Slavoj Žižek's perverted guide to ideology

Everyone's favourite Lacanian tells us why the London riots were only the beginning

Arts+Culture Q+A
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Once more, in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,  filmmaker Sophie Fiennes teams up with “the world’s hippest philosopher” Slavoj Žižek, in the highly-anticipated sequel to The Pervert’s Guide of Cinema (2006). From replicate studio sets of popular films like The Sound of Music, Taxi Driver, Full Metal Jacket, Vertigo, and Titanic, Žižek interprets a compelling cinematic journey into the heart of ideology – the inherent fantasies that shape our beliefs and practices. If anything, we quickly learn that we are responsible for our own dreams.

By irreverently combining psychoanalytic theory and cinema, Žižek poses hilariously outrageous but scarily necessary questions about the way we live today. What does it mean to be free? Revealing the hidden dictatorship involved in sustaining our apparent democratic freedom, don’t expect Pervert's Guide to act as merciful quick-fix therapy. In a scene from The Others, when we witness a man (who is forced to step outside the prevailing ideology) get beaten to a pulp, Žižek reminds us: ”Freedom hurts.”

 In Pervert’s Guide’s dazzling critique of consumerist society, we also address the inevitably explosive violence that arises from those unable to fully ”ENJOY ” the hedonistic commands of capitalism, as in the case of the London riots in 2009. Žižek’s ideology is not just for extremists, but the name for all the unconscious fantasies that structure our digital, daily lives.

DD: Why is Pervert’s Guide relevant to our times?

Slavoj Žižek: Most of us think that we now live in totally atheist, post-ideological times, and cynically view the big 20th century movements like communism and fascism as totally failed and outdated. But it's exactly when we think we exist outside ideology that we are actually in it. It's inherent in the way that we construct our reality and stage our desires. And this is also reflected in cinema. In a consumerist capitalist society, you think you are free by being able to enjoy life and buy things like a Starbucks frappuccino, when actually, you are following an obscene and deep command to ”ENJOY.”

DD: What should we expect from the future of cinema?

Slavoj Žižek: I’m undecided. But I do think that we are seeing a very interesting shift in cinema to television. I don’t mean The Wire, or even The Sopranos — to be honest, I didn’t really like it, gangsters quoting Proust. But you know, quite unexpectedly, there is really something more to Mad Men

Everyone thinks that killing people on a screen will make you want to kill people in real life, and confuse you about right and wrong, reality and fantasy, and so on. Bullshit

DD: How does the digital age and internet affect our ideological framework?

Slavoj Žižek: Not much, to be honest. Not as much as everyone thinks. It's like gaming, you know? Everyone thinks that killing people on a screen will make you want to kill people in real life, and confuse you about right and wrong, reality and fantasy, and so on. Bullshit. My son always plays Grand Theft Auto V, and he loves it. It’s great. 

DD: In Pervert's Guide, you use popular cinematic examples to illustrate how unconscious fantasy structures our reality. Is The Sound of Music scene your favorite? 

Slavoj Žižek: I don’t know if Sophie [Fiennes] included it, but there was an extra scene after the Sound of Music clip where Mother Superior sings ”Climb Every Mountain” to Maria to pursue her sexual urges. It was my example of how all institutions function this way, through obscene bribes and agreements: ”Do what you want, you’re covered. Don’t worry, you’re one of us, all is permitted.” The allowance of pedophelia is to the Catholic Church is another obscene secret unwritten ritual, what ”fragging” is to American marines. So in my favorite scene, I sing ”Climb Every Mountain” to a young boy in the Church while dressed up as the head priest.

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Žižek recreates Full Metal Jacket

DD: Although you’re a Marxist, you admit that capitalism has been the true self-revolutionising force. Isn’t it also the best ideological container for our society’s endless need to desire, fantasize, and seek pleasure?

Slavoj Žižek: Listen, I am a Marxist, but I don’t believe we should return to an old version of communism. The revolution is over; it failed. There is, of course, no doubt that capitalism, for some reason, is the clear ideological winner of this century. So to answer your question, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should not question capitalism or the way we live.

DD: Did you add these kind of obscene jokes to Pervert’s Guide as a kind of ”excess enjoyment”?

Slavoj Žižek: They are meant to be educational. Many people expect me to provide all kinds of answers to their problems as some kind of wise philosophical figure.  But I’m just talking to cover up my anxiety; behind the talk is really nothing, I’m nobody.

Have you noticed that in the last few years, uprisings took place not in the poorest countries, but where there is actually some real social mobility and economic development, like in the UK

DD: In your film, you mention the London rioters of 2009.  Apparently, their confusion and frustration – in being unable to fully realize and follow the consumerist injunction ”ENJOY” - resulted in protest.  As global consumerism spreads, should we expect more explosions of violence?

Slavoj Žižek: I think we can definitely expect more global violence. The culmination which would have to be revolution. Have you noticed that in the last few years, uprisings took place not in the poorest countries or clear dictatorships like in North Korea, but where there is actually already some real social mobility and economic development, like in the UK, Brazil, Turkey, and even Sweden. That is when the most violent protest occurs between the classes: when the social order is less certain and there is potentially a little freedom to compete, and take over.

DD: In Pervert's Guide, you mention that if some event is too traumatic or intense, it shatters our reality and we have to fictionalize it. Is that why cinema exists, as a kind of therapy?

Slavoj Žižek: Therapy to a degree, yes. But you know, real films should hurt you, wound you. I want my film to be like an open wound, that makes you want to engage, question your reality, not just sit, passively observing. Real freedom hurts.

DD: When can we expect it a third Pervert's Guide?

Slavoj Žižek: I’m not really sure. It depends if we can find enough funding, distribution, etc., etc. You know, I would love to do one on opera — or even love. This may surprise you, but I’m actually a great romantic.

Sophie Fiennes’s The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, starring Slavoj Zizek, is out now in UK cinemas. 

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