Scapegoating in American Beauty
Scapegoat Mechanism – Type 3 (SMT3): ressentiment
[see previous post “Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism”]
THE CHARACTER OF COLONEL FRANK FITTS
IN THE Movie
(DIRECTOR: SAM MENDES)
Alan Ball, who wrote the story, said the following about the main theme of the movie:
“I think I was writing about … how it’s becoming harder and harder to live an authentic life when we live in a world that seems to focus on appearance … For all the differences between now and the [1950s], in a lot of ways this is just as oppressively conformist a time … You see so many people who strive to live the unauthentic life and then they get there and they wonder why they’re not happy … I didn’t realize it when I sat down to write [American Beauty], but these ideas are important to me.”
– Alan Ball in Chumo II, Peter N. (January 2000). “American Beauty: An Interview with Alan Ball”. Creative Screenwriting Magazine (Los Angeles: Creative Screenwriters Group) 7 (1): 26–35 (p.32).
The character of “Colonel Frank Fitts, US Marine Corps” certainly is one poignant example of someone who is “keeping up appearances” at a very high price. His situation can be summarized as follows:
Throughout the film it becomes clear that Frank Fitts is secretly gay and that he is jealous of gay people who “came out of the closet.” He dares not reveal himself as a homosexual, though, for fear of being cast out by the social environment whose recognition he has mimetically learned to desire. Frank Fitts always presents himself as “Colonel Frank Fitts, US Marine Corps” and apparently this self-concept considers homosexuality as “something to be ashamed of.” He can’t stand being around openly gay people, like his two neighbors Jim and Jim, because they awaken his hidden homosexual desires. Frank Fitts resents and hates what he actually desires. When he thinks that his son Ricky is in a gay relationship with his neighbor Lester Burnham, he threatens to throw him out of the house and to banish him forever. Frank Fitts constantly justifies his acts of terror by making his victims responsible for the violence they have to endure. He constantly applies some sort of scapegoat mechanism, his victims “should be ashamed!” They should feel guilty about something they actually shouldn’t feel guilty about…
Frank Fitts is willing to do anything to protect his socially mediated (self-)image. His scapegoating of openly gay people helps him to be somewhat at peace with his own life, although he is a bitter man. Finally, he reveals himself as a homosexual to his neighbor Lester Burnham, whom he wrongfully considers gay. Frank tries to kiss Lester, but Lester turns him down. Afraid of what might happen, Frank ends up murdering Lester in order to prevent the loss of his so-called acceptable (self-)image. In other words, the sacrifice of Lester – in no ways responsible for what happened to Frank, hence a scapegoat – seems necessary for Frank to fulfill his desire for recognition. In still other words, eros – a mimetically ignited love for some image or social status – leads to thanatos (death) to put an end to some identity crisis.
BE SURE TO WATCH THE EXCERPTS FROM AMERICAN BEAUTY WITH ADDITIONAL NOTES TO SEE HOW THE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS DEAL WITH
“THE LOSS OF APPEARANCES”
– CLICK TO WATCH: