Radical media, politics and culture.

Slavoj Zizek, "Passion: Regular or Decaf?"

"Passion: Regular or Decaf?"

Slavoj Zizek, In These Times

Reviewing Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ"

Those who virulently criticized Mel Gibson's "The Passion" even before
its release seem unassailable: Are they not justified to worry that
the film, made by a fanatic Catholic known for occasional
anti-Semitic outbursts, may ignite anti-Semitic sentiments?More generally, is "The Passion" not a manifesto of our own (Western,
Christian) fundamentalists? Is it then not the duty of every Western
secularist to reject it, to make it clear that we are not covert
racists attacking only the fundamentalism of other (Muslim) cultures?

The Pope's ambiguous reaction to the film is well known: Upon seeing
it, deeply moved, he muttered "It is as it was" -- a statement quickly
withdrawn by the official Vatican speakers. The Pope's spontaneous
reaction was thus replaced by an "official" neutrality, corrected so
as not to hurt anyone. This shift, with its politically correct fear
that anyone's specific religious sensibility may be hurt, exemplifies
what is wrong with liberal tolerance: Even if the Bible says that the
Jewish mob demanded the death of Christ, one should not stage this
scene directly but play it down and contextualize it to make it clear
that Jews are collectively not to be blamed for the Crucifixion. The
problem of such a stance is that it merely represses aggressive
religious passion, which remains smoldering beneath the surface and,
finding no release, gets stronger and stronger.

This prohibition against embracing a belief with full passion may
explain why, today, religion is only permitted as a particular
"culture," or lifestyle phenomenon, not as a substantial way of life.
We no longer "really believe," we just follow (some of) the religious
rituals and mores out of respect for the "lifestyle" of the community
to which we belong. Indeed, what is a "cultural lifestyle" if not
that every December in every house there is a Christmas tree-although
none of us believes in Santa Claus? Perhaps, then, "culture" is the
name for all those things we practice without really believing in
them, without "taking them seriously." Isn't this why we dismiss
fundamentalist believers as "barbarians," as a threat to culture-they
dare to take seriously their beliefs? Today, ultimately, we perceive
as a threat to culture those who immediately live their culture,
those who lack a distance toward it.

Jacques Lacan's definition of love is "giving something one doesn't
have." What one often forgets is to add the other half: " -- to someone
who doesn't want it." This is confirmed by our most elementary
experience when somebody unexpectedly declares passionate love to us:
Isn't the reaction, preceding the possible affirmative reply, that
something obscene and intrusive is being forced upon us? This is why,
ultimately, passion is politically incorrect; although everything
seems permitted in our culture, one kind of prohibition is merely
displaced by another.

Consider the deadlock that is sexuality or art today. Is there
anything more dull and sterile than the incessant invention of new
artistic transgressions -- the performance artist masturbating on stage,
the sculptor displaying human excrement? Some radical circles in the
United States recently proposed that we rethink the rights of
necrophiliacs. In the same way that people sign permission for their
organs to be used for medical purposes, shouldn't they also be
allowed to permit their bodies to be enjoyed by necrophiliacs? This
proposal is the perfect example of how the PC stance realizes
Kierkegaard's insight that the only good neighbor is a dead neighbor.
A corpse is the ideal sexual partner of a tolerant subject trying to
avoid any passionate interaction.

On today's market, we find a series of products deprived of their
malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer
without alcohol. The list goes on: virtual sex as sex without sex,
the Colin Powell doctrine of war with no casualties (on our side, of
course) as war without war, the redefinition of politics as expert
administration as politics without politics. Today's tolerant liberal
multiculturalism wishes to experience the Other deprived of its
Otherness (the idealized Other who dances fascinating dances and has
an ecologically holistic approach to reality, while features like
wife beating remain out of sight). Along the same lines, what this
tolerance gives us is a decaffeinated belief, a belief that does not
hurt anyone and never requires us to commit ourselves.

Today's hedonism combines pleasure with constraint. It is no longer
"Drink coffee, but in moderation!" but rather "Drink all the coffee
you want because it is already decaffeinated." The ultimate example
is chocolate laxative, with its paradoxical injunction "Do you have
constipation? Eat more of this chocolate!"-the very thing that causes

The structure of the "chocolate laxative," of a product containing
the agent of its own containment, can be discerned throughout today's
ideological landscape. Consider how we relate to capitalist
profiteering: It is fine IF it is counteracted with charitable
activities-first you amass billions, then you return (part of) them
to the needy. The same goes for war, for the emerging logic of
humanitarian militarism: War is OK insofar as it brings about peace
and democracy, or creates the conditions to distribute humanitarian
aid. And does the same not hold true for democracy and human rights?
It is OK to "rethink" human rights to include torture and a permanent
emergency state, if democracy is cleansed of its populist "excesses."

Does this mean that, against the false tolerance of liberal
multiculturalism, we should return to religious fundamentalism? The
very absurdity of Gibson's vision makes clear the impossibility of
such a solution. Gibson first wanted to shoot the film in Latin and
Aramaic and show it without subtitles. Under pressure, he allowed
subtitles, but this compromise was not just a concession to
commercial demands. Sticking to the original plan would have
displayed the self-refuting nature of Gibson's project: That is to
say, the film without subtitles shown in large suburban malls would
turn its intended fidelity into the opposite, an incomprehensible
exotic spectacle.

But there is a third position, beyond religious fundamentalism and
liberal tolerance. One should not put forth the distinction between
Islamic fundamentalism and Islam, a la Bush and Blair, who never
forget to praise Islam as a great religion of love and tolerance that
has nothing to do with disgusting terrorist acts. Instead, one should
gather the courage to recognize the obvious fact that there is a deep
strain of violence and intolerance in Islam -- that, to put it bluntly,
something in Islam resists the liberal-capitalist world order. By
transposing this tension into the core of Islam, one can conceive
such resistance as an opportunity: It need not necessarily lead to
"Islamo-Fascism," but rather could be articulated into a Socialist
project. The traditional European Fascism was a misdirected act of
resistance against the deadlocks of capitalist modernization. What
was wrong with Fascism was NOT (as liberals keep telling us) its
dream of a people's community that overcomes capitalist competition
through a spirit of collective discipline and sacrifice, but how
these motives were deformed by a specific political twist. Fascism,
in a way, took the best and turned it into the worst.

Instead of trying to extract the pure ethical core of a religion from
its political manipulations, one should ruthlessly criticize that
very core-in ALL religions. Today, when religions themselves (from
New Age spirituality to the cheap spiritualist hedonism of the Dalai
Lama) are more than ready to serve postmodern pleasure-seeking, it is
consequently, and paradoxically, only a thorough materialism that is
able to sustain a truly ascetic, militant and ethical stance.