Žižek and the Media (liburu aurkezpena)By Imanol Galfarsoro • Oct 9th, 2010 • Category: Liburu Kritikak
By: Paul Taylor (University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Slavoj Zizek reaches the parts of the media that other theorists cannot. With sources ranging from Thomas Aquinas to Quentin Tarantino and Desperate Housewives to Dostoyevsky, Zizek mixes high theory with low culture more engagingly than any other thinker alive today. His prolific output includes such media friendly content as a TV series (The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema) a documentary movie (Zizek!) and a wealth of YouTube clips. A celebrity academic, he walks the media talk.
Zizek and the Media provides a systematic and approachable introduction to the main concepts and themes of Zizek’s work, and their particular implications for the study of the media. The book:
Describes the radical nature of Zizek’s media politics; Uses Zizekian insights to expose the profound intellectual limitations of conventional approaches to the media; Explores the psychoanalytical and philosophical roots of Zizek’s work; Provides the reader with Zizekian tools to uncover the hidden ideologies of everyday media content; Explains the ultimate seriousness that underlies his numerous jokes.
As likely to discuss Homer’s Springfield as Ithaca, Zizek is shown to be the ideal guide for today’s mediascape.
Table of Contents
Preface The Dog’s Bollocks At the Media Dinner Party
Chapter 1 The Mediated Imp of The Perverse
Chapter 2 Zizek’s Tickling Shtick
Chapter 3 Big (Br)Other Psychoanalyzing the Media
Chapter 4 Understanding Media: The Sublime Objectification of Ideology
Chapter 5 The Media’s Violence
Chapter 6 The Joker’s Little Shop of Ideological Horrors
Conclusion Don’t Just Do It
Paul A. Taylor is a Senior Lecturer in Communications Theory at the Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds
Introductory comments from the author
Žižek and the Media is designed to examine not only the content and the form of Žižek’s work, but also the way in which he combines form and content to create his iconoclastic challenge to the mediated status quo – his critical, countervailing response to the medium-is-the-message/massage quality of the capitalist media system. In order to comply with the short format requested by the publisher, this book was never designed to be an overarching, comprehensive introduction to Žižek’s oeuvre1. Rather, my aim was to produce a text that concentrates specifically upon both what Žižek says about the media and how he says it. I sought to avoid an overly detailed and formulaic account of Žižek’s media-related commentaries because this risked creating merely a pale summary of his own highly engaging original texts. In an attempt to avoid this risk, I have provided some original examples and new Žižek-inspired, analysis of my own.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the provocative nature of his work, Žižek has met with much resistance, frequently of an ad hominem nature. Consequently, a substantial part of this text – the Introduction, Chapters 1 and 2 – is devoted to exploring and debunking lazy media clichés that caricature Žižek as “The Marx Brother” and “The Elvis of Cultural Theory”. These are clichés that, even when meant affectionately, serve to obfuscate the deadly seriousness that lies behind Žižek’s perverse humour. There are those who may view the effort I have spent on dealing with misrepresentations of Žižek as somewhat wasteful and defensive. I consider it worthwhile, however, because the undeniably filthy humour at issue is much more important than just a question of taste. It is actually a crucial aspect of Žižek’s importance to media theory and it therefore justifies (im)proper attention. Decidedly not just noteworthy for its shock value, when seeking to understand Žižek’s significance for cultural theory we should be mindful, as Todd McGowan so neatly puts it, that “The path to seriousness is strewn with jokes” [IJZS Vol 1.1]). In his essay ‘The Culture Industry’, Theodor Adorno famously said that whilst ‘works of art are ascetic and unashamed; the culture industry is pornographic and prudish.’
With his own version of “Ockham’s blunderbus”, Žižek blasts through Adorno’s dichotomy. He is ascetic in his commitment to philosophical insight via an unashamedly pornographic penchant for distinctly non-prudish subject matter and illustrative examples.
Right from the book’s Preface, I chose not to gloss over these unambiguously obscene proclivities – his patented combination of perversity and comedy. I deal with it directly and thereby hope to take the reader beyond either po-faced offence at the filth, or mere laughter at the comedy, to examine the underlying significance of Žižek’s role as a “mediated imp of the perverse” (Chapter 1) and the analytical potency of his “tickling shtick” (Chapter 2). Žižek’s comically perverse quality is shown to play a major role in producing his theoretical short circuits and parallax views – the uniquely discombobulating Žižek-effect whereby our understanding of what previously seemed stable and self-evident undergoes a tectonic shift. This initial focus upon the media’s misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Žižek’s obscene method is used to pave the way for the rest of the book’s treatment of the more substantive theoretical objections from Žižek’s critics. It is suggested that his sustained undermining of the capitalist media system’s ideological foundations inevitably creates offended responses from that system’s most uncritical adherents/consumers. In particular, Žižek is shown to swim against the tide of mainstream media attitudes by his stubbornly held attachment to two deeply unfashionable fields – Psychoanalysis and Marxism. These are the key influences that create Žižek’s “Heineken effect” – his ability to refresh the parts of the media other theorists cannot reach. Thus, whilst figures such as Noam Chomsky have diligently and systematically exposed the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of Western corporate media – such informed, reasoned critique appears to have relatively little effect upon its much-vaunted democratic polity. Western society’s true political problem rests not in our lack of adequate knowledge/information, a larger supply of which will fundamentally change our habits and attitudes, but rather, a much more insidiously ubiquitous phenomenon – the mental state of refusing to accept the full ethical implications of our situation – a state epitomized by the sentiment that pervades our culture – je sais bien mais quand même (I know very well, but even so … ).
