Sunday, May 18, 2014

At the Movies with Slavoj Žižek: The Pervert's Guide to Ideology

by Drew Martin
When I listen to people talk about a film, they usually talk about whether or not they like it (or whether or not I would like it), and then they might talk about the plot. Rarely am I treated to a discussion about the structure of a film, how sound is used, or its deeper meaning.

So I was happy to stumble upon The Pervert's Guide to Ideology directed by Sophie Fiennes (Ralph's little sister) with music by Brian Eno, which features the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who offers psychoanalytical insight to films including They Live, The Sound of Music, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, The Searchers, West Side Story, Jaws, I Am Legend, Titanic, The Fall of Berlin, Full Metal Jacket, The Loves of a Blonde, The Fireman’s Ball, The Brief Encounter, Brazil, The Last Temptation of Christ, Seconds, and Zabriskie Point. 

Žižek uses the music store scene in A Clockwork Orange to explain the ubiquitous and pan-ideological use of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Ode to Joy.

Beethoven is not a cheap celebrator of the brotherhood of humanity and so on..."We are one big family enjoying freedom, dignity”…and so on. The first part is falsely celebrated today you hear it in all official events is clearly identified with Beethoven as ideology. And then the second part tells the true story of that which disturbs the official ideology and the failure of the official ideology to constrain it, to tame it. This is why Beethoven was doing something which may appear difficult to do. He was already in the purely musical work practicing critique of ideology.

In regard to fantasies he says,

Fantasies are not just a private matter of individuals. Fantasies are the central stuff our ideologies are made of. Fantasy is in psychoanalytic perspective fundamentally a lie. Not a lie in the sense that it is just a fantasy but not reality, but a lie in the sense that fantasy covers up a certain gap in consistency. When things are blurry, when we cannot really get to know things, fantasy provides an easy answer. The usual mode of fantasy is to construct a scene, not a scene where I get what I desire but a scene in which I imagine myself as desired by others.

Žižek explains how the shark in Jaws unites our fears, which Americans perceived as an external threat, while Fidel Castro, who loved Jaws as a leftist Marxist film, said the shark represented brutal capitalism attacking ordinary Americans.

Žižek is captivating with his intensity, and Fiennes lightens the load of his discourse by playfully inserting him in sets and locations of the movies he discusses.

The first placement of Žižek is on set for They Live, a film about a guy in Los Angeles who finds a box of sunglasses, which Žižek calls critique of ideology glasses. When worn, the glasses reveal the propaganda behind everything we see, as well as the aliens in the film who control the propaganda.

While this is not discussed by 
Žižek, the graphic designer Shepard Fairey got his Obey from They Live (middle, movie still), which he combined with the style of Barbara Kruger (second from bottom) for his André the Giant - Obey campaign (bottom).