Chubby, churlish, and bearded, the preeminent Slovenian dialectical-materialist philosopher Slavoj Zizek looks not unlike a panda bear. But it’s probably not a good idea to bring that up with him — he hates pandas, specifically animated ones voiced by Jack Black. That is to say, he hates Kung Fu Panda. We spoke to the author, most recently of the Picador book Violence, about summer blockbusters and the man was not pleased. “If you ask me for really dangerous ideological films, for ideology at its purest, I’d say Kung Fu Panda. I saw it five times because my son likes it. The movie is extremely cynical in that you know they make fun of all this ideology, of Buddhism and these things, but the message is even though we know it is not true and we make fun, you have to believe in it. It’s this split of you know it’s not true but just make like you believe in it.”
“If you ask me for really dangerous ideological films, for ideology at its purest, I’d say Kung Fu Panda. I saw it five times because my son likes it."
Zizek’s ire isn’t confined to cynical animated bears. He doesn’t like bats either. “The other film which I find dangerous at this level is The Dark Knight. A big rehabilitation of lying as principle. It’s almost an ironic repetition — you know towards the end, they found the solution is to denounce Harvey Dent — of the famous John Ford film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which also has this message for ideological reasons we have to falsify the truth. I’m not a naïve man who thinks we always have to tell the truth, but this kind of message is patronizing and dangerous.“
So how did Zizek spend his hot Slovenian summer if not in the cool movie houses of Ljubljana? Not on the slopes (“What is skiing? It is stupidity embodied. You climb up the mountain to come down. Why not stay down and read a book?” he says). Zizek spent it exploring the ideological underpinnings of violence. That is to say, playing Grand Theft Auto IV with his 8-year-old son. “Grand Theft Auto explores the social ambiguity of violence … I don’t buy the theory that, ‘You think you are playing, but you are generating violence.’ I don’t think there is a clear connection between that kind of violence and real violence. This eternal fear of liberals who claim if you play video games, you’ll think reality is like this and you’ll go out and beat someone. It’s a much more complex system … If anything, playing Grand Theft Auto is more of a superstition. In order not to do something in reality, you play it virtually. I think it functions much more on that level. You know it is a very complex topic; psychoanalysis can learn something here.”