Slavoj Žižek Quote About the Suffering of Others

Quote by Slavoj Žižek from “Margaret Atwood’s Work Illustrates Our Need to Enjoy Other People’s Pain”:

“In his Summa Theologica, philosopher Thomas Aquinas concludes that the blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned in order that their bliss be more delightful for them. Aquinas, of course, takes care to avoid the obscene implication that good souls in heaven can find pleasure in observing the terrible suffering of other souls, because good Christians should feel pity when they see suffering. So, will the blessed in heaven also feel pity for the torments of the damned? Aquinas’s answer is no: not because they directly enjoy seeing suffering, but because they enjoy the exercise of divine justice.

“But what if enjoying divine justice is the rationalisation, the moral cover-up, for sadistically enjoying the neighbour’s eternal suffering? What makes Aquinas’s formulation suspicious is the surplus enjoyment watching the pain of others secretly introduces: as if the simple pleasure of living in the bliss of heaven is not enough, and has to be supplemented by the enjoyment of being allowed to take a look at another’s suffering – only in this way, the blessed souls ‘may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly’.

***

“In short, the sight of the other’s suffering is the obscure cause of desire which sustains our own happiness (bliss in heaven) – if we take it away, our bliss appears in all its sterile stupidity.”

Julian Paul Merrill – The Fresh Prince of Wakanda

Link to an article by Julian Paul Merrill:

“The Fresh Prince of Wakanda – a Žižekian Analysis of Black America and Identity Politics”

 

This is a great analysis of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air!

 

Bonus links: “Quasi Duo Fantasias: A Straussian Reading of ‘Black Panther'” and Review of Black Panther

Civilisations

Civilisations

Civilisations [Civilizations] (2018)

BBC Two, PBS

Director: Tim Niel (possibly others)

Main Cast: Simon SchamaMary BeardDavid Olusoga, Liev Schreiber (USA version only)


The BBC produced an art history mini-series entitled Civilizations that reprised a series called Civilisation from decades earlier.  The series title was spelled Civilizations for its modified version aired on PBS in the USA, in which different narration is used and possibly other changes were made.  This review focuses on the version aired in the USA.

The early episodes discussing ancient civilizations written by Mary Beard are the best. They offer nuanced discussions of ancient art that has survived to the present, along with hypotheses about how the societies that produced that art were structured.  The later, recent-era episodes written by Simon Schama and David Olusoga are troubling. Those later episodes engage in a politically reactionary “university discourse” (Jacques Lacan’s term) that sets up a highly reductionist (and biased) binary, which can fairly be called liberal blackmail: modern industrial capitalism vs. new age paganism. Scrupulously avoided in the series is any positive (or even neutral) depiction of art from communist countries or communist artists, or anarchist ones, which would allow viewers to see an alternative to both the art of industrial capitalism and the art of various indigenous cultures and remnant monarchies. If this absence of communist-leaning art seems accidental, it isn’t. There is one episode (written by Schama) in which a Chinese artist is profiled. Who was the Chinese artist? One condemned by the Chinese government and praised by the (anticommunist) West.  It is a framing that overtly revels in highly partisan cold war politics.  And when modernism is discussed, the focus is on innovations in the techniques of painters and in the selection of subjects for paintings (analyzed through a lens of liberal identity politics), ignoring, for instance, one of the founding works of modernism: Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square” (1913) painting (a similar work from another, more recent artist without any connection to the former Soviet Union is instead featured in one episode, and in the final episode Piet Mondrian is discussed as the founder of modernism, a view contrary to that of numerous other art historians). The goal here is clear, and it is anti-communist propaganda in furtherance of political liberalism that benefits the bourgeoisie and reactionaries who want to “try to roll back the wheel of history.” (Because “the abstract and conceptual art of Malevich’s Black Square (1915) and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), . . . tried to challenge the entirety of ‘bourgeois’ culture.”)

My spouse was waiting for the show to profile the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  But I knew the show would omit avowed communist artists like them.  Kahlo and Rivera were in fact not featured in the series, nor were any artists remotely like them.

Viewers may gain much from watching the Mary Beard episodes but skipping the Schama and Olusoga ones and substituting, say, Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting (1996).  Yes, a show hosted by a nun is less dogmatic and less biased than those by Schama and Olusoga!  Another good supplement would perhaps be Ways of Seeing.

Richard Seymour on Talk Show Hosts

“The late night talk show hosts are all politically timid mummy-birds, puking up pre-masticated ideas, plucked from brain-dead newspapers, into the wide, expectant beaks of their audience. *** But they tend, on that ground, to be very sensitive to the ideological consensus they both form and, through laughter, police.”

Richard Seymour, “Ridiculous”

 

Bonus link: “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” Review

Shamus Cooke – History Blinded by Anti Socialism

It never ceases to amuse me how the insight of philosophy and psychoanalysis that ideology determines what is or is not a “fact” is proven again and again.  As Rex Butler put it,

“in the analysis of ideology, it is not simply a matter of seeing which account of reality best matches the ‘facts’, with the one that is closest being the least biased and therefore the best. As soon as the facts are determined, we have already — whether we know it or not — made our choice; we are already within one ideological system or another. The real dispute has already taken place over what is to count as the facts, which facts are relevant, and so on.”

Along these lines, Shamus Cooke has reviewed Ken Burns & Lynn Novick‘s mini-series The Vietnam War (2017):

“History Blinded by Anti Socialism: Ken Burns’ Vietnam”

The general tone of Cooke’s criticism reflects this statement by Malcolm X:

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

 

Bonus quote:

“How close we could look into a bright future should two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world with their share of deaths and their immense tragedies, their everyday heroism and their repeated blows against imperialism, impelled to disperse its forces under the sudden attack and the increasing hatred of all peoples of the world!”

Che Guevara, “Message to the Tricontinental,” April 16, 1967

 

Bonus links: The Battle of Chile and “A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and ‘The Vietnam War'” and “It’s a Fact: Supreme Court Errors Aren’t Hard to Find” (this article engages in a certain kind of criticism that is largely blind to the issue Butler described)

Variety Shows Then and Now

It recently occurred to me—while watching a Muppets movie—that there is a noticeable different between television variety shows from the time when The Muppet Show was on TV and today.  Back then, variety shows with song, dance and miscellaneous acts tended to have a stable company performing regularly, and drew in guest performers.  Sometimes the guests were “new” potential stars, being “introduced” through the show, but as much or more often they were established professional entertainers of some sort.  Today, in marked contrast, the traditional “variety” shows (and specials) are mostly gone, but in their place are “reality” shows framed around competitions.  These are sometimes exclusively singing or dance oriented, or might be open to a variety of “talent show” acts beyond just song and dance.  These new shows often have judges, either supposed industry “experts” or entertainment celebrities, who pass judgment on the competing acts.  These differences between similar television shows of these eras actually matches up quite closely with the “market” logic of the present “neoliberal” era.  Now, the shows have “elite” judges and a bunch of rabble competing for some sort of recognition or prize, their being too little reward allocated for all performers.  There is no job security for the contestants, who have to compete against each other–the judges standing apart from that competition.

Legion

Legion

Legion (2017- )

Fx

Director: various

Main Cast: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin, Jeremie Harris, Amber Midthunder


Here is an example of television living up to some of its potential.  Legion, a flagship “prestige” show made by some of the largest media companies in history, mostly succeeds.

The show has the production values of cinema rather than of most things on television.  The basic sitcom-style show is presented as filmed theater.  Think of the “filmed before a live studio audience” approach.  There are edits and one or more cameras, but the camera is like a “neutral” observer of a space in which actors work through a script.  In contrast, nearly every (season one) episode of Legion has a long slow-motion sequence, a montage of close-ups of inanimate objects, etc. There are many elaborate sets and costumes, and numerous episodes have scenes filmed on location outdoors.  There is also extensive integration of music to help convey meaning/perspective rather than just set a mood — the soundtrack is most impressive.  These are common devices, but they are common to cinema rather than TV.  In fact, most of the series can fairly be called pastiche.  Everything is old, sometimes knowingly old.  But this is not a drawback (copping from They Live is a great idea, for instance).

The cast is excellent.  The characters are good too.  Jemaine Clement as the pretentious wanna-be beatnik is delicious.  Bill Stevens is excellent as the lead, though Aubrey Plaza kind of steals the show in the last half of the first season.  While some of the casting could be called multicultural pandering, it resists such labels — rather than the dubious Commander Chakotay character on Star Trek: Voyager, we have the ass-kicking mutant Kerry Loudermilk (Midthunder).

