Zizek and the New Lacanians analysis Shame and humiliation

If we now once more look at Back to the Future, there are a number of features that might attract the attention of the New Lacanians. Foremost among them would be the figure of Biff. The curious relationship between him and Marty is that of antagonist and double, which explains Marty's over-identification with Biff and his role as Marty's nemesis. In more specifically ┬┐izekian terms, what defines the relationship are, on the one hand, shame and humiliation and, on the other, 'obscene enjoyment', the tyranny of the superego. Both are traumatic, and thus bring us back to the issue raised above: what could be the event for which the fantasy of Marty 'inventing' rock'n'roll seems to be the cover or 'screen memory'?

The incident that springs to mind in Back to the Future would be the scene where Marty returns home after being first reprimanded and then disqualified at school, to watch a totalled car being towed to the parental home and witness Biff, the driver, berating George, the owner, for not having told him that the car had 'a blind spot' which, according to Biff, 'caused' the accident. Marty, himself unjustly disgraced, becomes witness to the spectacle of the father's humiliation, an impotent bystander in an act of public shaming, which, as 2izek once remarked when commenting on Serb atrocities in Bosnia, is like the rape of a daughter in the presence of the father, intended to destroy both family loyality and the social bond. Ludicrous though the scene of the father's humiliation in Back to the Future appears, it is evidently intended by the film-makers as crucial, since it occurs twice: with exactly the same words being exchanged to round off the sadistic ritual, Biff bullies George at the diner in 1955, almost as soon as Marty meets him. However, whereas in 1955 George is told by Wilson, the diner's black waiter, to stand up for himself, in 1985 Marty's reaction, after Biff has left, is quite different. In response to his father's excuses, Marty lays into his father, berating him in terms that are not only similar but structurally identical to Biff s accusations, in that he, too, blames his father for what George, not Biff, has done to him, Marty, by ruining his weekend with Jennifer.

Humiliation is thus the key trope that defines the relation between George and Biff in Back to the Future. Here, too, time-travel ensures that the roles are reversed, and at the end, after Marty has woken up to his reformed family, it is McFly senior who patronizes Biff to the point of humiliating him. Waxing George's BMW, Biff has become a recognizable racial stereotype, the 'boy', familiar from classical Hollywood movies, often played by 'Stepin Fetchit'. Biff is the shoe-shining, shimmying black, who is lazy and up to no good, but funny and always ready to jump to attention, as Biff in fact does when he is 'caught out' telling a fib about the second coat*of polish.

As if to underline the importance of this Stepin Fetchit figure for the transfer of paternity that the film needs to enact, he also figures in the 1955 past as the floor-sweeping waiter who enters the picture by intervening at precisely the moment Marty McFly recognizes his future father in horror and is too stunned to answer the latter's question: 'and who are you?' Luckily, Marty also 'recognizes' the black waiter as Goldie Wilson, and can confidently tell him that one day (Goldie) will be the mayor of Hill Valley. Thus not only appropriates rock'n'roll but claims the civil rights movement as well, since we already saw Goldie Wilson's election van in the opening scene, campaigning for a second term of office.

The trauma at the heart of the; film, it would seem, is not so much - or not only - the inadequacy of this particular specimen of fatherhood which is George McFly, but the very idea of paternity and masculinity in relation to white American middle-class culture, which - as the film so carefully and in many ways so candidly demonstrates - must pass via the trauma of race if it is to find a stable identity inside the terms of a symbolic order. Back to the Future does not achieve stable identity for its protagonist, since the film keeps gyrating between these master-slave, father-son reversals, without finally inscribing 'blackness' into its cast of castrating and castrated figures, other than by a 'black and white minstrel' dissimulation. The reason for this is that race is connected with shame and humiliation, but true to the dream logic of reversals that drives the narrative, this humiliation in the film attaches itself to the white protagonists, as if to cover for the shame that white America does not/did not feel about centuries of humiliating its black population. It is here that the parallel between Biff and the Libyans provides a crucial link.

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