"The Pervert's Guide to Ideology" (2012) is a documentary by Slavoj Zizek, the foremost philosopher in the Continental tradition who has made waves in the intelligentsia for two straight decades since publishing "The Sublime Object of Ideology."
It is long at a bit more than two hours, and it is thoroughly intriguing. I will here provide a rendition of Zizek's basic insights into the nature of ideology, how it controls and constitutes us, and how it can be dismantled.
To step out of ideology is akin to being born again. The Protestants have similar notions, although they suggest one should rather step into ideology – one of Christ and his Christianity. Zizek recommends adopting one's real conditions of existence — reality in toto — rather than adopting an ideology, which by definition is a distorted, if comforting, reality.
Here is why this step is important: America is a giant social experiment. Ask any student or professor from abroad about our enormous advertising culture and they'll tell you their homelands are not nearly so polluted with propaganda.
Ours is a permanent wartime propaganda — we imitate a post-scarcity society on the verge of both conflict and paradise, even as our individual selves succumb to peculiar and debilitating forms of neurosis. Death becomes us, if we are not careful to guard our thinking from the constant assault the capitalists wreak on our social environment.
The streets are full of noise even if they have no people.
Zizek dissects the nature of propaganda and delves into psychoanalysis. While he admits the Freudian analysis is passé in several of his books, he admits its most basic insights ring true: the unconscious guides our behavior, we are slaves to the irrational and we can be manipulated.
The "mind control" fears of the 1950s and '60s might sound silly today, but they are scientifically demonstrable to exist, at least to some degree. We are fundamentally social beings who are constituted by our environment and the people around us — even our grammar, the fundamental structure of our thinking, functions as a received consciousness, a gift we did not ask for.
Advertising operates as a sort of god of one's consciousness in that it directs desire, manufactures it, and implants it within you. Watch a fast food commercial that attempts to intertwine the ideas of food and sex in your head and stand in awe at the psychological power of late capitalism. Zizek knows the American Dream is wielded foremost against its own people.
The terror is within the borders. Rather, the terror is the borders.
Zizek notes that we are not even being subjugated, in the Hegelian sense (we do not exist in a relationship of master and slave, as in feudalism or slavery proper). Instead, we are taught to be slaves to ourselves: self-control cannot sustain capitalism, and neither can socially-centered behavior. The serving of oneself, even to the point of mental breakdown, is how late capitalism keeps its processes running.
Zizek's sociology is a menacing sociology, suggesting we must break with all knowledge if we are to take control of our destinies. Liberation will come from the circumstances of our thinking through other means.
If you want those other means, I suggest you buy Zizek's books.
Students of UT, just remember this: freedom is, while a lovely idea, most likely a great mythology of the modern period and nothing more. To desire freedom is to desire the womb. Yes, it cages you; but all great ideas in the human mind are paradoxes, unattainable, whimsical and fantastically dangerous if diligently pursued.
Jeremy Brunger is a senior in English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.