Here is Slovenian cultural critic, Slavoj Žižek's, favourite joke from Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka:
"Waiter, can I have a coffee? Without cream."
Waiter: "Sorry. We don't have cream. We have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?"
And here's his favourite dialogue from Brassed Off:
Ewan McGregor accompanies a young and mischievously beautiful Tara Fitzgerald to the entrance of her flat late at night:
Tara Fitzgerald: "Would you like to come in for a coffee"
McGregor: "There is a problem. I don't drink coffee"
Tara Fitzgerald, fluttering her eyelids: "That's not a problem. I haven't got any coffee"
All cute and sexy, but what's it got to do with profound criticism?
According to Žižek, both scenes teach the same important lesson: if you want to know what's on offer, you have to also know what isn't on offer. The rough workers in the cafe fall about laughing at the Lubitsch joke because they know just what it means to be in the kind of place that can't offer "no cream" ... and Ninotchka, the Bolshevik played by Greta Garbo, has to stay stony-faced as she pretends that she has no idea what they're on about.
In just the same way, the erotic imagination is left to run wild at Tara Fitzgerald's eye-lid fluttering admission of what is not on offer. Žižek thinks the same thing is at work with Assange and Wikileaks. The television news paints a picture of the world that isn't exactly untruthful, but that, like Tara Fitzgerald, tells a complete story by what it excludes. The TV news is coffee without milk. But Wikileaks showed us the cream, and for a while we feasted on it - and in that way, when we now watch the TV news, we are like Lubitsch's amused roughnecks: we know we're not getting the real thing.
More about this intriguing love-in ...
The Intelligence Squared Hot Topic, "Who is more dangerous, Žižek or Assange?"
Slavoj Žižek, is the author of Living in the End Times, now out in paperback from Verso
The Frontline Club brought Julian Assange and Slavoj Žižek together with Amy Goodman at the Troxy in London
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