As to the story, well, it poses some fascinating questions, even if the quasi-resolution of the first season falls back on boring convention.  Much of the show is set in mental hospitals, and relies extensively on scenes involving psychological therapy sessions.  (Fredric Jameson posited such things as being a key part of an American Utopia).  A central question is whether the main character is insane/schizophrenic or a powerful mutant with magical powers.  The way this is presented across the first five episodes is to suggest that the main character’s entire personality is constructed to create a certain appearance to the outside world.  Actually, this parallels a crucial insight of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan!  Personality is an attempt to cover the void of being.  The last few episodes draw away from this, turning instead toward a pagan “endless battle between good and evil” motif.  But even in the last episodes, the show openly acknowledges that the main character being encouraged to reconsider his entire life of memories from the standpoint of being a misunderstood demi-god rather than as a mentally defective wreck might well be manipulative pandering or self-serving empowerment fantasy (or both).

The first season does grind to a halt somewhat in episode six, but picks up again in the last few episodes, only to falter as the series bends over backwards to leave the main plot unresolved to allow for later seasons (though it does this less obnoxiously than The Strain, for instance).  This would have been better conceived as a mini-series than a multi-season series, probably.  But it does deserve credit for being among the more complexly “adult” level comic/superhero/sci-fi productions of its day, even more so than franchise-related films.

Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty (2013- )

Cartoon Network

Director: various

Main Cast: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer, Sarah Chalke


Rick and Morty is a sci-fi comedy cartoon that revolves around the adventures of Rick Sanchez (Roiland) and his grandson Morty (Roiland), increasingly also joined by his granddaughter Summer (Grammer).  Rick is a kind of genius mad scientist who works out of the garage of his daughter Beth Smith (Chalke) and her husband Jerry (Parnell).  He is kind of an alcoholic, and regularly drools and belches.  He has invented the means to travel to other dimensions in which parallel versions of all the characters exist.  The characters encounter many aliens.  Most of the episodes are spoofs of popular films and TV shows.

Rick is an existentialist, convinced of his own superiority.  He travels around different universes for lulz, seemingly indifferent to consequences — other than ensuring his own safety — and enjoying whatever pleasures he can along the way.  His most abiding characteristic is a deep cynicism towards everyone and everything around him.  He fits perfectly the observation about “the secret seductive lure of cynicism: living in truth and goodness is boring; the only authentic challenge is that of Evil, that is, the only space for extraordinary achievements is to be found in transgressive idiosyncrasies.”  (Slavoj Žižek, Revolution at the Gates).  And yet the entire series is kind of about how Rick is really more than a cynic, that he has empathy and bigger plans.  But he recognizes how most people are basically just stupid or evil or both, even as they pretend or try to be otherwise.  In spite of Rick’s high intelligence, his grandson Morty — constantly ridiculed by Rick (that is, all of the Ricks of all the dimensions) as being stupid — has a higher sense of morality.  Most episodes revolve around the interplay between Rick’s intelligence run amok and Morty’s bumbling yet morally constant skepticism.  Morty regularly calls out Rick’s moral ambivalence and the pair almost rights all the wrongs they commit — as the seasons progress, there is much wreckage accumulated from their past adventures.

What sets the show apart from many others, cartoon or live action, is the psychological depth of the characters.  In spite of the zany sci-fi plots, usually absurdist takes on familiar pop culture films, TV shows, etc., Rick’s moral shortcomings are generally called out and he grudgingly redresses them.  In one episode from season two, “The Ricks Must be Crazy,” the show offers a (sideways) critique of capitalism and accumulation of power, told through a story about Rick creating a miniature universe (“microverse”) inside his vehicle’s battery, with the universe’s inhabitants decived into creating electricity for him.  The season three episode “The Rickshank Rickdemption” (based on The Shawshank Redemption), has Rick (supposedly) inventing all his gadgets to find a way to recreate a limited-time fast-food dipping sauce created to promote a movie.  So, this presents him not as a simple hedonist, but someone who enjoys simple pleasures that come along tangentially in his adventures seeking the mythic sauce.  It is about avoiding being imprisoned by illusions, as Beth and Jerry seem to be.

This is one of the best and smartest shows on TV, due to the great characters, the intriguing parody/satire plots, and (especially) the biting critique of cynicism.