The Perverts Guide to Ideology, reviewed by Matt Cooper at the Workers Liberty website:
It is difficult not to warm to a film that places a radical left wing philosopher into mock ups of various film sets to lecture on his theory of ideology. That is what film maker Sophie Fiennes has done with Slavoj Žižek.
So we have Žižek dressed as a priest talking about the ideology of fascism in the mother superior’s room from The Sound of Music, about the vampiric attitude of the ruling class towards the working class in the lifeboat from Titanic and about the nature of political violence in Travis Bickle’s single iron bed from Taxi Driver. All of this is amusing enough and makes a long and in places opaque lecture pass pleasantly enough, but the ideas that underlie it are rotten.
Slavoj Žižek has been proclaimed by some as the greatest political philosopher of the late twentieth century — there is even an International Journal of Žižek Studies. His work is popular with a layer of the radical left, although maybe the kind who consumes rather than acts on their politics.
He has somewhat replaced Chomsky as the author of the coffee table books of choice for the armchair radical, and he sold out the Royal Festival Hall when he spoke there in 2010.
His ideas have been developed in a series of books since the late 1980s, and fit with the themes of anti-globalisation, Occupy, and other radical struggles that are often one side of class struggle.
It is noticeable that Žižek does not attack capitalism as such. The exploitation of workers as workers is notably missing from this film. Rather he attacks consumerism, particular in its Coca-Cola/Starbucks form. This is despite, or maybe because, his philosophy is obtuse.
Although Žižek places himself in the revolutionary tradition and draws on Marx, he does not see himself primarily as a Marxist. He says he wants to reinvigorate German idealist philosophy, particularly that of Hegel, through the application of the French post-Freudian, Jacques Lacan.
There is no feeling in this film (or in Žižek’s numerous books) that this view emerges from a study of society and the forms of ideology in it. Rather, consistent with his idealist philosophical approach, the ideas emerge from the realm of pure thought, albeit cut with some empirically based psychoanalytic theory The world is sampled, squeezed and (mis)interpreted to fit this theoretical view.
His evidence about society is what many of us would not think of as evidence — mainly film. This is not an affectation, but central to Žižek’s view of the world. Ideology is fantasy, and film is the purest form of the projection of such fantasy. Film is not the mirror which we hold up to ourselves, but feeds us the fantasies by which we constitute ourselves. The films are, for Žižek, reality. Thus M*A*S*H and Full Metal Jacket are used to understand the American military, Brief Encounter the nature of social control, and Jaws, fascism!
To say that the shark in Jaws stands for nothing other than fear itself is hardly a startling insight. Alfred Hitchcock spoke in similar terms about how the purpose of his films was not essentially narrative or plot, but to create an emotional response in the viewer. To say this kind of work gives us an insight into how the Nazis scapegoated the Jews is little short of ridiculous.
Onto his argument, Žižek bolts some bits of other people’s theories as if they were his insights. So he goes on to say that underlying the fantasy of Nazi ideology was one of a modernising revolution that preserved tradition. But the idea of fascism being “reactionary modernism” was asserted by Jeffrey Herf in 1984, and has antecedents stretching back to the 1930s.
Similarly, Žižek’s assertion that the riots in the UK were driven by consumerism (the “wrong dream”) is both unoriginal and, in Žižek’s case, seems to be based on the most casual of acquaintance with the evidence.
The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology also demonstrates a wilful failure to engage with a Marxist understanding of ideology. In this film (and elsewhere) Žižek has dismissed the Marxist theory of ideology which he claims can be summarised by Marx as “they do not know it but they are doing it”. The line is a rather obscure one (from the first German edition of volume one of Capital, but not in future editions).
Nor is the line directly about ideology; the “it” here is people producing exchange values for the market. For sure, this has a relationship to ideology, Marx argues that it obscures the real nature of production to satisfy human needs, a veil that will only be lifted by once production is carried out by “feely socialised man under their conscious, planned control.” But the Marxist view of ideology based on the nature of social life is not understood, far less developed, by Žižek.
