Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 420–438 | Cite as

The castration of Colonel Williams: Gender, horror, and a nation of hysterics

Original Article

Abstract

In 2013, Russell Williams, a colonel in the Canadian military, pled guilty to eighty-eight violent charges, including two charges of sexual assault and two charges of first-degree murder. Drawing on narratives of (trans)gender anxiety popularized by horror films, the media built an explanatory framework which fixated upon Williams’ fetishistic cross-dressing. This article interrogates the site where fantasies of absolute sexed difference coincide with fantasies about military phallicism in the national psyche. Drawing on Lacan’s paternal metaphor, I argue that gender operates as a symptom, assuaging the anxiety that arises when a nation is confronted with the fallibility of sex binaries and phallic authority. The symbolic castration of Colonel Williams provides a case study of how the quest for a phallic master has cultivated a nation of hysterics.

Keywords

Lacan transgender horror castration hysteria 

References

  1. Babbage, M. (2010) From colonel to sex killer: Russell Williams chosen newsmaker of the year. The Globe and Mail, 23 December. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/from-colonel-to-sex-killer-russell-williams-chosen-newsmaker-of-the-year/article1321041/, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  2. Benshoff, H. (1997) Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Blatchford, C. (2010) Col. Williams did the devil’s work with such ferocious drive. The Globe and Mail, 18 October. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/col-williams-did-the-devils-work-with-such-ferocious-drive/article4329819/, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  4. Boothby, R. (1991) Death and Desire: Psychoanalytic Theory in Lacan’s Return to Freud. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Brean, J. (2011) Famed detective Jim Smyth’s interrogation techniques derail murder case. National Post, 24 October. http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/10/24/famed-detectives-interrogation-techniques-derail-murder-case/, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  6. CBC News. (2010) Savvy detective praised for Williams confession, 22 October. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/savvy-detective-praised-for-williams-confession-1.869240, accessed 23 Sept 2015.
  7. Clover, C.J. (1992) Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cook, J. (2009) Canada mistakes Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld for person of influence. http://gawker.com/5180834/canada-mistakes-fox-news-greg-gutfeld-for-person-of-influence, 23 March, accessed 3 March 2015.
  9. Creed, B. (1986) Horror and the monstrous-feminine: An imaginary abject. Screen 27(1): 44–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. De Palma, B. (1980) Dressed to Kill. Sonoma: Filmway Pictures.Google Scholar
  11. Dean, T. (2000) Beyond Sexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Demme, J.(1991) The Silence of the Lambs. Los Angeles: Orion Pictures Corporation.Google Scholar
  13. Deschamps, M. C.C. Ad. E. (2015) External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces. Ottawa: Government of Canada.Google Scholar
  14. Fink, B. (1995) The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Flood, M. and Pease, B. (2009) Factors influencing attitudes to violence against women. Trauma, Violence & Abuse 10(2): 125–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Freud, S. (1913/1955) Totem and Taboo. Standard Edition, 13. London: Hogarth Press, pp. vii–162.Google Scholar
  17. Freud, S. (1919/1955) The “uncanny”. Standard Edition, 27. London: Hogarth Press, pp. 217–256.Google Scholar
  18. Freud, S. (1926/1990) Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. Standard Edition, 20. London: Hogarth Press, pp. 1–110.Google Scholar
  19. Friscolanti, M., Gulli, C. and Patriquin, M. (2011) Russell Williams’ final victim: His wife, 11 April. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/her-only-crime-was-trusting-him/, accessed 9 Dec 2013.
  20. Friscolanti, M. and Patriquin, M. (2010) with Cathy Gulli, Kate Lunau, Tom Henheffer, Patricia Treble and Dianna Symonds, 19 February. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/behind-those-eyes/, accessed 25 Jan 2017.
  21. Fuss, D. (1995) Identification Papers: Readings on Psychoanalysis, Sexuality, and Culture. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Gherovici, P. (2010) Please Select your Gender: From the Invention of Gender to the Democratizing of Transgenderism. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Gibb, D.A. (2011) Colonel Russell Williams, the ‘great white shark’ of sexual predators (Exclusive excerpt). The Huffington Post, 3 March. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/david-a-gibb/colonel-russell-williams_b_989205.html, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  24. Gozlan, O. (2011) Transsexual surgery: A novel reminder and a navel remainder. International Forum of Psychoanalysis 20(1): 45–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gregersdotter, K. (2009) More than murderers, other than men: Views of masculinity in modern crime fiction. Nordic Journal of English Studies 8(3): 39–57.Google Scholar
