The regime of the brothers

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This brings us to our third point: what sort of strategy is a Hollywood film following when appearing to make race the discursive site of a symptom, naming it, while at the same time risking subversion of its own ideological project? Here another aspect of the political analysis of the post-Oedipal society put forward by the New Lacanians might prove helpful: the idea, taken from Freud's later metapsychological writings, notably Totem and Taboo, that with the 'death' of the totemic father social power reconstitutes itself around the 'regime of the brother' (Flower-MacCannell 1995), held together by mutual implication in crime, bonded through acts of violence, and sustained by rituals of humiliation.

In Back to the Future such a 'regime of the brother' is in fact present in the form of the 'small-town bullies' headed by Biff, who now emerges as the film's key 'symptomatic' figure. Appearing at one level as one of the excessive or unacceptable authority figures Marty faces, and on another, as a dramatic 'device' to provide the obstacles for the hero to overcome, Biff in fact sustains and suspends the narrative's emplotment of'normal' Oedipal identity. Marty and Biff exemplify the distinction, alluded to above, between desire-creatures and drive creatures: desire creatures live under the threat of castration (for them desire is a function of lack, and lack can be 'filled' by a fetish-formation, i.e. a substitute, such as Jennifer for Lorraine). Drive creatures, on the other hand, are not subject to desire: they go on regardless, they are unstoppable, unkillable, because they embody the death drive. Such a creature is Robocop before he has paternal memories, or the shape-shifting Terminator II; in the case of Back to the Future it is Biff, because he is effectively undefeatable. However many times Marty beats him, outwits him or trips him up, he will always come back to haunt, torment, and aggress. In this sense Biff not only sustains and suspends but also subverts the Oedipal trajectory of the film.

As a drive creature, opposed to Marty, a desire creature driven by anxiety and lack, Biff is a permanent threat to the symbolic order. But Marty and Biff are also alter egos, or as Zizek might phrase it - Biff is Marty 'giving in to his desire'. We already noted how Marty berates his father in exactly the way that Biff does, in the matter of the smashed-up car. But we can now assign another meaning to the 'blind spot': it represents the Big Other's demands on George, which can never be met, and which both Biff and Marty appropriate, giving them full power over George's guilty conscience. Likewise, in respect to Marty's repressed and censored incest feelings, it is Biff who stands in for him, or rather they both occupy the blind spot of Lorraine's disavowal of her sexuality. In the scene of the 'petting' in the car, for instance, where Biff takes the place of Marty as Lorraine's sexual partner, before he is socked by George, there's a showdown that was actually planned for Marty. If we see Biff as Marty's double, then Biff merely 'acts out' what Marty is repressing. If we see Biff as a drive creature, then we note that there is a drive-side to Marty's desire-identity, indicating the road not taken by Marty - as indeed by the film's overt narrative - apparently opting for the reinstatement of'traditional' Oedipal identity and patriarchal structures of the symbolic (i.e. 'accepting castration'). Biff points to the other possibility of the fatherless society, if Marty had instead become part of the unruly post-Oedipal force, a member -or, more likely, the leader - of a 'gang'. The film indicates its knowledge about this road in a curious detail. When Marty returns from 1955 to 1985, his home-town seems to have changed: it is a dirty place, litter everywhere; a drunk or homeless man sleeps on a bench, and a general feel of urban ghetto dilapidation hangs improbably about the place. The cinema is no longer advertising whatever would be the 1985 version of Cattle Queen of Montana, but has become a porn house, showing Orgy American Style - suggestive in itself, but apparently the title of a well-known exploitation movie featuring gang rapes and street mayhem.

There are a number of New Hollywood films of the 1990s, from Goodfellows, The Usual Suspects, and Things to Do in Denver When You re Dead to Casino and Fight Club that dramatize the post-totemic rule of the brothers, under the sign of the absent big Other, or of the big Other as the obscenely 'enjoying' father. Significantly at the end of Back to the Future,

Marty's options are still open, because the final kiss does not seal the submission under the Oedipal law - it is interrupted by Doc Brown, who has uncovered further 'trouble' ahead.

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