For Žižek both the nature of ideology and the liberation of humanity is based on the idea of fantasy. For him, people’s relation to ideology-fantasy is “I know very well what I am doing but am I still doing it.” The project of liberation is not to end fantasy, but to replace it with a better fantasy, or to dream with the right desire.
Thus Žižek goes down the road of anarchist cliché, we should “be realistic, demand the impossible”, and he argues that the dream should not be of wanting the working class to awake, but that new dreams and revolution become a subjective act of will.
Žižek’s politics are, ultimately, mere fantasy.
Having read all about Alex Gibney’s film Wikileaks: We steal secrets I went to see it, and recommend that everyone does. It was also great seeing a documentary in the cinema where you can’t be distracted, as when you watch something on the telly or the I-player at home.
The film shapes itself round the story of two men, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. At the beginning Assange appears admirable. He’s a dedicated anti-establishment hacker and also a charmer, full of humour. You see him rising from smart-arse hacking in Australia – breaking into government systems because he can – to uncovering corrupt banking in Iceland. He and a couple of co-activists seem like heroes when they work together in a tiny house in Reykjavik to make a video of American soldiers killing Reuters journalists. (The event had already been documented but it was the video that made the public impact).
Meanwhile Bradley Manning, an American soldier roasting in Iraq, is a figure of pathos. In a civilian niche working with his considerable computing skills and hanging out with sympathetic friends he would have been fine. But he is a fish out of water, or as he says, “The CPU is not made for this motherboard”. He finds himself, an effeminate guy with a conscience, in a highly macho environment holding a job which gives him to access to the reality of the war that the USA is carrying out in Afghanistan and Iraq. His sense of isolation, working on his computer in the desert and being horrified at the revelations of civilian casualties, is painful to watch. He starts leaking the material and that increases his loneliness. So he confides in a soul mate he met on-line, Adrian Lamo, who shopped him.
Everyone knows how these stories have panned out, with Assange stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy dodging rape charges and Manning on trial in a military court for aiding the enemy. As for Adrian Lamo, type his name on Google and you’ll get “snitch”.
Assange’s story is a comedy of ironies. He, a hacker with monikers, became a media celebrity with his face on Time magazine. A transparency absolutist, he pressured his assistants to sign non-disclosure agreements. A pure anti-power activist began misusing his own power. He became an activist rock star who attracted groupies – and, it’s alleged, treated them as rock stars have often treated groupies.
Gibney got an interview with one of the women who made the rape allegations and of course like any woman who annoys males throughout the digital world, she was hideously targetted with rape threats and the usual vile stuff by some sites that would see themselves as progressive revolutionaries.
The most likable character to appear is James Ball, who volunteered to work for Wikileaks, got to know Assange’s modus operandi, and observes that Assange had the delusions of those working for a greater cause – that if they do wrong, it’s all right. If he tells a lie, something he’s prone to do, it’s a noble lie. One of his on-line names was “Mendax”.
Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets is a fascinating story that suggests various themes. It sets up a dozen signposts that could be followed, as distinct from the Adam Curtis style, which acts like a SatNav bossing you along the journey of the theory with your only view being billboards of footage selected to illustrate the point. When Gibney’s witnesses talk about their experiences of transparency, of the power of the state and the organisations that challenge the state, or the flow of information that can empower the small as well as the large, they point to ideas that all could be profitably explored and which are as complex and as in the shades of grey as Wikileaks itself – though some of the USA’s activities are as black as can be.
Gibney touches briefly on Anonymous, the vigilante/resistance (depending on what they have done to you) loose group of hackers who did a DDoS sabotage of PayPal, Visa and MasterCard when the US governemnt was leaning on them to block donations to WikiLeaks. Anonymous form a power base of their own, and though they were right enough to sabotage illegitimate force by the USA government, they can start chucking their digital grenades at any net organisation who has displeased them politically – and your only redress is in fact via the government. (They have now dumped Wikileaks since it became the Julian Assange show).
So this is the new world of the internet, where Assange was a warlord (or bandit, or outlaw) carrying out skirmishes against the empire. It’s only been in common use for about twenty years. The industrial revolution must have been like that. Suddenly there are new cities, and fast transport, whole different ways of working and whereas the average person once only knew their immediate neighbours, they could now seek out the like-minded. We have only just started to guess how the digital revolution is affecting political as well as cultural and personal life. For Manning of course it was a disaster. He made a friend online, and was betrayed online, and to those who don’t spend half their life online “friend” and “betrayal” where you have never met in the flesh may make no sense – but in fact they are emotional tangibilities in the digital world.
Assange knows the internet like a spy knows safe houses and the weak points of the fortress, and how a mechanic knows a car, and this specialized knowledge is one reason for his egomania. His life swimming in the digital world did give him a slightly fantastical way of engaging with the real world, and his superior knowledge of one system gave him an over-estimation of his political judgement, with a callousness about collateral damage as bad as a government’s. He had his own political view of the war in Afghanistan, and those Afghans who collaborated with the Coalition forms were traitors (to the Taliban?) so never mind if they were killed by careless redacting of the leaked cables.
In fact, a cruel and unusual punishment for Assange would not to be cooped up in a flat in Knightsbridge with wi-fi, but to be given freedom to roam the United Kingdom – with no internet access. That would be virtual, and real, banishment.
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatsey)
Wadjda: Joyous and Free.
Wadjda is pioneering film by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour. She is also the first person to shoot a full-length feature in the country itself.
The picture is wonderful. It also raises serious political and cultural issues.
Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a 10-year-old. She is referred to in reviews as ”sparky” and “rebellious” and, somewhat patronisingly, a “sweet scamp”.
She reminded me of Marjane Satrap in Persepolis - someone with the humour and wit to stand up for herself against the dead hand of religious pressure.
In that film Marji faced the power of Khomeni’s Iranian Islamists.
In Wadjda the heroine has to live with the Saudi educational system and the male-dominated world of orthodox Islam.
The latter appears in the trap her mother is caught in: a life dependent on the good will of her husband, a daily commute provided by a Pakistani driver who speaks broken Arabic, and her fears about him searching for another wife.
For her daughter we see the continuous surveillance of her dress, and the sudden appearance of the religious police when Wadjda is seen playing around with a boy.
The scenario revolves around Wadja’s efforts to buy a bicycle.
Bikes are, naturally, not seen as suitable for modest women.
Listening to “satanic” rock music she plots to raise the cash. But selling football team colour bracelets does not get her far.
Her efforts also get ensnared by her pious head mistress – whose constant enforcement of the Islamic ‘modesty’ codes go against the fibre of the young rebel.
Wadjda hears that winning a Qur’an knowledge and recital competition could deliver her the money.
She suddenly becomes pious and sets out for victory.
As her project gets underway there are plenty of moments with a political message.
With an admiring friend, a young boy, they pass a celebration of a suicide bomber’s death. He remarks that the martyr will be enjoying 72 virgins in paradise.
Wadjda looks at him wryly and says,”Does that mean I’ll get 72 bicycles in heaven?”
It’s hard not to relate the film to recent discussion about multiculturalism.
It is the right thing to defend plural cultural identities, and, specifically, groups targeted by the Church and King mob of the English Defence League.
But do we want to defend those who wish to introduce a moral police like that of Saudi Arabia?
The curriculum followed by Wadjda is present in this country, in Saudi linked schools – right up to their textbooks. It’s hard not to imagine that the religious policing that goes with it is not present.
Wadjda shows how women can be joyous and free.
Like the Iranian film by Jafar Panahi Offside it expresses the universal hopes for human freedom.
And it does so beautifully.
Ex-cop turned actor, star of Law & Order and Hill Street Blues and, by all accounts, all-round good guy, Dennis Farina is dead.
Here he is with Gene Hackman in Get Shorty (1995):
New York Times obit here
Front Row had an interesting interview last night with Alex Gibney who has directed the film We Steal Secrets: the Story of Wikileaks which will be released in the UK soon.
The link is here 1:36 on. Transcription of most of it below.
