Film Review: ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology directed by Sophie Fiennes is written by and features Slavoj Žižek, the Hegelian and Marxist philosopher, Lacanian psychoanalyst, and leftwing political activist. For Žižek a fundamental area of social and political struggle is ‘culture’, and cinematic art ‘raises serious ideological and political issues.’ Žižek wrote ‘my principal task as a philosopher is to analyse ideology particularly as this is bound up with the formation of individual and social identity through language and discourse.’

The film opens with They Live by John Carpenter which Žižek describes as ‘a forgotten masterpiece of the Hollywood Left’ and he discusses Marx’s line ‘sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es’ (‘they do not know it, but they are doing it’) from Volume I of Capital. Ideology relies on a collective naiveté; that people accept a set of illusions that obscure how the system really works, capitalism persists because of this false consciousness. Marx wrote in The German Ideology that ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.’ For Žižek, ideology is an unconscious fantasy that structures reality, even in dreams we are in ideology.

Žižek’s analysis of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song Climb Every Mountain in The Sound of Music is exquisite as he identifies ‘the affirmation of desire, the cynical power of the Roman Catholic religion resides in hidden, obscene permission to do whatever you want, enjoy it all as it is covered by God.’ Žižek says ‘underneath the message of self-denial there is the opposite message: pretend to abstain and you can have what you want.’

Žižek dissects James Cameron’s Titanic as ‘Hollywood Marxism, fake sympathy with the lower classes’ and sees ‘Winslet as an upper class woman in psychological distress, the function of DiCaprio is to help her to reconstitute her ego. A new version of the imperialist myth of when upper class people lose their vitality they need to ruthlessly exploit in a vampiric way, suck the life out of the working class. Rich people have the right to revitalise themselves by ruthlessly appropriating the vitality of the poor people.’

Žižek sees Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver as an ‘unacknowledged re-make of John Ford’s The Searchers and is linked to American liberal interventionism while Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is related to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq which saw ‘the staging of the obscene underside of American military culture.’

Depressingly he is correct when he says ‘it is easier to envisage the end of the world in such films as I am Legend than a modest change in our economic order.’ Žižek adds that ‘right dreams point towards a dimension beyond our existing society, wrong dreams idealise the consumerist reflection of our society, the aim is to change the way you dream which will change reality.’ He asks us to ‘set our possibilities straight and become realists and demand what appears as impossible in the economic domain.’

Žižek’s analysis is rich, detailed, complex but always interesting and thought-provoking. He quotes Walter Benjamin at the end: ‘the authentic revolution is not only directed towards the future but it redeems the past failed revolutions. All the ghosts as it were; the living dead of the past revolution, which are roaming around, unsatisfied will finally, find their home.’


Leave a Reply