The functioning of cinema and other artistic and informational mediums within capitalism have been problematised by Zizek from a number of perspectives. within the huge volume of content which Zizek has produced the role of critique or critical theory is also given much attention (see for eg.).

how would Zizek explain his own popularity with the media?

  • 2
    Zizek is the subject who is supposed to know.
    – user2458
    Sep 27 '12 at 19:04
  • Good point. You might want to reword your question to ask "How would YOU explain..." or to emphasize that you do indeed want to know how Zizek would explain his status. Jun 7 '18 at 21:35
  • “Hey Brad, Marcuse has run its course.” —“Sure Chad, I’ve got a Slovene ready, and he’s even less coherent, less focused on the point of production, and any meaning is concealed behind seven layers of irony dependent on Marx, Hegel, psychology and Yugoslavian culture.” Nov 18 '18 at 4:24

Žižek actually has touched this subject a couple of times. Basically, he sees his popularity and entertainer status as a potential attempt to reduce the serious undertones of his work.

Here is his quote from Zizek! transcript:

There is a clownish aspect to me, like they put it in “New York Times,”Marx Brother, or whatever.

All that, I maybe flirt with it. But nonetheless, I’m getting tired of it,because I notice that there is, as it were, when there are some stupid reports on me, reactions to me, a kind of a terrible urge, comparison, to make me appear as a kind of a funny man. And the true question would be, where does this urge come from? Why is there this necessity to portray me as somebody who can only thrive through jokes? And even my publishers buy it. You know that my Lenin book… introduction of Lenin’s… was almost turned down by Verso? Why? First, they always, at Verso, gave kinks at me… Oh, you are just making jokes, then I told them, “Okay, now you have a book, Lenin’s text,” Their reproach was, So, you know, much more than it may appear is going on here. It’s quite a complex phenomenon. I’m almost tempted to say that making me popular is a resistance against taking me serious. And I think it’s my duty, for this reason, to do a kind of a public suicide of myself as a popular comedian or whatever.

This is in line with some of his other ideas he often talks about, namely ideological perception of a quality in a way that enables precisely what it is supposed to disable. Examples:

  • In Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, private Joker is an undisciplined cynical soldier who doesn't take the army very seriously; he is not some "kill-them-all" mindless drone brainwashed into believing whatever the superiors tell him. Yet ultimately, he functions perfectly as a highly effective killer and operates exactly as expected by the military. To Žižek, Joker is not a successfully trained soldier in spite of his cynical detachment, but because of it; it is the layer of humane normality that he uses as a neutralizer of the terrible reality of war and his involvement in it. In contrast, private Pyle totally internalizes the military ideal imposed on him throughout the course of his training, and ends up killing himself. It is Pyle who is, to Žižek, an unsuccessfully trained soldier. Žižek talks about this in this The Pervert's Guide to Ideology segment. Similarly, in many other contemporary war movies, you will find soldiers who are depicted as very humane - they cry and suffer together, they are nice to children, are compassionate, reflective etc. Yet precisely the focus on their humanity a normal person can identify with (or even admire) can be used to neutralize the critique of the political aspects of their actions - e.g. participating in an illegitimate, unethical war where people are wrongly being murdered and subjugated. It is the focus on the distance-providing humanity of the participants that enables the dehumanization to take place.

  • In a typical postmodern workplace, authority figures (CEOs, bosses, etc.) act as regular employees (their subordinates), as if they are all buddies and equals. In reality, subordinates must do as they say and the power hierarchy is very real. To Žižek, this quasi-equality is a dishonesty that disallows the subordinates from even feeling subordinated. In other words, it is precisely the pretense of non-existent power hierarchy that enables the hierarchical status quo, and minimizes the possibilities to attack it (if desired). Žižek talks about this in the 2013 Vice interview.

  • To Žižek, contemporary "bourgeois moralism disguised as the left" tries to self-impose itself as authentic left, but is in fact directly preventing the latter to form (source).


I'd suggest that post-cold war Communism and Marxism no longer poses a threat, the Big Other is now Political Islam and/or terrorism. Zizeks pop-culture references sugar-coat the difficult philosophy and politics and makes the 'medicine go down'. He's succeeded in making it fashionable & chic.

  • Communism and Marxism never did pose a threat (to the U.S., at least), and who would consider "Political Islam" a problem? The biggest threats to the world are the U.S., Israel and corporate greed. Jun 7 '18 at 21:06
  • @David Blomstrom: Nor in the UK either; it has more of a following on the continent. Still, that didn't bother the West in its imperial ambition to quell those pesky Marxist, left-leaning natives in its ex-colonies; sure, I wasn't claiming that political Islam is the actually the biggest threat facing the world today; but it sure fits the agenda of people who want to scare a population into not questioning the status quo ... Jun 8 '18 at 11:27
  • ...it's not much different from a much older world where people used the threat of hellfire to bring a society into line; political tropes change, but they sure don't change their spots! Sure, I'd agree that an aggressively rightwing US-Israel axis isn't the worlds best hope for furthering world peace, harmony, love and a life more pleasantly led... Jun 8 '18 at 11:29

I've read some things from this guy, and I'm not sure he is really from the Left. There are a lot of guys (and girls) nowadays who are from the Right, but disguise as Left to reach their goals (like Derrida and many other "postmoderns", who, were they from the Left, their first concern would be to write clearly and be fully understood).

So, if Zizek is really from the Right, this alone would explain his popularity within contemporary media.

  • 1
    Yes. The term for such posers is "controlled opposition." True activists are generally snubbed by the media, unless they're just too big to be ignored (e.g. Malcolm X, Hugo Chavez). In the latter case, they're typically demonized. Jun 7 '18 at 21:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.