Interviewer: The computer analyst Edward Snowden turned whistleblower is believed to be holed up in the transit holding area in Moscow airport evading espionage charges in the USA The unfolding story coincides with the release of the film We Steal Secrets, the new documentary from Oscar winning director Alex Gibney. His previous films include The Smartest Guys in the Room, which told the story of the collapse of the Enron corporation, Taxi to the Dark Side, which exposed torture by the US military and Silence in the House of God which about abuse within the Catholic Church. For his latest project Gibney set out to make a film which focussed not on the villains but someone he initially regarded as a hero, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, the organisation which is currently aiding Edward Snowden. With Assange himself currently hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy, the film includes interviews with hackers, activists and even the former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, Michael Hayden. . . When I met director Alex Gibney I suggested that having made films about the abuses of power, he regarded Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a kindred spirit when he set out to make the film.
Gibney: Yes, that’s very much the case. I think I was very impressed by the role that Julian’s organisation Wikileaks.- and it’s really Julian and a few other people. As somebody said in the film, I asked, is this Apple or IBM? They said no, it’s a tiny gas station with a few very bright attendants. That probably sums it up pretty well. But yeah, I was very sympathetic because what Julian was all about was exposing corruption, exposing official lies,.
Interviewer: Stamping on the bastards, he says, doesn’t he?
Gibney: Crushing bastards. . . and Julian makes a joke about it. Somebody says, “Is that all it is about for you, crushing bastards?” And he says, “”Well it depends on the bastards.” That’s funny, but if you think about it really, the verb “Crushing”, if you take it seriously, is not such a pretty verb. And that sounds more like a powerful nation state than an idealistic person trying to make a difference by speaking truth to power.
Interviewer: Because it feels like he’s an heroic figure for the first half hour or so. And then we hear this phrase, he wants to crush the bastards. he wants to crush the bastards, and it sends a warning signal out there. After that the narrative changes totally. What changed your perception of Julian Assange? Because in the end he is not a sympathetic character at all.
Gibney: I think in the end the mission of Wikileaks remains deeply sympathetic to me but he is a character I think who leaves his own mission behind, and that becomes deeply unsympathetic.. The aspect of the story that I didn’t really understand going in, in fact I assumed it was something different was the Swedish episode, the sex scandal that somehow between the Iraq war logs and the Afgham war logs suddenly Julian Assange is accused of rape in Sweden. and I thought from afar that this must be – the timing was too suspicious, it must be some kind of conspiracy. Well I dug deep into this and I’ve concluded that it was a personal matter. Why deal with a personal matter in this case then? The reason is that Julian Assange, very intentionally and very cleverly, tried to make a personal matter part of the transparency agenda, to sort of say “no no no this is not a personal matter,” and all the people at Wikileaks were saying “You’ve got to go and deal with this yourself. Deal with it as a personal matter and leave Wikileaks out of it.” He said, “Absolutely not. What we’re going to do, is part of Wikileaks.” That’s the moment where he lost me, and it seems to me that Julian’s great fatal flaw is his unwillingness to be held to account. I think in some fundamental way maybe none of us really like to be held to account but he has a paranoia about being held to account, and so the idea that he would even be slapped on the hand for failing to take an HIV test struck him as so abhorrent that he concocted this huge conspiracy which then embroiled all his followers in the idea that the government of Sweden had become opposed to the transparency agenda. That was a lie in my view and that turned me against what Julian Assange was doing.
There’s a great phrase in the film spoken by James Ball who worked for Wikileaks for a while and now works for the Guardian.
Interviewer: He looks about ten, actually, when he starts working for Julian Assange. He becomes the spokesman for Wikileaks.
Gibney; He becomes the spokesman. He’s on TV everywhere. It’s a great symbol for the organisation. Maybe a better symbol in a way than Assange because he looks so young and he looks so innocent. but there’s a phrase that he comes up with in the film – “Noble cause corruption”. It’s actually a phrase used by police departments who describe cops who plant joints on people , bad guys, who they can’t get any other way, the idea being that if you are a good guy, it’s okay for you to do bad things. .
Interviewer: To bend the truth.
Gibney: Well it’s a higher purpose to be served. And I think that was Julian’s view. So instead of speaking truth to power, Julian began to speak lies to power.