  26. Halberstam, J. (1995) Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Harari, R. (2001) Lacan’s Seminar on Anxiety: An Introduction. Translated by J. C. Lamb-Ruiz. New York: Other Press.Google Scholar
  28. Harrison, D. (2002) The First Casualty: Violence Against Women and Children in Canadian Military Communities. Toronto: Lorimer.Google Scholar
  29. Hitchcock, A. (dir.) (1960) Psycho. USA: Paramount Pictures.Google Scholar
  30. Kay, J. (2009) FOX News scrapes bottom. National Post, 23 March. http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/story.html?id=72484aca-3045-4678-9505-29aa237e843f, accessed 15 Apr 2014.
  31. Lacan, J. (1991/2007) The Other Side of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XVII. Translated by R. Grigg. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  32. Lacan, J. (1993) The Psychoses: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III. Translated by R. Grigg. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  33. Lacan, J. (1999) On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 19721973, Encore, Book XX. Edited by J-A. Miller. Translated by B. Fink. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  34. Lacan, J. (2006) The mirror stage as formative of the I function as revealed in psychoanalytic experience. In: Ecrits. Translated by B. Fink. New York: Norton, pp. 75–81.Google Scholar
  35. Lacan, J. (2014) Anxiety: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book X. Edited by J.-A. Miller. Translated by A.R. Price. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  36. Lester, P. (2009) Fox News presenter apologizes for remarks about the Canadian military. The Guardian, 23 March. http://www.theguardian.com/world/deadlineusa/2009/mar/23/fox-news-apologises-canada-military-afghanistan, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  37. Mallick, H. (2010) We may never know the truth about Russell Williams. Toronto Star, 18 October. http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2010/10/18/mallick_we_may_never_know_the_truth_about_russell_williams.html, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  38. Mandel, M. (2010) How a killer thought he’d got away. Canoe News, 22 December. http://cnews.canoe.com/CNEWS/Crime/2010/10/20/15758676.html, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  39. McArthur, G. and Freeze, C. (2010) Colonel Russell Williams: The making of a mystery man. The Globe and Mail, 17 April. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/colonel-russell-williams-the-making-of-a-mystery-man/article4390081/, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  40. McDermid, V. (1995) The Mermaids Singing. London: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  41. National Post (2001) The long road, National Post Editorial Board: Military impotence, 29 December. http://afghanistan.nationalpost.com/national-post-editorial-board-military-impotence/, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  42. Negra, D. (1996) Coveting the feminine: Victor Frankenstein, Norman Bates, and Buffalo Bill. Literature Film Quarterly 24(2): 193–200.Google Scholar
  43. Puar, J.K. and Rai, A.S. (2002) Monster, terrorist, fag. Social Text 20(3): 117–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rabble.ca (2009) Fox News insults Canada. Rabble Babble, 23 March. http://rabble.ca/babble/media/fox-news-insults-canada?page=1, accessed 1 Nov 2016.
  45. Ragland, E. (2004) The Logic of Sexuation: From Aristotle to Lacan. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  46. Rankin, J. and Contenta, S. (2010) A depraved double life. The Toronto Star, p. A1.Google Scholar
  47. Sharpe, A.N. (2010) Foucault’s Monsters and the Challenge of Law. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Soler, C. (2006) What Lacan Said About Women: A Psychoanalytic Study. New York: Other Press.Google Scholar
  49. Stryker, S. (2008) Transgender History. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.Google Scholar
  50. Sullivan, L.M. (2000) The prevalence of military sexual assault among female veterans’ administration outpatients. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 15(3): 291–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Suris, A. and Lind, L. (2008) Military sexual trauma: A review of prevalence and associated health consequences in veterans. Trauma, Violence & Abuse 9(4): 250–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tharp, J. (1991) The transvestite as monster: Gender horror in The Silence of the Lambs and Psycho. Journal of Popular Film and Television 19(3): 106–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Toronto Star (2010) 18 October.Google Scholar
  54. Verhaeghe, P. (1995) From impossibility to inability: Lacan’s theory on the four discourses. The Letter 3: 76–99.Google Scholar
  55. Williams, L. (1983) When the woman looks. In: M. Doane, P. Mellencamp and L. Williams (eds.) Re-Vision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism (American Film Institute Monograph Series). Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, pp. 83–99.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyYork UniversityTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations