[Steve's comments: describe the films and outline zizek's argument a little more. Also give citations and give quotes that support your argument. An abstract might also help you extend and structure the piece. Generally, you show a clear understanding of what is at stake in these works and skillfully map ideology across the 3 subjects your point on ideology and asymmetry is well made . Add bibliography.]
How can we read the mechanisms of Ideology pointed out by Žižek in films like the “Act of Killing” of Joshua Oppenheimer and “Enjoy Poverty” of Renzo Martens? It is clear in both that we are forced to question and review our values, our ideological threads. Understanding and interiorizing what these documentaries confront us with is a matter of ideological review. Two works that puzzle our perception in what is moral or not, in what is inherent in our behavior and belief and what we refuse to see as other than something foreigner to our context.
In both documentaries we are confronted with a reality that is at the same time politically or economically convenient for a ruling class and extremely immoral and tyrannical for a subjected mass of individuals. The situation is perceived and accepted in a general state of complicity involving both local and international population. For each one of the parties a certain narrative of what is supposed to be going on is told, with its appropriate nuances, in order to generate acceptance and engagement. This happens by forcing the weakest party into it and by bribing the majority with a sense of empowerment.
Ideology seems to be based on this permanent state of asymmetry. To convince most part of the population that they will be better off with the deal, somebody has to look worse off by comparison. “Enjoy Poverty” confront us directly with a particular framework of cynical reasoning, the humanitarian cause. We are ok with pretending to not see all the exploitation going on in Africa as soon as we can go on playing our Good Samaritan role, rich in cultural, educational, political and social concerns.
People enjoy the fruits of exploitation (those on the side that has access to it) but cannot morally handle it and that’s when they have the need to “see” reality in a different way. Governments, corporations, religious institutions play this role, giving people a common narrative to comfortably refer to in exchange for power on resources and logistics. This narrative is a set of principles pointing out what is right or wrong and in which circumstances. It is an open story, that once is set, grows up on its own and is kept alive by the characters playing a role within it.
In the “Act of Killing” the enormity of crime and its impunity is embodied in the enactment of an almost childish public tale; it is clear what is the desired political narrative and its clear which kind of strategy is followed to achieve it, its agents and their procedures. In “Enjoy Poverty”, the message is harder to get, in the sense that is much deeper embedded in what we actually tend to consider right. It refers to a subtle system of exploitation based on charitable intentions.
Žižek shows us ideology as an unavoidable filter to reality. It’s the symbolic framework that allows us to perceive the world and its values within a certain moral, religious, economical and political structure. Žižek starts the documentary with the example of “John Nada”, a film from 1988, in which ideology hidden messages are exposed by the use of special glasses. Questioning vision’s role as our most reliable sense of truth symbolizes literally our need to face the unquestionable in order to understand ideology.
Ideology as framework is flexible and permanently adaptable to different narratives. Its manipulation allows the control over whole populations at once. Oppression at it most subtle state operates within ideology itself; things don’t necessarily have to change if we can simply change the way we look at them. This is the necessary logic of mass control, religious influence and governmental institution, the global engagement of a certain population with a single point of view.
The ‘Act of Killing’ tell us about the anti-communist purge that took place in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966. Thousands of people were killed by the military forces, trained or not trained civilians, Islamic volunteers and hired criminals (gangsters). The documentary follows a small group of this ‘gangsters’ that still live in impunity and public glory nowadays. The ideological farce that allowed the killings has been kept alive by guarantying the stability of interests around all its perpetrators and by the permanent re-telling or re-enactment of the events.
These men were preparing a film about the killings and Oppenheimer had the chance to document their attitude towards two levels of fiction, the ideological and the artistic. It is hard to tell the difference in the sense that they feed each other. Ideological framework structures the feature film and the artistic concerns come into play anytime their consciousness tries to trap them in to any sort of empathy they might feel with the people they have killed. Oppenheimer speaks about it, mentioning the little dance Anwar does right after describing extensively how he killed hundreds of people with a wire or when he speaks about his outfit choice for the killings; props of a play, these details detach real events from their human context keeping the gangsters away from any moral consciousness.
They do detect the gaps in their own ideology while re-enacting the events; they do question the true guilt of the communists, they imagine the bitterness of the still living victims, they realize the violence of their crimes. But it is an inconvenient and useless consciousness once they never get to be accused of doing anything wrong. The whole process of doing the film about the killings seems to pacify the gangsters into their usual fantasy world. They appear to constantly need to pay attention to fictional details, clothes, special effects and laugh on their childish play. They keep themselves away from the horrendous reality they actually went through and one can feel that the fictional lens they use to do this film is the usual lens they use to look up themselves permanently; despite its lame narrative and dishonest content. Hereby their inherent stupidity seems to play a great role. There is an institutional interest on keeping up the tale and they are mere puppets; their vanity prevents them from realizing that they are playing a minor historical role. The public impunity of these characters functions as the ultimate symbol of oppression. It keeps the whole population under an ideology that they all know to be unsuitable while still not be able to do anything about it.
The engagement of civilians in the killings was probably fundamental for the actual status quo. Maybe it is not only fear that keeps people away from reacting, but also a lack of clearness regarding to whom the guilt belongs. Hannah Arendt mentions in the essay “Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility” the spreading of information on Nazi procedures close to the end of the war, as a tool of sharing responsibility. The more people would know about it, the more difficult would be to concentrate guilt around certain perpetrators.
The political instability in Indonesia during the 60’s and the feeling that violence was about to outburst at any moment led people to engage with the ‘pointing finger’ of guilt towards other that not themselves. In this case the communists. Žižek speaks about this necessary embodiment of fear in which people try desperately to gather everything that feels wrong into something that is tangible and destructible, mostly a subject pointed out by the ruling class in its own solely benefit.
In ‘Enjoy Poverty’ Renzo Martens takes us in several steps to understand the market value of poverty in Congo and the reasons underlying its persistency. He points out to the local inhabitants that his purpose is to tell them that their poverty will actually never end and that they would better get used to that idea and enjoy what they have. What he actually proposes them is a new ideological point of view once it appears to be impossible to change reality in itself and the ideology they live in is not made for them but against them. Maybe by seeing things in a different way they could manage to find happiness or even tools of self empowerment, and this is the ugly irony of the documentary. Its unavoidable to understand what is actually humanitarian aid standing for and that is very confronting for us; it messes up directly with our cultural identity. Developed countries deliberately induce the ingredients of destruction in order to drain out resources within a safe ideological framework that engages everyone in it. We are all accomplices. Humanitarian aid, diplomatic agents and military peacemakers are major tools of territorial control and act as protective shield for corporate exploitation.
Our ideology here might be seen through what Žižek defines the designation of a victim in need (which doesn’t even want to be saved in the first place) as a moral motive for a broader purpose, in Congo is about getting a hand on their natural resources, in “Taxi Driver”, it is about the exercise of Travis’s hidden fantasies.
We need a moral reason to act publicly in the pursuit of our desires. The moral code allows the engagement of the others in a collaborative deception regarding a public deal that a majority can actually profit from. In this process any sort of responsibility gets to be shared so broadly that guilt and judgment lose any possibility of embodiment in one subject, group or nation and that’s when we experience the feeling that the ideology we are framed with is the closest we can get to reality itself.