In the case of Ford, contra Eckstein, Ethan Edwards does not incestuously desire Debbie. Rather, he and the rest of the men who look with guarded approval of his mission to “rescue” her are in fact confronting within themselves a homoerotic desire for Chief Scar and American Indian masculinity they feel threatened by.
Their fear of the masculinity they desire is externalized and objectified into their hyper-masculine, misogynist fetish over “protecting” the European women in their community.
Note the sexual undertones made manifest by Ethan’s dialogue in this clip.
Following Césaire’s logic, we now see them equated with the fascists of the next generation and their violent actions towards the colonized peoples they encounter akin to the Nazi persecution of minorities in Europe. The final battle between the charging cowboys and the encampment of Comanches is roughly equivalent to the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
From here we see the character of Travis Bickle in turn cast in a new light. He is a psychologically fragile, emotionally scarred young man. He has been trained by society to mimic the type of masculinity depicted in films like those starring John Wayne that communicate a contradictory, violent, and self-destructive notion of manhood. He wanders around a New York that both disgusts and infatuates him, reacting to his natural, normal sexual impulses in a way that leads him ultimately to a suicidal quest.
His confusion is so great he does not even know how to act normally on a date and ends up taking a woman to a pornographic theater. The word idiot is defined by the philosopher Slavoj Žižek as a person who does not have the capacity to grasp social nuances and norms and he cites as an example an instance when he mistakenly answered a man who rhetorically asked him how things were going, telling the man about his long day. Travis is a sexual idiot and it has dangerous results.
Mannoni’s ultimate argument is that the inferiority complex in the colonized only occurs within demographic minorities. Fanon responds by saying:
In South Africa, there are 2 million Whites to almost 13 million Blacks and it has never occurred to a single Black to consider himself superior to a member of the white minority… Let us have the courage to say: It is the racist who creates the inferiorized (73).
This in turn means that the argument Mannoni proposes is that a “typical authentic” (74) colonized person by default has a dependent inferiority complex. Indeed, Fanon says the earlier work creates bifurcation between either inferiority and dependency and “outside these options there is no salvation” (74). In this framework, the colonized either forms a dependency relationship with the colonizer or experiences an inferiority crisis. Fanon argues that this is ultimately a false vision of colonized mind because, after contact with the colonizer, the colonized ceases to exist as an idealized subject and instead is ontologically altered forever by colonialism. This leads him to conclude that Manonni has in fact failed to describe anything at all about colonialism. “It’s colonization that needs to be put on trial!” (77) This is because the colonized suffers from mental disorders caused by colonialism, which is contra Mannoni, who says the opposite. To bear with the pain of colonialism, the colonized will go as far as trying to become European as to “force the white man to acknowledge my humanity” (78). Manonni’s logic would dictate that the dependency complex “made the white man the awaited master” (79).
This explanation from Fanon is intriguing and can inform the thinking of Chief Scar, Look, and the other American Indians in the Ford film. THE SEARCHERS does not feature a scene of introspection from those characters that sufficiently explains their character motivations. However, augmenting what we do know about Scar’s motivations, primarily that his efforts are informed by a revenge drive stemming from the death of his sons, creates a dynamic character. He would prefer to die rather than submit to imperialism.
Fanon judges that instead of supporting the dependency complex, he must “enable him [the patient] to choose action (or passivity) with respect to the real source of the conflict, i.e., the social structure” (80). Overcoming the suppression of colonialism entails understanding that man has a choice of whether to cooperate with it and the consequences if he should choose otherwise.
All these tendencies culminate in Mannoni’s Prospero complex, the neurosis that is described in the previous chapter as the reason why Ethan Edwards is so revolted by inter-ethnic coupling between his niece and Chief Scar. Fanon responds that the colonist is more than often a trader as opposed to adventurer, making him quite average in European society. The reason for colonist revulsion at inter-ethnic coupling is described above.
The problem is that, though Scorsese and Schrader claim their film is a response to Ford, it is missing one key element, the inter-ethnic coupling dynamic to the idealized Euro-American women, here Betsy and Iris. Whereas Debbie Edwards is taken as a wife by Chief Scar, who is standing in for African American men, Betsy and Iris are both conspicuously only engaging with other Euro-American men when Travis begins to obsess over them. There are moments when the pimp Sport is referred to jestingly as ‘Chief’, obviating the intended parallel with the Scar character, but only one parallel emerges from a serious analysis of this analogue.
Are Schrader and Scorsese intending to equate childhood inter-ethnic socializing and dating with a pubescent girl who is held against her will by a sex trafficker? It is important here to articulate that the demonization of sex workers in our present social milieu is a genuine and real phenomenon that this author opposes and refuses to promote. However, it is clear in TAXI DRIVER that, when Iris is introduced, she is trying to escape from Sport. The “Scar scene” described by Schrader is in this sense wildly inappropriate to compare with the relationship between Debbie and Scar. There are multiple markers in the Ford film that designate that Debbie wishes to stay with “her people” and that her marriage to Scar is completely consensual. Any scandal emerging from the age difference between the two can only be designated as one thing, blatant racism, because elder Euro-American men marry consenting younger Euro-American women with no serious protest from society.
However, correspondingly, there exists within Grist’s analysis an acknowledgement of how the latter film does respond and critique the urban western genre’s sensational demonization of black and brown male bodies. Grist examines how Travis interacts with a black cabbie and the black shoplifter who intends to rob the corner grocer at gunpoint before Travis shoots him dead from behind. Both these instances demonstrate an alienation that Fanon’s work provides valuable commentary on.
Furthermore, the relationship between the gun as a phallic symbol, embodying a set of ideologies about Euro-American manhood and its ability to defend Euro-American womanhood, and Bickle’s rage is also valuable to understand. The firearm functions as a penis-like object threatening sexual violence, namely rape. Bickle’s use of his forefinger and thumb to point at a fellow cabbie who is black demonstrates his sense of feeling threatened by black and brown masculinity. This animus is later transferred to the sex worker clientele and facilitators that he attacks with actual guns. It is at the midpoint, when Travis uses the gun once to kill the armed robber in the corner market, that we see a synthesis of the gun and violence against black and brown male bodies at its zenith.
It is my belief that, with these points in mind, one can develop a coherent analysis of the direction American discourse has moved in over the past decade and the impact that white supremacy as a type of madness has had on our culture.