Do we have a more energetic commentator on popular culture than Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosophy professor who has risen to the role the Chronicle of Higher Education calls “the Elvis of cultural theory”? In the 2006 essay film The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, Žižek offered psychoanalytic readings of such pictures as The Red Shoes, Alien, and The Matrix. (See him take on Vertigo in a clip featured here before.) Now he returns with a sequel, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. At the top, you can see him expound upon the role of ideology in They Live, John Carpenter’s 1988 science-fiction semi-comedy in which wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper happens upon a pair of sunglasses that, when worn, reveal a host of sinister alien commandments behind advertising and the media. “These glasses function like critique-of-ideology glasses,” Žižek asserts.”We live, so we are told, in a post-ideological society. We are addressed by social authority not as subjects who should do their duty, but subjects of pleasures: ‘Realize your true potential,’ ‘Be yourself,’ ‘Lead a satisfying life.’ When you put the glasses on, you see dictatorship in democracy.”
Just above, Žižek looks into the ideology of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s second Batman movie. “Who is Joker?” he asks. “Which is the lie he is opposing? The truly disturbing thing about The Dark Knight is that it elevates a lie into a general social principle: the principle of organization of our social, political life, as if our societies can remain stable, can function, only if based on a lie, as if the truth — and this telling the truth is embodied in Joker — means destruction.” Last year at the Toronto International Film festival, Žižek participated in an on-stage conversation about the project (introduction, part one, two), “explaining” in his inimitably roundabout fashion some of the thinking behind these cinematic cultural analyses. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology also uses other big-name movies like Taxi Driver, Titanic, West Side Story (and Jaws, some of which you can see him comment briefly upon in the trailer) as jumping off points for extended monologues on the unseen forces that he finds shape our beliefs and behavior. Unseen, of course, unless you’ve got those superpowered sunglasses — or unless, even more unconventionally, you’ve got a mind like Slavoj Žižek’s.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.