This is the text of a press introduction I have written for the premiere of the Sophie Feinnes/Slavoj Zizek film The Pevert’s Guide to Ideology in October. Slavoj likes it so it must be OK!
The Big Other is Watching You!
A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology by Slavoj Žižek
Ask most people what they think the word ideology means and they will say that it is something active, like Marxism, communism, fascism, or any number of active political commitments. But this is not the ideology that Žižek means. Drawing on Lacan, Freud, Hegel and Marx, Žižek shows in this film how it is the ways in which our unconscious is formed which is entirely ideological. Everything we think and do is not something we have autonomous control over but is primed by our unconscious responses to what is going on around us. It would be a mistake though to think that we are separate from this process. It is not simply something which is being done to us and which we passively accept, but something in which we are ourselves actively complicit. We think we are making our own stories and we are, but only within parameters already laid down for us.
We are ultimately and intimately trapped within the snow globe of social relations which are entirely ideological. The reason that this is a pervert’s guide is that in order to be able to see how ideology works you have to be able to look at it in a perverted way. Everything has to be stood on its head and looked at awry in order to be able to see it properly. In one of his earlier books he called this the parallax view and in They Live, excerpted in this film, the rather clunky mechanism of sunglasses which allow us to see properly is used. What becomes clear here is the lengths we will go to stop ourselves being liberated. We struggle against any attempts to strip away the ideological blinkers and see things more clearly. Žižek maintains that this is a painful process. As he said in his last film, Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema: “I think this is what liberation means. In order to attack the enemy, you first have to beat the shit out of yourself. To get rid, in yourself, of that which in yourself attaches you to the leader, to the conditions of slavery, and so on and so on.”
It is for this reason that Žižek ends this film with a look at Christianity (rather than religion in general) because he believes that it is the only religion fundamentally based on the recognition of the absence of God. The point of the scene on the cross from The Last Temptation of Christ is that Jesus recognises that God has not forsaken him but that he was never there in the first place. He has never been watching over us and we are alone. What Žižek is trying to do in this film is to show that we create the story about our existence out of a recognition that our existence is absolutely unnecessary and that our individual death is as insignificant as every other passing, even if we do think we are Jesus. This is why he maintains that the phrase “only a Christian can be a good atheist and only an atheist can be a good Christian” (Ernst Bloch) is the key to understanding our psychological make up in late capitalism. It is only through the recognition that we are not necessary and that we are only here by mistake that we can make sense of the stories we tell ourselves.
The imagined Big Other – in this film Stalin, Hitler, money, or the love of money, God – is an essential component of our ability to survive collectively and to give our existence a purpose. If ideology – as the target of Žižek’s opprobrium here – is the way in which this basic human need and desire becomes perverted by those who wish to have control over us then this is also why he calls this film the pervert’s guide to ideology, because we ourselves are the people doing the perversion.
The Big Other is not watching you, you are watching yourself.