Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Month: November, 2011

Guest column: Slavoj Žižek reviews ‘A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas’

It would be tempting to perform a crude Freudian analysis of the Harold & Kumar films, to say that in Harold and Kumar we find the basic categories of superego and id respectively, with Kumar as the hedonist that leads the two into a state of peril, and Harold as the rational law-abider who constrains the desires of his friend, and so on, and so on. But this is not the case. We must always be conscious of the fact that the ultimate command of the superego is to enjoy, to fulfil your fantasies; and because the object of desire cannot be attained, it is that same superego that is the source of anxiety. Is it not Kumar, then, who is then the superego? Our desires lead to neurosis only when they are consciously articulated.

We must ask: what is desire in this film? It is not the smoking of marijuana, that forms only a kind of subcultural backdrop to the narrative. Rather, the Harold & Kumar films take the form of the heroic quest: the heroes must go off and find something, they have escapades along the way, eventually it is retrieved and there is the happy ending. In Lacanian terminology this ‘something’ is the objet petit a, the transcendent object of desire. It is the eventual obtainment of this object that renders the first film, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, a work of fantasy. What is desirable about the objet petit a is intrinsically linked with its quality of unattainability; it is only in the fantasy-space of the film that such desires can be realised. In the film, the attainment of the hamburger is bound up with the attainment of other fantasies – Harold stands up to the bullies of the workplace, he talks to the girl he is attracted to, and so on, and so on. White Castle is therefore a symbolic representation of all desire. One could comment on the imagery of the white castle itself – in medieval poetry the white castle is a symbol of Heaven or the Kingdom of Truth; then as now the white castle is a transcendent Utopian image – or, as Derrida would have it, a messianic image, an image of that which is always yet to come – in which is encoded our very earthly desires, as in the Islamic fantasy of the seventy-two virgins.

But see what happens in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. This is not at all like the first film, the two heroes are not acting on their own desires. Rather, Harold must find a replacement Christmas tree for his father-in-law: he is acting out of a sense of duty towards the Other. The pivotal moment of the film is when Harold tells Kumar that he does not have to replace the tree, rather, it is that he wants to. And again further on, when Kumar faces his responsibility for his unborn child: it is not because he has to, but because he wants to. This is not, I think, a casting aside of duty so much as a reinterpretation of duty. Here, we see the old Kantian conception – Du kannst, denn du sollst! – being dispensed with, it is too rigidly compulsive, it does not sit easy with our liberal individualism. What we get instead is a strange inversion: Du sollst, denn du wollst! – you must, because you want to!

I find this despicable, almost totalitarian, even – far more so than Kant’s formulation. Even our desires are not our own, the hegemonic order insists not only that we do our duty, but that we really want to do so. It is like when Saddam Hussein published his novels under a false name: his megalomania was such that he did not just want good reviews because he is the dictator, he wanted the people to genuinely love his writing. Only when the novels were derided in the newspapers did he republish under his own name and shoot the critics. Is what we see here not the same thing? If there is a message in this film, is it not that we must genuinely love the duties imposed on us by capitalism, that we must find jouissance in the fulfilment of duty?

Where A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas fails is precisely in this attempt to reconcile duty with desire through the matrix of capitalist institutions: the family unit, the workplace, Christmas, and so on, and so on. Duty towards the Other must not be subject to desire! What we must instead admit is that under capitalism our desires are different to our duties, or, in the language of vulgar Marxism, our desires are superstructural to the economic base. Our duty consists of confronting and changing our desires, not in the alienating manner of the Freudian superego, but through the radical project of overturning the current socio-economic order in the name of the Other. Against the false union of duty and desire we must proclaim the primacy of duty, we must, in effect, return to the old Kantian formulation. It is significant that the finale of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas requires the intervention of the supernatural in the form of Santa Claus: under capitalism, duty and desire cannot ordinarily be reconciled. What is needed in our situation is another form of supernatural intervention – the intervention of Benjaminian divine violence. Only then can this antinomy be untangled.

Acropolis Now

Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks – Karl Marx

Successive attempts to rescue the Greek economy fail to have any effect. European leaders explain to Papandreou in no uncertain terms that the birthplace of democracy is no place in which to implement it. Forbes magazine hilariously calls for a military coup. The legions of the undead begin to stir… Now the EU casts aside its humanitarian mask to reveal itself for the monster of imperialism it has always been, its neck ringed with the skulls of defeated institutions, its fangs dripping with viscous liquidity. The spectral sallow-cheeked armies of finance capital make circles around the Peloponnese, howling with savage hunger at the juicy public sector, gesturing menacingly with the grim weapons of austerity, their eyes gleaming with blood-lust. A hundred gold coins marked with the stamp of a skull and bearing an ancient curse fall from the bloated fist of Jin Liqun. On the streets of Athens, anarchists fight hand-to-hand with the fire-wraiths of the Elliniki Astynomia. Gibbering poltergeists brandishing court orders pour through cracks in the masonry of family homes and drive out their inhabitants. In a vaulted chamber miles below Strasbourg, decorated with sacred carvings in which Merkel and Sarkozy are depicted in a variety of grotesque sexual positions, the secret haunt of withered seers who divine the will of the Market through the flows of the telluric currents, a thousand hooded forms look on approvingly as Papademos signs their infernal contract in the blood of his people. His hand hesitates over the parchment!… Uproar ensues, dark curses are flung, lightning cracks in the dank air. There is no other option left. Twenty thousand grim-faced German soldiers march in lock-step formation as planes ready their engines for the final assault on Greece: ein Union, ein Währung, ein Zentralbank! Peace and democracy are fine things, but investments are at stake.

