Last week I saw “The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology,” a new documentary film exploring the opinions and philosophy of Slavoj Zizek.
Zizek, 64, is a Slovenian cultural critic and sharp observer of society. He is internationally known, and his thinking and writings are mostly aimed broadly at the issues that transcend individual cultures or identities. He is a professor and researcher at the Institute of Sociology at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.
The film is wonderful, challenging, disturbing and heavy-duty intense — all at the same time. Much of the film consists of Zizek onscreen talking directly to us, but other parts contain archival footage of organized mankind’s worst moments.
Zizek’s primary message — which isn’t profound, but it is easily forgotten — is that we aren’t usually mindful enough about the seduction of ideology. By that, he means two things: that we’re not good at evaluating the relative merits of ideologies; and that we’re apt to embrace our chosen ideologies too uncritically.
And what is so honest and sort of disorienting about Zizek is that he constantly reminds us that almost anything and everything can serve as the basis for, or the focus of, an ideology. We can make anything — ideas, concepts, celebrities, material goods, even skepticism itself — into our god, that thing that we worship, that thing that we believe.
Zizek guides us through the most obvious examples of ideology gone out of control. We see the rise of fascism and Naziism and the horror of Stalinism and the Khmer Rouge. Here in America, with our bedrock traditions of liberty and freedom — the very reason for the existence of the country — it is not hard to be vigilant about and repelled by authoritarianism. Loss of our freedoms — to speak, worship, write, gather, invent — is unthinkable to us, yet those liberties do not exist in many nations today.