Amoeblog

My 11 Favorite Films of 2013 (in no particular order): 2. The Pervert's Guide to Ideology

Posted by Charles Reece, January 21, 2014 08:21am | Post a Comment
pervert's guide to ideology poster
The Pervert's Guide to Ideology - Sophie Fiennes (director), Slavoj Zizek (writer)

... and speaking of Zizek, here's more of we got in his and Fiennes' previous collaboration, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. But what could be more entertaining for people who prefer thinking about film (or people) to the object itself than a film about a guy with the same preference? A major feature of criticism is drawing or creating connections between things -- that is, analogical mapping, by which we acquire some insight into the target domain by comparing it to a more familiar source domain. For example, the focused horror at the shark in Jaws shows the way the genocidal grouping of the Jews functioned for the Nazis: all other problems fall aside when there's the immediate danger of Ja(e)ws. My favorite bit from The Pervert's Guide to Ideology is how he reveals the operation of the titular subject itself in the lyrics of "Offcier Krupke" from West Side Story. The gang is perfectly aware of all the liberal social excuses for their delinquency, but continue to act as if determined by impoverished social constraints. Ideology operates as long as we act as if its in control, regardless of our true belief. Relating the song to the explanations given for the recent London riots, he says we are always responsible for how we subjectivize our objective conditions (which is hardly a typical comment heard from leftists). Criticism is just as much an art as what it critiques. It's also just as creative -- often more so in Zizek's case. He's a master cartographer, who's remapped the psychogeography of our pop cultural terrain. 

Iron Deficiency: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Posted by Charles Reece, May 21, 2013 10:06am | Post a Comment
Iron Man 11 cover mandarin

I decided not to see Iron Man 3 because it seems a return to old way of adapting superheroes to the screen: focus on the star, not the costume (e.g., Stallone's Judge Dredd); throw away most everything ever established in the comics about the character and/or his villains (e.g., just about any TV adaptation from the 70s on, such as Spider-Man); and those behind the adaptation are more interested in making the superhero more "believable," which is another way of saying they're not particularly interested in the character but in "telling their own story" (e.g., Ang Lee's exploring what went into Bruce Banner's rage in Hulk, or Superman giving up his powers in Superman II to live a boring bourgeois life with Lois for 30 minutes of screen time). That is, we get a Tony Stark pondering what makes him Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., is tired of wearing the suit, basically), a funny kid sidekick for him while he's hanging out in Tennessee, and the Mandarin becomes just another white guy in a business suit. It's not that I'm some purist about the comics, which are often quite terrible, but these alterations tend to come from people who are less imaginative than the comics creators, believing they can improve upon the original by throwing out the more outrageous and fantastic qualities that served to make the comics distinct.

Before the influence of movie studios, the comics industry used to practice the Jack Kirby Rule: a ridiculous premise is always better if realized with a cosmic roundhouse from some brute in a colorful costume. There's nothing particularly interesting about Tony Stark questioning his status as a superhero. It would, at least, be weird if he were doing this in a soliloquy while wearing his armor in the middle of a space battle, though. Otherwise, it's just some normal looking dude worrying about a problem that has no relevance to anything in life. So why would anyone want to sit through that?

Continue reading...

Joker's Wild, or Batman Degree Zero: The Dark Knight (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, August 10, 2008 10:36pm | Post a Comment
The Joker


There is an old story about a worker suspected of stealing: every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheel-barrow he rolls in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards can find nothing. It is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves ... -- Slavoj Zizek, p. 1, Violence

I just happened to start reading Slavoj Zizek's new book, Violence, shortly after I saw Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and found both to serendipitously complement each other. Zizek begins his book with the little tale of theft quoted above, which he uses as a grounding metaphor in analyzing our approach to violence. Too often we're concerned with its subjective effects (who was hurt and by what, i.e., what's in the wheelbarrow), rather than its objective status (the symbolic order that gives form and definition to the violent act, i.e., the wheelbarrow itself). For example, an anti-semitic remark doesn't constitute hate speech -- isn't violent -- for a Nazi who exists in a context where "the Jew" is defined outside of humanity, and thus moral concern. It is the functioning symbolic order that allows everyday people to exist in a system perpetuating violence on others without seeing how their own normality is defined by what it violently excludes. This is what the Joker is getting at when he says to Harvey Dent:
 
Nobody panics when they expect people to get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.
 
Sure, we (represented here as Gotham City residents) might see the gangbanger's death as violent, but always as subjective violence, an act by an individual on another individual, not as a sign that the cultural system itself is violent. The difference between the violence against a gangbanger and against the mayor is that only the latter is perceived to be a threat to the normal order of things, whereas the former is already written into the cultural bill as the price of doing business as usual. The Joker is an agent of chaos, because he's the embodiment of pure objective violence. That's why he assures Harvey that killing his girlfriend, Rachel (Bruce Wayne's love interest, as well), and leaving him horribly disfigured as Two-Face was "nothing personal." As such, the Joker's actions can only be read as chaotic, senseless, or just plain nuts. He doesn't put Gotham's citizens (including its criminals) through a series of terroristic spins on the prisoner's dilemma for personal gain, revenge or as the result of some childhood trauma -- he's an ascetic without a real history. Rather, his only goal and source of pleasure is in making his victims face up to the abstracted violent substructure around which their culture is configured. Sounding like Jack Nance and looking like he's spent time in A Clockwork Orange and Ichi the Killer with fashion tips from Malcolm McLaren, the Joker provides a scarred face to the invisible logic of capitalism, with cracking make-up and a forced smile. He's pure desire without an object, paradoxically making the impersonal personal and invisible visible. Regarding this invisible and "fundamental systemic violence of capitalism," Zizek writes:
 
[M]uch more uncanny than any direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their "evil" intentions, but is purely "objective," systemic, anonymous. [Some stuff about Lacan's Real versus reality that I will spare you.]  We can experience this gap [between the reality of people and what's being defined as reality by the logic of capitalism] in a palpable way when one visits a country where life is obviously in shambles. We see a lot of ecological decay and human misery. However, the economist's report that one reads afterwards informs us that the country's economic situation is "financially sound" -- reality doesn't matter, what matters is the situation of capital ... -- p. 12-3, ibid.

Stocks wouldn't keep rising for a corporation that exploits third-world misery if that repressed misery took on a subjective quality for the investors. For capital to keep growing, said misery has to remain purely objective, an abstract cost that's been symbolically excluded out of our day-to-day concerns. The Joker is the same unbounded desire that drives capitalism. Without any object or goal to satisfy him, he exists outside of our rational system and can only be stopped with violence. He can't be beat, however, only beaten, because the solution to the problem he presents is the problem itself: repression of systemic violence. (Batman once tried to reason with him -- understand him -- in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke with miserable results.) At best, Gotham City can return to the status quo by forgetting him -- define him out existence as insane and lock him away in its local Id repository, Arkham Asylum. Or they could kill him, but Gotham's local hero of repression has only one rule: he doesn't kill.
 
The Batman