Interviewer: You make great play with this and the idea that as a young hacker he went under the pseudonym “Mendax”, part of a quote from Horace I think “splendide mendax” meaning “noble liar” and playing with that idea that it is okay to lie. So you’re saying that he is a liar?
Gibney: Yes. In a fundamental way I think Julian believes that it’s okay for him to lie so long as it is in the service of a higher truth and I think that’s a contradiction that is fundamentally untenable. .
Interviewer: You say you did your own investigations and you think there was absolutely no suggestion whatsoever to say that that was a set up as his supporters were suggesting that it was a honey trap.
Gibney: I can find no evidence that that episode in Sweden was any kind of honey trap.
Interviewer: So this is a film about the internet, it’s about governments, about power, corruption, lies and war but at the heart of the story are two characters, Julian Assange and the far more tragic figure of Private Bradley Manning who is still in prison after dumping the data and he is a very conflicted character and you reveal that he is deeply uncomfortable with his own sexuality, uncomfortable with his role within the army and appalled by some of the things that he has seen. Now of course you don’t get to interview him but we get a very intimate portrait of him through his email.
Gibney: On-line chats. On line chats with a man named Adrian Lamo, a Grade A hacker, who befriended Manning on line. And this is a really poignant episode because the other thing I thought this movie was about at the beginning was a leaking machine. This new device Wikileaks had, an electronic drop box that allows people to leak anonymously that neither the publisher nor the leaker know each other in any fundamental way and that they can therefore protect their anonymity. But Bradley Manning was in emotional distress. I think he leaked for political reasons akin to that of a whistle blower but he had a desperate need to tell somebody about what he had done. We never got to interview Bradley Manning but in a way I think for the film it is more interesting to see and reveal him through these chats. Why? Because increasingly that’s how we’re all communicating. Girls and boys hook up and break up y’know via chats. We communicate the most intimate information over the internet on Facebook even though we know that everyone is spying on us.
Interviewer: You set out to make a film about the system but in the end you ‘remaking a film about people who are struggling. There’s a sense of human frailty and desperation really at the heart of all of these characters, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo who we see crying at the end. He’s very conflicted about how having in effect turned Bradley Manning in. And there’s a sense of desperation in the Julian Assange character even though he projects himself almost as a messianic character. He refused to talk to you, Assange. He was asking for a million dollars for an interview?
Gibney: He said that the market rate for an interview with him was over a million dollars, but there’s no doubt he was asking for money. I said, “I don’t pay for interviews.” I don’t., and he said, “Well, if you don’t pay for interviews, how about this then instead,” sort of like a scene out of Ed Wood. Why don’t you spy on all the other interview subjects and report back to me.” [Laughs] I found that actually a far more staggering suggestion from someone who is supposed to be so much about source protection that he wanted me to spy on the other people and give him intel So there’s Julian now acting not as a transparency activist but a spy and I was supposed to spy on behalf of Julian.
Interviewer: And the great irony is that you have a real spy there. You have the former director of the CIA, and NSA, Michael Hayden, who gives the title of the film, We Steal Secrets. He’s proud of this. He says, “That’s what we do. There are secrets out there, this is our job, we steal secrets”. I mean the irony is, he is the spy who is apparently being more upfront and honest than the man who is supposedly revealing the corruption and the lies.
Gibney: That is correct. And I titled the film We Steal Secrets because it sets this whole story in context. If governments are freely admitting, we steal secrets, and now you see it in the Snowden case, this is not so simple as to say, “Oh My God, Bradley Manning has leaked these secrets. Isn’t it terrible. He’s a traitor.” The key is to find the moral high ground and that’s not so easy to do.
Von Trotta is eager to fight Arendt’s battles, but time and again shows that she is no more equipped to understand them than [Mary] McCarthy was. Especially clumsy is her attempt to correlate Arendt’s philosophy to a contemporary posture toward Israel. Despite von Trotta’s having Arendt refer to her Zionism as a “youthful folly”, the political picture has simply changed too much for an overlay of Arendtian acetate paper to mean anything.
