Žižek on Hollywood in the Financial Times

March 11, 2009

This weekend’s edition of the Financial Times had an interesting interview, by John Thornhill, with the Yugoslavian political philosopher, Slavoj Žižek. The casual Movie Masher fan might only have a passing interest, but then Žižek brings up Hollywood and its commercial ideas of rebellion made for established party-line agendas:

Take Titanic (1997). Most viewers see it as a straightforward love story. Not Žižek. Many critics noted the anti-establishment tone of the film: how the rich passengers are cruel while those on the lower decks are far more sympathetic. But, according to Žižek, the film reinforces the social order rather than subverts it. The true narrative concerns a spoiled, rich girl who has lost her identity. She takes a lower-class lover to restore her vitality, to put her ego image together, he says. The lover literally draws her picture. “And then, after his job is done, he can f*** off and disappear. He is – what I would call in theory – a pure vanishing mediator. It is not a love story. It is vampiric, egotistic exploitation.”


What particularly intrigues Žižek is how films that seemingly resist the prevailing ideology, such as Titanic, often serve to strengthen it. It was a similar story, he suggests, in communist times when people who told seemingly subversive jokes only succeeded in spreading cynicism and indifference, which was exactly what the party nomenklatura needed to sustain their rule. A member of the ruling Communist party in the dying days of Yugoslavia, Žižek well remembers how the country’s leaders sustained the regime by exploiting the population’s passivity.

“If you asked me at gunpoint what I really like, I would say to read German idealism, Hegel. What I like most, what I love the best, is this objectivity of belief,” he says. Although people may claim not to believe in the political system, their inert cynicism only validates that system. This is all explained, according to Žižek, by Marx’s theory of “commodity fetishism”, the idea that the way we behave in society is determined by objective market forces rather than subjective beliefs. “The importance is in what you do, not in what you think. I love this dialectical reversal.”

Žižek then segues into a riff about obscene military marching songs, which he came to relish during his time in the Yugoslavian army. He sings one from the film Full Metal Jacket (1987), temporarily silencing all other conversation in the restaurant. “I don’t know but I’ve been told/ Eskimo pussy is mighty cold.” He continues regardless: “What I learned from my own military service was that all these obscene jokes, these apparent forms of rebellion, are exactly what the power needs to reproduce itself. There is nothing subversive about it.”

Read the rest of it here, where further discussion abounds: Lunch with the FT: Slavoj Žižek


One Response to “Žižek on Hollywood in the Financial Times”

  1. […] idea is not a far cry from the what was emphasized in the Krystian Zimerman quote from a few months back: social credibility is established not by gaining authority, but by disrespecting the authority of […]

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