The Pervert's Guide To Ideology

The Pervert's Guide To Ideology


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Slavoj Žižek's musings on our enjoyment of ideology, and the fact that stepping out of it hurts, are a great starting point for Sophie Fiennes' documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, the second instalment with the Slovenian Lacanian after 2006's The Pervert's Guide To Cinema.

The film begins with the philosopher in front of a garbage dumpster, warning, that just when we think we escape it, at that point we are deep within ideology. The receptacle turns out to be a replica of the one from They Live (1988), a film Žižek calls "one of the forgotten masterpieces of the left". It is the story of a homeless worker in Los Angeles, who finds a box of sunglasses in the rubbish, which allow anyone who puts them on to see the real messages behind the billboards, ads, and magazines. Obey! Stop thinking! Conform! The invisible order is revealed.

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How much freedom hurts is illustrated with clips from The Sound of Music (1965) and Žižek, dressed up as a priest, explains the difference between enjoyment and pleasure in psychoanalysis. The fact that the Climb Every Mountain song, that "embarrassing moment of desire," was the only part of the movie censored in the former Communist Yugoslavia, now makes perfect sense. The hidden, obscene, permission to do whatever you want, belongs to the Catholic Church as an institution, "at its purest." Žižek sums it up: "The true hidden message is: pretend to renounce and you can get it all."

From Coca Cola as the perfect commodity, full of metaphysical reality ("The real thing!"), to the Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs with the toy inside (an excessive object with the cause of desire stuck between the two), Fiennes and Žižek do their best to make theoretical concepts understandable. The less you resist, the more you will enjoy, how much your brain can be stimulated. We get to follow Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the Ode to Joy - which works so well as an "empty container" - around the world from Peru to A Clockwork Orange (1971) and learn the cynical function of ideology in West Side Story (1961). Taking Robert De Niro's position on the bed, seen from above in Taxi Driver (1976), Žižek explains how "fantasy is fundamentally a lie," why Scorsese's movie is a remake of John Ford's The Searchers (1956), how it explains the "big problem of American military intervention" from Vietnam to Iraq, and connects to the 2010 mass killings in Norway.

Fidel Castro loved Jaws (1975), and indeed, reality becomes so much simpler when you can put all of your fears in one basket. The Nazis knew this, and Fiennes places Žižek in a plane, mirroring Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph Of The Will (1935). How instability makes capitalism function and that we need "some pseudo-concrete image to mobilise us," are observations that lead to Žižek's take on everyday racism: "Typical for racism is to try to imagine how the other enjoys".

We buy ideology with Starbucks coffee, by being a consumerist and feeling good about it, too. He refers to Walter Benjamin in the context of history, namely that we experience history only when we see the waste of culture. Movies such as I Am Legend (2007) and other post-apocalyptic films show us the "inertia of the real," and the Titanic wreck at the bottom of the ocean has been elevated into a myth. In Titanic (1997), the true catastrophe lies elsewhere, when rich people revitalise their stale lives. Clips from the Russian film The Fall Of Berlin (1949) are interpreted by Zizek dressed as Stalin (in Astra Taylor's film Žižek! (2005), we see that the philosopher has a poster of Stalin on a door in his study to provoke visitors), clips from Brief Encounter (1945) elucidate the function of the Big Other, for whom we maintain appearances, and Brazil (1985) tells us that Kafka was right, that "state bureaucracy is the only remaining contact with the divine."

Frankenheimer's neglected masterpiece Seconds (1966) and Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970), highlight that we are responsible for our dreams. Žižek, who spoke at Occupy Wall Street in New York last year, knows that the future depends on us and our will.

The Pervert's Guide To Cinema premiered in New York at MoMA with Žižek presenting. We talked about the recent film The Lives Of Others in regards to which gender spied more on the other, the AirTrain to JFK Airport, German Romanticism, and the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup (1933). Every conversation I have had with him over the years is like this.

What remains? You will get a lot of answers to questions you never knew you had.

"All inventions come from hysterical questions," he says, or: why am I what you are telling me I am? We have to change the way we dream.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology will have its US Premiere at DOC NYC 2pm, Sunday November 11, 2012 - SVA Theater

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2012
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A documentary exploring the film criticism and philosophy of Slavoj Žižek.
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Director: Sophie Fiennes

Starring: Slavoj Žižek

Year: 2012

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Ireland

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The Pervert's Guide To Cinema