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Slavoj Zizek Not Gaga for Pop

Slovenian philosopher Slovaj Zizek has a cult following like Lady Gaga, but denied this weekend any romantic connection. I write this with tongue in cheek, Slavoj’s, because of his comic protestations. Zizek was cajoled by Amy Goodman at Saturday’s London Fronline Club event: did he categorically denied the rumor? Zizek said “Absolute denial on everything.” But he wasn’t dissing Gaga or the notoriety of the mischievous meme, even as he protested: “I didnít even listen to not one of her songs!” The audience ate it up; how total a rejection. Except Zizek continued playfully: “My God, I listen to Schubert and Schumann songs. Sorry, Iím a conservative.” And there you have the reigning academic of pop cultural references, who cannot make a point without recalling a movie scene, rejecting not Lady Gaga, but Pop. Obviously Zizek’s pop culture isn’t yours.

It may escape the notice of average film goers that when themes evoke cinematic moments to Zizek’s memory, they’re not from There’s Something About Mary. Saturday’s discussion brought up Marx Brothers, yes, in the company of Lubitsch and Truffaut, moments of cinema veritť, touches of social comment with Zizek’s nuance already scripted. Yes he’s famously evoked Tom & Jerry, and more recently tried to project Hosni Mubarak’s attention to Wiley Coyote’s fatal overrun of the cliff, but I think it’s clear, like Schubert and Schumann, we’re talking about classics. Academia may like to paint Zizek a populist, but his material is not plebeian.

For the curious, from the Marx Brothers: “My client may look like an idiot, and act like an idiot. That shouldn’t distract you, he is an idiot.” (About Rumsfeld being a liar.)

From Night And Day: A young lover finally yields unceremoniously to her suitor’s whining entreaties, to which he puts on the brakes like a reluctant prude. (About the West’s rejection of what it’s always pretended to want, a secular revolution in Egypt.)

From Ninotchka: Customer “May I have a coffee with cream?” Waiter: “We don’t have cream, we have milk. May I offer you a coffee without milk?” (About speaking the unspoken pretense.)

Where Zizek hits low perhaps are his wildly off-color jokes, gleaned from friends over drinks –I like to imagine– as opposed to circulated in morning emails. Zizek was full of sexism-loaded analogies on Saturday, and one joke in particular looks to have fallen between the edits which Democracy Now is re-airing, and even off the published transcript of the full event.

So I’ll retell it, and you tell me if Zizek could have made his point without getting so obscene. He’s addressing human nature’s desire for favorable news, even as by definition it masks atrocity.

A man’s wife is treated in the hospital for a potentially fatal condition. The doctor comes out and tells the husband, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, we saved your wife, she will live. The bad news is, well, due to circumstances we couldn’t avoid, her rectal muscles no longer function, so she’ll be shitting uncontrollably the rest of her life, and her vagina will be secreting a substance, very unpleasant, and so on, her mouth, her nose, disgusting, and so on. Noticing the husband’s discomfort increasing to an unbearable pitch, the doctor tells him: Relax, I’m kidding, don’t worry, your wife died.

Zizek was illustrating the new Wikileaks state of affairs, our corporate government and its press rejecting the truths which emerged from the leaks, preferring the more palatable, no matter the horrors it perpetuates. Between reality and Zizek’s joke, which was the more obscene?

I also love Zizek’s propensity to drop “and so on” between statements, like verbal checkmarks on the points he’s hit. It’s post-graduate lecture shorthand for “you know the rest.” Chomsky does it too, by fading into mumbles, and it is frustrating to those of us who haven’t covered the assigned reading. But it’s a reminder too, of how much out there we cannot hope to master. That shouldn’t stand in our way of trying to grasp the bigger picture.

Am I right, Slavoj Zizek big picture speaks to us using the vocabulary of the big picture show? It’s the silver screen to be precise, and as yet he’s limited himself to visuals, not lyrics. I think Zizek’s candid revelation about his musical preferences leaves a hint for us that the bigger picture isn’t to be found in today’s compression sculpted pop sound, no matter how politically clever or Gaga the music.

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