing, even if it developed out of regretful hateful impulse? They were so set on clinging to a home barely any distance from that of their parents', and thereby situate their children in ongoing, regressive Hillbilly culture. Why was this not portrayed in the film as their fear of freedom, of what a more actualizing environment would allow for them? Why was this passed over? Why when they were about to have a child did they need to return to their parents, to go back "home"? Was it really owing to the fact of their admirable respect for Richard's midwife mother and their many memories of her assisting community members -- of admirable homage to a living person and to tradition worth not fleeing from? Or was it really a regretful retreat when another incident that realized their self-actualization -- their now not only being married but commencing a family -- took place? Why when they permanently moved back to their bigot-surrounded previous home, was it given such legitimacy in the film? That is, when Mildred says the roads are too dangerous in the city, that next time it could kill their children, not simply harm them, why wasn't some attention put to the fact that, yes, this may be, but the schools are actually more likely to teach them something evolved in this place, and if they actually survive rather than the statistically dubious possibility of getting rundown, that's a road toward something useful that no country pathway is apt to provide. Why couldn't it be suggested that their parents were taking their kids away from a more liberal environment because thereby their children would be less able to leave them behind. So not the possibility of cars running the kids over, but in truth because kids might be empowered to distance themselves from them, that the country once again was chosen. A cruel retreat that the parents could enable because the kids didn't have the help of a state that in their case, insisted they live in the more evolved location. When the parents abjure their chance to be present in the courtroom as their case moved to the Supreme Court, why did the film absolutely excuse it as owing to Richard's understandable thorough disinterest in hearing the opposition say mean things about their children in public, and not offer some other consideration, like they feared the limelight because it would draw them to acknowledge themselves as stars and risk their feeling spoiled? Acknowledging the honour, which is how presence in the court is pitched to them, would make them special, when their case absolutely justified their feeling that way, and their courage and latitude, warranted such a coronation. Maybe in reality they weren't defending their children so much as they were defending themselves against a spotlight that every liberal in the 60s was embracing, for it meant balking back all that restrained the good from living the good life. Shouldn't we suspect a film that shows drawing back from being "special" as showing something admirable of one's character, which is the effect here? Isn't this a betrayal of the sort of acceptance of pleasure that the 60s gave to society and which ultimately best represent what makes it such a historically significant and progressive time? It enabled freedom, it enabled happiness. It allowed people not to be cowed by accusations their own parents' had once thrown upon them -- like being secretly spoiled and self-self-centered, neglectful of homage to time-tested, goldie-oldie ways, like Southern miscegenation laws.
The Lovings, as they are depicted in the film, deserved our instinct to want to shout them out of their passivity and plant -- hard -- their own two feet, in their home in the South, in their home in Washington D.C., and on the stand in the Supreme Court. The instinct to want to coddle them at the finish as cute is also something we the left should explore about ourselves. What happens if those in our own times whom we might want to see as loyal to our cause, reveal themselves as becoming more those who want to bite us, as actually hating us more than those we're attacking for directing so much hate upon them. If Trump ends up gaining huge recruits from non-whites in the next few years, we'll know what that feels like. And it's important once again that we can take this development in stride, and not have to superimpose a no longer existing "reality" upon the real one that's regretfully developing before our eyes, because otherwise as we let loose old mental structures and attempt to reorient our schemas, the let-loose, once-contained past will crash through and drown us. It'll mean in some sense that us, not Trump, is fixed to the past. You're not doing what you're doing; you're not doing what you're doing; you're not doing what you're doing.