Cain vs. Gingrich: Battle of the Scrotums

The Woodlands, Texas. A stage. Two chairs. An audience. The whirring of cameras. Two SCROTUMS are engaged in debate, following the time-honoured traditions of Lincoln and Douglas.

SCROTUM GINGRICH: Mr Cain, as the stunningly handsome business genius who transformed Godfather Pizza into the multinational colossus it is today, what steps do you think will be necessary to infuse American society with the rich tasty lip-smacking goodness that Godfather Mozza-Loaded pizza crusts exemplify?

Frenzied applause.

SCROTUM CAIN: Well, I would say that the American people know better than the Government what they want to do with their money. And clearly what they want to do is use it as kindling to burn down every mosque in the country. And if the Beltway bureaucrats up in Washington DC don’t want to go ahead with that, well then, they need to be taken out of the equation.

Enraptured applause.

SCROTUM CAIN: But returning the question to you, Mr Gingrich: as one our nation’s premier fascists, with decades of experience in the vindictive abuse of personal power under your belt – as a great American, in other words, how do you think we can restore the spirit of our country?

Ecstatic applause.

SCROTUM GINGRICH: I think that there’s this real culture of dependency these days, and that needs to be gotten rid of – if people need food, why can’t they grow it themselves? If people need healthcare, why can’t they perform keyhole surgery on themselves? We have the Internet now, anyone can diagnose themselves with all manner of diseases. Any disease they want. That’s freedom of choice, people! We need to get away from a situation where people are thinking, oh, I have this disease, how is the Government going to help me out? What we need to do is encourage people to start thinking, how can I proactively work to fix my own problems?

Orgasmic applause.

SCROTUM CAIN: Well, I completely agree. This is gonna get taken the wrong way, but, you know, I didn’t take no political correctness school. If people don’t want to go out there and get themselves a job, if they want to be lazy and rely on handouts, and if they’re angry because those handouts are getting taken away – well, that’s their boogie-woogie, as my grandmomma used to say.

Gleeful suicides.

SCROTUM GINGRICH: If I could interject – the other day I received an email from my good friend, the prophylactic industrialist Baron von Rubber. And he told me that our debt crisis could be solved tomorrow if we took everyone currently on government handouts and systematically fed them into an enormous meat grinder to retrieve the trace elements of precious metals within their bodies. And that’s exactly the kind of dynamic forward thinking that the private sector provides, and that’s exactly the kind of thinking we need to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

SCROTUM CAIN: I’m glad we agree. It’s been an honour to debate with you. [He gives an esoteric signal]

Ominous chanting. Lights start to dim. The two SCROTUMS link arms and chant along, a look of hideous glee on their rubbery scrotal faces.

SCROTUMS: [in unison] Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

A foul-smelling wind is conjured. Lightbulbs shatter. The spectral visage of RONALD REAGAN floats above the podium, his ectoplasm contorting itself into an expression of dread horror. His eldritch Masters promised him an eternity of bliss in the afterlife if he did their bidding on Earth; now he knows that their afterlife contains only more horror. The SCROTUMS chant faster and faster, their jowls visibly distending even in the murky gloom. REAGAN opens his mouth, revealing a dark chamber seething with worms in which rotten teeth protrude like ancient obelisks. Maggots crawl from the depths of his empty eye-sockets. REAGAN blasts the audience with a monstrous scream. The audience prostrate themselves in terror before this Unholy Trinity. A swarm of locusts hovers above them, buzzing like a thousand hellish violins, before coalescing into the shape of the moderator, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE STEVE KING, who strides up onto the stage.

KING: Thank you, Scrotum Cain and Scrotum Gingrich, for this lively and entertaining debate.

The ghastly shape of REAGAN fades. The SCROTUMS shake each other by the hand and exit. Those in the audience that have survived stare blankly into the distance with the deadened eyes of one who has seen past the fictions of everyday life and witnessed the gibbering horror of the Universe as it really is – although they did walk into the room with the exact same expression. There is no respite: the degenerated Punch & Judy show of electoral politics is not over, its grotesque charade can never end – not until the Six Pillared Gate is smashed and the Beast of Khapti’gytag’l is slain. Outside the building, a REPORTER speaks to camera.

REPORTER: Well, Dan, it’s been a very interesting debate here in Texas, with both scrotums agreeing on a whole range of issues. I’m being told that today’s Satanic apparition has caused at most only a few hundred cases of blindness across the country, which as you’ll know is a significant improvement on last month’s debate in Las Vegas. Well, you know what they say, folks: democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s better than all the alternatives.

The dark cloud hanging over the building begins to melt away. Up next on C-SPAN: Michelle Bachmann and Hillary Clinton in a round of Foxy Boxing.

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