The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (HUM415)

All of this is posted to a forum on ilearn as well. What follows is a model for the assignment and further instructions.

The opening moments of TPGI remain the clearest in my memory, in part because I’ve screened Carpenter’s They Live so many times. There are a few key phrases Zizek offers that really resonate with me, especially in light of the work we’ve done with Hawkes’s Ideology. They Live, Zizek argues, explores the constitutive presence of “dictatorship in democracy”– the compulsions that underlie our apparently free system– a subject that the Frankfurt School also analyzes with a “sustained tone of horrified fascination” (Hawkes 131). Recall that Adorno locates the source of our unfreedom– what he provocatively terms the “‘totalitarian'” power of capitalist democracy– in commodity fetishism. The fetishization of the products of human labor– their transformation into powers dominating humanity– not only distorts external social relations but is internalized, deforming our subjectivity such that the most intimate aspects of our psychology are subsumed into exchange value (Hawkes 131). Other people thus become interchangeable with objects. This is the principle of equivalence that characterizes our fully reified world, and it is so pervasive it has effectively become invisible. There is no escape because no escape seems necessary, or in Adorno’s phrasing, “‘the prisoner… loves his cell because he has been left nothing else to love'” (qtd. in Hawkes 131).

One of Zizek’s most practical observations in this sequence concerns the question of how ideology critique actually works. The sunglasses John Nada finds in the abandoned church (and note that all of these details from the film narrative surely signify– i.e., names and settings are not merely contingent) reveal the totalitarian powers underlying social appearances not through a process of subtraction but rather via addition. In other words, we don’t arrive at “reality” (a term, already vexed, which is made more so by Zizek’s use of the Lacanian concept of “the Real”) simply by stripping away the ideological fog that separates us from the world as it actually is. Rather we add theory– immanent critique, we could call it– to the situation in order to compel ourselves to be free. In the inverted world of the universalized commodity fetish we can’t trust our instincts. Our spontaneous response to reality is mistaken because the reality it responds to is false. We “must be forced to be free,” Zizek instructs us as John Nada and Frank Armitage beat one another senseless. We must do a kind of violence to our common sense because being free is no longer the natural or default position. In other words, “freedom hurts.”

So here’s what I’d like you to do:

1. Formulate a response to TPGI as I’ve done above, but don’t focus all of your attention on the scene that I’ve addressed. Be ambitious. You might even pick a sequence that you found baffling.

2. Reply in a substantive, thoughtful and timely way to at least three of your peers. As I said in class, I want you to have this done by Tuesday. To that end you will receive two participation grades for this particular assignment. One for your own initial response to the film, one for your reply to others’ responses.

You can revisit the film on youtube and netlfix.

If you have any questions you can direct them to the ilearn forum.