By Rhys Williams
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 386

Slavoj Zizek – The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

This article is over 10 years, 5 months old
Director Sophie Fiennes DVD - Out now
Issue 386

Often funny, mostly fine and sometimes a bit dodgy, Slavoj Zizek explores the concept of ideology through a psychoanalysis of cinema. It is never entirely clear why.

The renaissance man of social theory meanders around famous film scenes, weaving an essay on the nature of ideology as he passes through.

The mainly psychoanalytic view of ideology leaves the role played by social forces in shaping ideas largely untouched. It produces a shallow picture of how ideology develops and operates. This is particularly noticeable in his discussion of how Nazi ideology works.

Zizek never really moves into an explicitly Marxist mode of film criticism. For example, he explains the motivations and actions of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle in purely psychological terms. This is all quite enjoyable to watch, and correct as far as it goes, but an account that made a serious attempt to grapple with Marx’s theory of alienation may have drawn out some more interesting aspects of Bickle’s character.

Zizek’s key idea is the notion of the “big other” as a key enabling factor in allowing ideology to function. This is an idea taken from the French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan’s theory of language development. Although this idea seems central to the argument of the film, Zizek picks up many different approaches – for example, making interesting points about commodity fetishism and coke adverts – only to put them down again a few minutes later to move on to something else.

As the title suggests, this is a deeply silly film. How much Zizek wants you to take what he is saying seriously remains unclear. But it is entertaining. This is mainly down to the editing, which builds momentum and comic relief. It mixes archive footage, film clips and the incantations of Zizek himself taking part in the films he discusses.

Zizek is best when he’s doing more straightforward film criticism. He makes interesting points about Titanic, Jaws and Zabriskie Point. The problem is that these insights don’t really build up or go anywhere.

Another source of confusion is who the film is aimed at. The constant meandering from topic to topic with a tenuous theoretical cohesion means that those already familiar with the basic ideas of psychoanalysis and Marxism will find little new or intellectually stimulating.

The ironic and cynical political incoherence of the film will do little to enlighten the uninformed viewer. I haven’t read any of Zizek’s books, and I think the film is intended for people like me. It doesn’t assume any specialist knowledge but doesn’t seem particularly interested in imparting any either.

DVD The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology .

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance