Essay Zizek/Enjoy Poverty
Enjoy Poverty through Zizek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
In his recent documentary “Pervert’s guide to Ideology” (2013) [cite=director?] Slavoj Zizek gives us an in-depth look into [his view of] ideology. He presents ideology through the prism of psychoanalysis, mostly using theories developed by Jacques Lacan. In the film Zizek explores the function of ideology in respect to the individual: how one’s belief systems operates, to social groups: military, schools and to the major social and political movements of the past century: Communism, Nazism and so on. Zizek draws attention on strange and contradictory aspects of ideology, the ones that he claims are hiding in the plain sight.[how?] He questions our common beliefs and convictions, unwritten social rules that we follow without questioning. Zizek views closely those overlooked aspects and by analyzing those through the prism of Psychoanalysis he raises new questions and allows a new kind of criticism. [<how does he do that? this tells me very little. You go into it later but you need to express something of zizek's position here]]
The documentary film "Enjoy Poverty" (2008) by a dutch artist Renzo Martens attempts to do somewhat similar to Zizek's film, namely it presents the topic of poverty and aid in a new light. The film shows the journey of Martens documented by his hand camera into the poverty-stricken African countries. It shows the misery and the hunger in African countries and western NGOs helping them to fight the poverty. Even with the familiar subject matter the film can be hardly described as a conventional documentary about Africa, rather it is a film with a criticism directed towards the West - as Martens says himself "Enjoy Poverty is not a film about Africa but about the West. [<citation and - are you writing West or west?- consistency please]
The film presents the subject in a unique way, namely it presents poverty as a resource on which an industry is build. What Martens shows is that this industry is run by the West and the local Africans have no place in it. Martens' goal is to raise awareness of the locals on this phenomena and encourage them to get the most out of the industry that is build in their name. For example he trains the local photographers who make 1 dollar for making wedding pictures, to make pictures of surrounding misery, pictures for which the western media normally pays 50 dollars. His idea is being quickly defeated when the key establishments refuse to cooperate with the local photographers. In the film Martens challenges the established aid system and shows its rigidity and contradictions. In a sense Martens idea is very simple: if a poverty is a resource (in the case of photographers: many wester journalist make their living by documenting the poverty in Africa) why not let the locals to make those pictures and earn money with t'hat?
Despite being a small film it got the attention of the media. It has been considered to be controversial and had negative respond from the western NGOs. The main criticism being that film went too far and even was unethical. The film indeed is not an easy watch, it's hard to have a clear opinion about it. It is provoking and puts the viewer in an unease. At the same time it's clear that the film is not overly directed or manipulated. It would be unfair to accuse Matrens in 'constricting his own truth'. He does his best to objectively portray his journey and the situations that he is confronted with. It is the attitude of the film that creates the controversy. Martens approach is far from the conventional coverage of a poverty-stricken country. He takes a kind of "ironic distance" from the subject which results in a film that is free from any hearth-warming, emotional or catharsis moments. On the contrary Martens is unapologetically pragmatist and appears as a cynic in some parts. So the conflict with the film is not regarding to the misrepresentation of the subject but rather with the viewpoint and attitude of the film. It seems that "Enjoy Poverty" went into the shaky area or morals and ethics of the West, which resulted in a controversy and uneasy reception from the public .
The question that Zizek's ideas can help us to answer is why Martens' film had a such a reception in the West? To put it in other words: how Matrens' film trigered the ideology of the West that it became to be seen as provocative. In this paper I will try to explain this conflict using theories proposed by Zizek. [,this should go earlier because this is the THESIS of your paper] At first we should look into what kind role aid and charity play in the Ideology of the West. Already for decades the West took on itself the task of fighting poverty in Africa. The notion that aid to Africa is a moral responsibility of the West has been drummed into us by the media. Continues appearance of this topics in the western media created archetypal image of this situation. Namely the dramatic images of africans in suffering and the West uniting, events like Live 8, to raise awareness and raise money for donations. The involvement of celebrities became to play a significant role in the aid culture. As if the western celebrities became the spokespersons and representatives of African countries. By now we are use to an archetypal image of a western celebrity making a 'life changing trip to Africa'. These trips usually have tone of spirituality to them, as if seeing the miseries in Africa makes them to reevaluate their lives. The usual outcome being that it makes them a better human being and makes them aware of their selfishness, materialism and consumerism. Martens speaks briefly about this topic in the film: he tries to explain the locals that they have this 'life-changing' effect on the westerners, that they give depth to to their lives. Marten argues that if poverty has a life changing quality than it has to have a value for the world. However it is not a surprise when we see in film that this concept is totally incomprehensible for the locals, which makes it apparent that there is a big gap between how the West sees Africa and how Africa sees itself.
Zizek on his turn is very critical of charity himself, he views the topic from an similar angle: [good link] namely he questions what the West gets from the aid that it provides? Zizek sees charity as a act of redemption for our modern consumerist society. In the film he gives the example of Starbuck’s coffee as a commodity representing current western ideology. A commodity that is designed in a way that it contains its own remedy. At the same time it satisfies our consumerist urges but it also rehabilitates our human-spiritual sides. Zizek sees charity as an essential component of the western capitalism, as well as a significant element in the western ideology.
Zizek also talks about ideology in connection to individual beliefs, namely how our beliefs work. He looks from the psychoanalytical point on how we adapt the predominant ideology that we live in. How we identify with circumstances around us, for example with poverty or tragedy? Zizek talks about the complexity of our everyday beliefs and claim that in a sense we don't really belief is those circumstances. As if in order to protect our sanity, we have to take distance from the tragic circumstances. If we completely identify with tragedies that will be too damaging to our lives. Zizek claims that in this psychological sense it is easier for us to not-believe than believe. The same way that we may very well know about the tragedies happening around the world but at the same time we are able to continue with our daily life and even have moments of joy. However, Zizek continues, the distancing from the circumstance doesn't come easy, there is a price to pay. Here where the notion of charity comes to play its role. Charity allows us to do "our part" and not be obliged to believe.
Another idea from the Zizek film can be connected to Martens' "Enjoy Poverty", namely the concept of the Big Other. As Zizek claims the Big Other is a basic element of every ideology. It's an agency that guarantees meaning to our deeds and registers our existence. Zizek continues that the Big Other has two faces: on one hand is a supreme and symbolic figure- God's will - destiny - secret order of things but on the other hand it is an ignoring and innocent figure for whom appearances has to be maintained. This figure can have many names as well, for example 'people', 'children', 'neighbors' and so on - abstract entities that play significant role in our mental space. In cases of unwritten social rules things are not simply prohibited but they are prohibited exactly for this Big Other, in order to maintain its incense. Zizek goes further into this idea applying it to individuals. He claim that we need the figure of the Big Other for our own stability (In the film he uses the example of the " Brief Encounter", 1945). Here we go back to the concept that was mentioned previously: how we need to take a distance from tragedy - to not identify - to not believe. The role of the Big Other is that this fictional innocent figure becomes the one who beliefs for us. In his documentary "The Reality of the Virtual" (2004) Zizek thoroughly explains this phenomena. He claims that our belief system functions in a way that we don't have to actively belief if we presuppose that someone else believes- believes for us. In short, from the psychoanalytical point, for our own stability we need the figure of innocent Big Other, that believes for us and allows us to take a distance.
I think exactly on this grounds Martens' film becomes provocative. The film presents us an uneasy subject about which we have an established opinion and forces us to see it differently. What 'Enjoy Poverty' does so affectively is to undermine our internal belief system by stripping the topic from its symbolic layers. The film makes it apparent that all the emotional and sentimental attitude that the West has towards the Africa is a way of distancing itself from the tragedy. It shows that the relationship with Africa greatly contributed to the image that the West has on itself. By forcing us to see Africa differently the film also shatters the West's self-image. I think this is the reason behind the unease that comes with watching this film. As if for our mental stability it is more important for us to maintain the image of the Wast than the prosperity of Africa. I think these are the main reasons that make Martens' film such an uneasy watch. Although the film's message is political, the way it is disturbing for the viewer is more on the psychological level.
I think when viewing "Enjoy Poverty" one should not jump to quick conclusions: criticizing Marten in provocation and immorality. This would be in the tradition of distancing yourself that Zizek talks about. Rather we should question why is the film so indigestible and so disturbing. Questioning our internal reactions towards this film can be more constructive and valuble approach.
This text gets better as it progresses. 1) It currently misses an abstract which outlines your thesis, namely: "In this paper I will try to explain this conflict using theories proposed by Zizek. ,this should go right at the front of the paper. 2) You should also give more concreate examples of zizek and ideology earlier so the reader know what is at stake. 3) You also need an english edit, there is some sloppy spll and grammer.4) Be more careful about citations- sometimes you qoute the film sometimes the cartoon about starbucks so give citations in brackets (Rushton 2014) On the positives A: you have woven the arguments of zizek and martens very well and B: you have stated what is at stake for you C: your bibliography extends beyond the texts we discussed in class (which means you are not a lazy researcher). I think next year you could do some interesting texts where you weave your own work with consideration of other texts (films , paintings, writings &c
-"Pervert's Guide to Ideology" by Slavoj Žižek and Sophie Fiennes (2012) -"Enjoy Poverty" by Renzo Martens (2008) -"The Reality of the Virtual" by Slavoj Žižek (2004) -Object a and The Function of Ideology" online lecture by Slavoj Žižek (2012)