Bambi Ain’t Priscilla – Movies, Marcuse, and Empathy (Vignette Eight)

[Steve’s note – this continues the various short vignettes highlighting parts of Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man Here are links to the introduction, could becoming should, religion, rationalization of brutality, threats that aren’t threats, the sometimes subtle structures of power, and Fight Club as Social Commentary.]

Fight Club QuotesYou know how the movie is going to end. The mouse produced it, after all, and the mouse does not make uncomfortable movies. An eleven-year-old raped Native American is transformed into a magical maiden able to talk to animals. Abuse and confinement is okay, as long as the Beast has a good heart after all. Marcuse is right in one way; empathizing with these characters lessens us.

Sure, Bambi might lose his mother, but that isn’t empathy. That’s catharsis. Your “connection” to the character does not help you understand another; it simply helps you feel better about yourself.

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a cult hit. It is a powerful, moving story about three genderqueer people going on a road trip. When the corporations in Hollywood realized that they had a ready-made market for this kind of film, they created To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything. Julie Newmar. It, too, is a movie about three genderqueer people going on a road trip. Several of the scenes are lifted wholesale from Priscilla…. But it was never the critical and cult success that Priscilla… still is. Ultimately, To Wong Foo… fails to be the one-dimensional pap it was intended as; it is not a “family friendly” film. But it does not appeal on a multidimensional leve, either.

The characters in To Wong Foo… are always ghettoized. They are always the Other. No empathy can occur between the audience and the characters. In Priscilla…, however, the characters are still fathers, sons, and people. We know fathers. We know sons. We know other people who are kind of like this.

The audience, through empathy, has the walls of their rat maze shifted just a little bit.

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