Tag Archives: Slavoj Zizek

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 didn’t 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, I’m 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 verité, 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.

If you have to ask for whom the fat lady sings, it is not for Tahrir Square.

–And to really mix my malaprops, she sings for them that bought her. If there was one variable which got away from the underdogs of Egypt’s Jan25 Revolution, it was who would referee the endgame. While Hosni Mubarak’s stunning defiance Thursday night looked like a Hail Mary pass hoping to provoke the protesters to mayhem, as a defensive strategy he was moving the goalposts. Anticipating a capitulation, the Tahrir Square demonstrators made clear it was the entire regime which needed ousting, no Suleiman, no Emergency Law, an inviolate list of demands. Mubarak’s insulting buffoonery focused the great beast’s wrath like a rodeo clown. When the announcement came he was stepping down, who could not help but raise a cheer, drowning out the earlier precautions. Mubarak played Egypt like a fiddle, as he burned it, while the fat lady of state media called the game over.

It’s not over until the fat lady sings
So opera advises American football, in reality a game governed strictly by elapsed time. The expression describes the mutual sense that every competition has a natural denouement. Actually another false notion, as this feeling is not often shared by the side fallen behind at the final score.

I’ve convoluted ask not for whom the bell tolls– and if you have to ask how much it costs–, Hemingway and Bugatti I believe, to stress the obvious, that Wagnerian sopranos are kept in furs by the wealthiest of patrons. As epic as might be your struggle, unless you transcend the stage to torch the theater, the status quo raises and lowers the curtain. Without seizing the state media, if even that had been possible, and without staging a narrative to compete with Mubarak’s Greekest of tragic high dives, the Tahrir Square revolutionaries became mere players to please the king.

How could we have missed the grand theatricality of Mubarak’s televised last stands, lighting and makeup dialed to Bela Lugosi? Anyone who knows to dramatize a campfire tale by holding a flashlight under his chin also knows they don’t do that for their profile pic.

In all three of his televised responses to the Jan25 reformers, Mubarak could be paraphrased to have said “over my dead body.” It was a road map his adversaries probably should have heeded. Where is Mubarak now? He’s not gone, he hasn’t even left Egypt. We are informed Mubarak has stepped down by the same henchmen who told protesters “all your demands will be met,” then meeting none.

We learn now that Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Military is trying to clear Tahrir Square. It’s outlawing those who would cause chaos and disorder, and forbidding labor unions to assemble or strike. It’s refusing to end Egypt’s emergency law, or to release the unknown thousand detained during the protests. What of Suleiman and the regime’s other cronies? We have only Mubarak’s doppelganger in an army cap. Field Marshall “Happy” Tantawi, takes to the microphone with no other agenda it appears than to restore Egypt its accustomed sonorous normalcy. If Tibetan throat-singing has an antecedent we can wager now it was Pharaoh throat-talking.

Dance with the one who brought you
A mantra worth cursing out, when Americans wonder why their elected representatives answer only to their biggest campaign donors. So why would Egypt’s Jan25 upstarts have banked on winning the cooperation of the army? I almost said “their” army, but it’s bought and paid for by Mubarak, actually by the same interests who buy US politicians. Deciding not to challenge the army spared lives, but it’s left the military regime in place. Regime unchanged.

There’s a problem when you harness the protection of the military without knowing the intentions of its leaders. You can win a nonviolent revolution against the schoolyard bully if you’ve got the deterrence of “My Bodyguard,” but when the army does that on a national scale it’s called a “bloodless coup.” I’d be curious to know if nonviolence cultists rank bloodless coups among behaviors they condone.

Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, chief instigators of the Jan25 uprising, attribute much of their organizing skill to training with OTPOR, the famously successful Serbian youth rebellion which ousted a Balkan despot. OTPOR is now a “pro-Democracy” consultant group that tours the world to awaken nascent freedom-seeking insurgents aspiring to popular uprisings. OTPOR refutes insinuations rising from the disclosure that it has accepted CIA funding, but curiously OTPOR is more often by happenstance advising malcontents in Venezuela, Bolivia, Equador, Iran, the usual outspoken rivals to US hegemony. What are they doing in Egypt? Had Hosni Mubarak gone rogue and we didn’t know it?

When pan-Arabists think of events in Tunisia and Egypt igniting popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, there’s a line to draw between the common dictators and those more hostile to the West, whose rule is autocratic by necessity of having to defend against CIA and Mossad activities designed to foment instability.

Whether against anti-US foes or pro, it might be safe to say that OTPOR talks a good game, without having yet had a victory. They too deposed a dictator, but not his regime. The problem with OTPOR’s advice has to do with the end game.

I sat in on an OTPOR seminar once. They make a yearly visit to Colorado College to lecture for the nonviolence program. At the conclusion of one lecture I witnessed a tremendously telling aside, which emerged during the Q&A, and definitely wasn’t in the nonviolence syllabus. I wonder if the A6YM got the memo.

This presenter, a veteran of the student uprising that deposed Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, contended that after this victory for Democracy, etc, etc, after the attention span of the media had moved on, the same Milosevic cronies who’d been driven to the shadows, assassinated the opposition leaders and crept right back to power. His lesson, a mere thesis, which I paraphrase to reflect his muted emphasis: we should maybe have taken it one step further and made sure to kill the fuckers.

A6YM is still gambling they can separate the lower ranks of the army from the brass. If Robert Fisk’s report that Egyptian tank commanders refused January 30 orders to make a Tiananmen Square out of Tahrir, there may still be hope in such a strategy. But it certainly won’t work if no one will announce that it has worked. If a tyrant falls in the forest and no one hears, his rule doesn’t fall. The funeral cortege of Genghis Khan killed everyone in its path to keep word of his death from spreading across the empire until his successor could consolidate power. If you’re not going to push him off the cliff literally, perhaps Slavoj Zizek is right to say you’ve got to create a Tom and Jerry moment where despots like Mubarak see that there is no longer any foundation beneath him, where visualizing his own demise brings it upon himself. But can that be done without having director’s cut over the narrative?

What kind of farce are we perpetuating to pretend that Hosni Mubarak must be granted a dignified exit? What dignity commanded firing on unarmed protesters? Are we to pretend men who torture to retain their power can be cajoled to release it?

Instead, the Egyptian rebels find themselves with no ground beneath their feet, their “victorious revolution” now a meme being used to rally dissenters against America’s chief adversary Iran.