Žižek and Fiennes: The Pervert's Guide to Ideology

06/10/2013 20:10 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Big Other is Watching You!

THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY by Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Žižek

Ask most people what they think the word ideology means and they'll probably mention political systems such as Marxism, communism or fascism. But that's not the kind of ideology Žižek means; he is talking about something subtler. Drawing on Lacan, Freud, Hegel and Marx, Fiennes and Žižek show in this film that everything we think and do is primed by our unrecognised responses to what is going on around us, and this is the level at which Žižek situates ideology. Although we think that we have autonomy as individuals, the way in which our desires are formed is entirely ideological. What's more, we ourselves are not separate from that process. Ideology is not simply something that is done to us or that we passively accept; we are actively complicit in it. We think we are making our own stories, and so we are - but only within the strict parameters already laid down by the forces around us.

The reason that this film is a pervert's guide is that in order to be able to see how ideology works, you have to be able to look at it in a perverted way. Everything has to be stood on its head and looked at askance if we are to see it properly. In one of his early books Žižek called this way of looking 'the parallax view'; in this film he uses the mechanism of the sunglasses in John Carpenter's THEY LIVE, which allow us the see the world as it really is.

One of the things that become clear in this film is the lengths to which we will go to stop ourselves being liberated. We struggle against any attempt to strip away the ideological blinkers and see things more clearly. Žižek maintains that removing the blinkers is a painful process. As he said in his last film collaboration with Fiennes, THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO CINEMA: "I think this is what liberation means. In order to attack the enemy, you first have to beat the shit out of yourself. To get rid, in yourself, of that which in yourself attaches you to the leader, to the conditions of slavery, and so on and so on."

It is for this reason that Žižek ends this film with a look at Christianity. He believes that Christianity is the only religion that fundamentally recognises the absence of God and the fact that we are alone in the universe. The point of the scene on the cross in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST is that Jesus understands that God has not forsaken him after all: he was simply never there in the first place. What Fiennes and Žižek are trying to do in this film is to show that the story we tell ourselves about our own existence springs from the recognition that our existence is absolutely unnecessary. Each individual's death is just as insignificant as every other passing - even if we do think we are Jesus. That is why Žižek maintains that German philosopher Ernst Bloch's phrase "only a Christian can be a good atheist, and only an atheist can be a good Christian" is the key to understanding our psychological make-up in late capitalism. Only by acknowledging that we are not necessary, that we are here by mistake, are we able to make sense of the stories we tell ourselves.

The imagined Big Other - in this film Stalin, Hitler, money (or the love of it) or God - is an essential component of our ability to survive collectively and give our existence a purpose. According to Žižek, this basic human need and desire becomes perverted through ideology by those who wish to have control over us. This is another reason why he calls this film the pervert's guide to ideology: because we are the ones doing the perversion, of and to ourselves. The Big Other is not watching you; you are watching yourself.