Repression From Desire


Nothing optional—from homosexuality to adultery—is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate.[1]

Shakespeare touched upon this phenomenon in King Lear, when Lear reproaches the policeman who is whipping a prostitute because of his lust for her company:

Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore?
Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lust’st to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her.
King Lear (Act 4, Scene 6)

Modern drama has adapted this self loathing repression in many impressive ways. Consider, for instance, Frank Fitts, the bad-tempered closeted homosexual in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty. Fitts is an insecure man’s man who hides his homosexuality behind a façade of violent macho behaviour and even goes so far as to physically abuse his own son in an attempt to repress his gay feelings:

I’d rather you were dead than be a fucking faggot!
American Beauty (1999)

Also consider SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth and his forbidden love for his Jewish maid Helen Hirsch in Steven Spielberg’s Schildler’s List. Göth is a man in love, and he would like nothing better than to spare Helen and take her back to Vienna after the war. In one scene, he visits her in the basement of his Płaszów villa and – after some thinking aloud – comes very close to kissing her, before regaining his dehumanising hatred-fuelled calm and beating her senseless for her bewitching beauty:

So… This is where you come to hide from me. I came to tell you that you really are a wonderful cook and a well-trained servant. I mean it. If you need a reference after the war, I’d be happy to give you one. It must get lonely down here when you’re listening to everyone upstairs having such a good time… Does it? You can answer… But what’s the right answer? That’s what you’re thinking. What does he want to hear?

The truth, Helen, is always the right answer… Yes, you’re right… Sometimes we’re both lonely. Yes. I… I mean, I would like so much to reach out and touch you in your loneliness. What would that be like, I wonder? I mean… What would be wrong with that? I realize that you’re not a person in the strictest sense of the word, but… No, maybe you’re right about that too, you know, maybe what’s wrong isn’t… It’s not us. It’s… No, it’s this. I mean, when they compare you to vermin, and to rodents, and to lice… I just… No, you make a good point. You make a very good point… Is this the face of a rat? Are these the eyes of a rat? Hath not a Jew eyes? I feel for you, Helen…

No, I don’t think so. You’re a Jewish bitch.
You nearly talked me into it, didn’t you? Didn’t you?
Schidler’s List (1993)

This repressed desire has also been used – quite successfully – in comedy. For instance, upon learning that his brother Frasier went into Daphne’s bedroom to retrieve a book without asking her permission, Niles Crane attempts to hide his repressed love for Daphne by pretending to be shocked and filled with indignation:

Frasier, how could you? No matter how irresistible the urge to venture down that hallway… to press your face against that door… to actually feel the grain of the wood against your cheek…
It must be fought! It must be fought!
Frasier (1995) “Daphne’s Room” Series 2, Episode 17 [No. 41]


[1] Hitchens. C. 2007. God Is Not Great London, Great Britain: Atlantic Books (2008) p. 40

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