Oh boy, this is not going to be a useful review, I warn you now. Let’s start with what I know about Slavoj Žižek – professor, philosopher, researcher, commentator. A couple of birthdays ago, a certain Mild Concern editor gave me a copy of Žižek’s philosophical treatise, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. It’s a politically-left commentary on the current state of the world, particularly what led to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the global financial crisis. I think. Žižek tends to catapult from one theory or example to the next, giving the reader (or me at least) little time to get their head around what he’s proposing. I’ll admit, it was not an easy read. Here’s a quote, which possibly summarises his new documentary:
The contemporary era constantly proclaims itself as post-ideological, but this denial of ideology only provides the ultimate proof that we are more than ever embedded in ideology. Ideology is always a field of struggle—among other things, the struggle for appropriating past traditions.
In The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, the follow-up documentary to The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and directed by Sophie Fiennes, Žižek takes a tour through the world of film, and interpreting the ideological meaning deep within them and the power those ideologies have over us. Some are more obvious sources, such as those from the Nazi and Stalinist eras and The Clockwork Orange, to the less obvious, like The Sound of Music and Titanic. He also draws from footage of real life events, including the UK riots last summer and Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway.
As in First as Tragedy…, Žižek jumps from concept to concept and as with the book, I did not find this easy. I too pinged about all over the shop – from total confusion, to just about grasping what was being said, to thinking that certain points were so obvious as to be self-evident. And as the one spontaneous cheer during the film was for what I thought was the most obvious point made (that the reason Starbucks portrays itself as doing social good in poor countries is to make its customers in rich countries feel better about themselves for buying from them – well, yes, of course), I suspect I wasn’t the only one in the sold-out screening feeling frazzled by the end.
Still, seeing clips of a lot of these films is intriguing in itself – I particularly enjoyed the rundown of 1950’s Soviet film, The Fall of Berlin, where Stalin is portrayed as the ultimate matchmaker and gives extremely successful romance advice to a factory worker. Žižek also has some great comic timing and amusingly, he physically appears in recreations of famous scenes. However, on a purely practical level, keeping up with what is essentially an illustrated two hour lecture was made harder by his accent. When you are already devoting a lot of brainpower to following the argument, it is easy to fall behind when you’re having to mentally translate certain words. Also, the word “ideology” ceases to have any meaning after a while.
Currently there is no general release slated for The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology , but if it does I expect it will be a limited one, intended for those with a better grasp of philosophical theory than me.