Since the holiday weekend is coming up, I thought I’d offer a film recommendation. Have you seen A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, featuring Slavoj Žižek? Take a look at this clip, in which he discusses the 1988 movie They Live (okay, so I guess I’ve got two recommendations):
When the glasses are off, the protagonist sees what everyone else does: the “reality” of corporate, big city America with its billboards and ads. When the glasses are on, however, he gets a different view, showing him the meta-narratives of those same ads. For Žižek, the film demonstrates the way in which ideology functions invisibly, offering us comfort and deluding us into thinking that we are making autonomous choices. We often like to think ideology is some kind of overlay — an outer layer beneath which our “true” lives or interests lie.
Žižek reminds us, however, that we are never outside ideology. Even when we think we’re escaping it, that very escapist fantasy is happening within ideology. Thus, “According to our common sense, we think that ideology is something blurring, confusing, our straight view… [But] ideology is not simply imposed on ourselves. Ideology is our spontaneous relationship to our social world, how we perceive each meaning, and so on. We, in a way, enjoy our ideology.” In that sense, we are living in and forming ideology all the time, even as it constitutes the way we identify ourselves. We are, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, inventing ourselves at every moment with every act or choice. This is why Sartre suggests we are “condemned to be free.” Or, in Žižek’s analysis, “This is a paradox we have to accept: the extreme violence of liberation. You must be forced to be free. If you trust simply your spontaneous sense of well-being or whatever, you will never get free. Freedom hurts.”
Happy Independence Day, everyone!