The Yad Vashem footage and Hannah Arendt are not the only film releases to explore Arendt’s legacy, or Eichmann’s. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Claude Lanzmann premiered his documentary The Last of the Unjust. More than three-and-a-half hours long, the film is a series of outtakes from Lanzmann’s monumental Shoah, all of them featuring Benjamin Murmelstein, a Nazi-appointed “Jewish Elder”, who speaks about the choices he had to make while running the Czechoslovakian concentration camp Theresienstadt; at one point, he describes himself as a “marionette that had to pull its own strings”.
Murmelstein is a figure like those that Arendt implicated in Eichmann in Jerusalem, where she alleged that the co-operation of leaders of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) with the Nazis expedited their own annihilation. Murmelstein’s reflections make Arendt’s wholesale indictment of those in his position seem unjust.
And so the Arendtian myth suffers a bit, on one end from Lanzmann’s repudiations and on the other from von Trotta’s anaemic boosterism. The best outcome would be a recalibration of her legacy, one acknowledging that her literary inclinations (nurtured by her friend Mary McCarthy) occasionally overtook her philosophical principles.
Read the full article here.
I haven’t seen the film and so cannot comment upon whether Lurie’s criticism is fair. But I’m grateful to her for reminding us that we don’t have to take Arendt’s word for it regarding Eichman’s “banality” as supposedly demonstrated at his trial: we can see, and judge, for ourselves, thanks to the extraordinary and inevitably highly disturbing Yad Vashem footage:
Above: a rare interview
From the Chicago Tribune:
His role [as Tony Soprano] paved the way for a parade of popular prime-time shows built around profoundly flawedcharacters and anti-heroes, from “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad” to “Mad Men” and “Nurse Jackie.”
David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” said he would remember him as “a genius” and “one of the greatest actors of this or any time.”
“A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone,” Chase said in a statement.
Susan Sarandon, who played his wife in the 2005 romantic comedy “Romance and Cigarettes,” remembered him in a Twitter posting as “one of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I’ve ever worked with.”
Gandolfini is due to appear on the big screen next year, playing the love interest of comic actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the film “Enough Said.” He also has a role in the upcoming New York crime drama, “Animal Rescue.”
Before becoming an actor, Gandolfini worked as a truck driver, bouncer and nightclub manager in New York City. He went to an acting class with a friend and got hooked.
“I’d also never been around actors before,” he told Time magazine, “and I said to myself, ‘These people are nuts; this is kind of interesting.’”
“So they didn’t teach it to my sisters or myself,” he said.
Today on Woman’s Hour (first item) they were discussing Disney making over Merida, the red-haired heroine of Brave, into something sexier and more feminine for merchandising purposes. Little girls were angry that Disney has spoiled Merida, as Disney does most things it touches.
“I like Merida because she likes wearing loose-fitting dresses so she can aim properly when she’s hunting. And I also like her because she’s not one of those pink girly princesses who is always flapping around looking for boyfriends.”
Going by the pictures, they’ve changed a quirky kid with a bow and arrows to a hot babe, who spends her time in the hair-dresser’s rather than on the archery field.
The mothers on Woman’s Hour were annoyed as well, as Merida is a gutsy princess they like their daughters to admire, as any decent mother would far rather their daughter had a pin-up of Jessica Ennis (achievement, drive) than of Kate Middleton (expensive teeth).
The little girls favoured Merida’s penchant for dress suitable for active pursuits. One of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life was Van Helsing. Among its general badnesses was Kate Beckinsale playing Anna Valerious who was constantly pursued by evil winged vampires. If a family curse had me being pursued by evil winged vampires I’d wear a loose top, jogging bottoms and trainers, or the nineteenth century equivalent, not a corset and high-heeled boots up to my thighs. I’d also tie back or even cut my hair, however tumbling and curly. Throw her to the vampires.
I can understand why the little girls were so furious with the Disney makeover. If you love a character, you hate them being messed around. When I was little I adored Emma Peel, as played by Diana Rigg, in The Avengers. She raced about in a Lotus Elan, wore cat suits and karate kicked the baddies. I’d have been raging if she had appeared in a frilly dress and stilettos, and had waited to be rescued.
Emma Peel was replaced by a less fighting woman, and the show fell out of my ratings.