Marxism and psychoanalysis are used by Žižek as the pillars of his critique of the media’s pervasively effective ideology because they provide particularly illuminating conceptual frameworks.
They are invaluable aides for exposing the mediascape’s unacknowledged underpinnings and essentially irrational aspects, specifically: 1. Our ever more mediated, but still ineffably problematic, encounter with reality and the confusingly abstract nature of capitalist power – in recent years, Lacan’s big Other has been increasingly desublimated into TV shows like Big Brother (Chapter 3).
2. The fetishization and sublimation of unreflexive attitudes and values within various media formats and processes – the sublime objectification of ideology (Chapter 4)
3. The unacknowledged forms of violence Western society routinely visits upon the rest of the world to which its media are equally routinely blind (Chapter 5).
4. The manner in which, as a form of double-bluff, much of today’s most pressing ideological questions are played out in plain public view. For example, films such as Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight frequently contain much more instructive content than whole tomes of purportedly more serious political commentary (Chapter 6).
Shortly after I completed the manuscript, a major incident occurred that encapsulated much of the above thematic content and, by coincidence, resonated strongly with the book’s cover image. In the Summer of 2010, the United States was rocked by an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Exhaustive media coverage included sustained attempts to impose a national identity (British Petroleum) on the emblematically multinational corporation responsible for the disaster. The failure of media commentators to acknowledge adequately the contributory role played in the accident by capitalist subcontracting practices (Transocean and Halliburton were also involved in the BP drilling operation) was surpassed by a yet bigger blind-spot – the absence of the chastening and unflattering comparisons to be made between responses to the Gulf of Mexico spill and the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) disaster of 1984. For those unfamiliar with the details, the latter incident occurred at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. On the night of Dec. 2nd, the US-owned UCC gas plant suffered an explosion leading to a catastrophic leak of toxic chemicals. A crude calculus of death accounts for 2,200 people killed immediately, whilst over 3,700 people died shortly afterwards. Subsequent estimates make Bhopal the world’s worst industrial accident with up to 25,000 later deaths being directly attributed to the disaster (see Glover 2010).
To date, neither Union Carbide, nor Dow Chemicals, its subsequent US owner, have ever accepted legal responsibility for the thousands of deaths and injuries (although compensation of $470 million has been paid out). By contrast, BP is likely to pay final compensation of many billions of dollars for the 11 oil workers who died in the Gulf explosion and the ecological damage caused. It is worth emphasizing that information about the Union Carbide disaster is not secret knowledge. No Orwellian mode of suppression is required to repress comparative consideration of the two tragic cases by the Western media. Rather, that system’s ‘normal’ functioning involves systemic distortions and inconsistencies – in this case, an egregious failure to foster equal consideration for human life irrespective of its global location. Žižek’s project helps us fundamentally question the desirability of media that so successfully screen us from our most basic human fellow-feeling.
Misleadingly and deliberately misrepresented as a a postmodern relativist (see Chapters 2 and 6) Žižek is, in fact, distinctly non-relative in his insistence that media manipulations and ideological legerdemain should be doggedly exposed. Submerged as we are in today’s mediascape, and despite being accused of using excessively abstract thought and lacking concrete solutions, Žižek’s recourse to Marxist and psychoanalytical concepts (that, pace Adorno, so uniquely blends ascetic philosophical rigour with unashamedly pornographic illustrations), is exactly what we need.
Marshal McLuhan once said that “whoever discovered water – it wasn’t a fish”, my modest hope is that, if achieving nothing else, this book at least successfully demonstrates Žižek’s importance for understanding much better the true nature of the media bowl in which we swim.
Glover, Peter. C. (2010) ‘BP and Union Carbide: The Tale of Two Moralities’, The Epoch Times, Saturday, September 25, 2010. Available at: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/38444/
Imanol Galfarsoro Bere ikasketak eta irakaslanak Frantzian, Londresen eta Renon burutu ondoren orain Leeds-eko uniberstitatean ari da Komunikabide eta Soziologia sailen artean multikulturalismoari buruz lanak egiten. Kultura eta identitate erbesteratuak (Nomadologua subalternoak) (Pamiela, 2005) eta Subordinazioaren Kontra (Pamiela, 2008) liburuen egile, Zizek Ikasketak-Nazioarteko Aldizkaria elkektronikoan (IJZS) itzulpen eta edizio lanetan dihardu, Ikasketa Subalterno kolektibotik sortutako Critical Stew proiektoaren kide da eta Lapiko Kritiko euskarazko sailaren suztatzaile.
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