Friday, March 25, 2011

Lies, Jokers, and Julian Assange


A brief excerpt from Tact in the Age of Wikileaks, an essay by Slavoj Zizek that appears in the April issue of Harper's.

In one of the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev are compared to Batman and Robin. It's a useful analogy: isn't Julian Assange, WikiLeaks's organizer, a real-life counterpart to the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight? In the film, the district attorney, Harvey Dent, an upstanding prosecutor who becomes deranged and himself commits murders, is killed by Batman. Batman and his friend James Gordon, the police commissioner, realize that the city's morale would suffer if the incorruptible Dent's murders were made public, so they plot to preserve his image by blaming Batman for the killings. The film's message is that lying is necessary to sustain public morale. No wonder the only figure of truth in the film is the Joker, its supreme villain. He makes clear that his attacks on Gotham City will stop when Batman takes off his mask and reveals his true identity; to prevent this disclosure and protect Batman, Dent tells the press that he is Batman -- another lie. In order to trap the Joker, Gordon fakes his own death -- yet another lie.

The Joker wants to disclose the truth beneath the mask, convinced that this will destroy the social order. What shall we call him? A terrorist? The Dark Knight is effectively a new version of those classic westerns Fort Apache and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which show that, in order to civilize the Wild West, the lie has to be elevated into truth: civilization, in other words, must be grounded on a lie. The film has been extraordinarily popular. The question is: Why, at this precise moment, is there this renewed need for a lie to maintain the social system?

3 comments:

matthew said...

is civilization based on a lie.....is there any real question? as we know the real work is making this lie into the truth

Algernon said...

That may be the real work for some of us, but not all of us.

Ji Hyang said...

So, if I've read this correctly, your Dharma friend suggests that the work of a politician, then, is being a "number- one good actor". On some level that is true for all of us.

And, among the many variations of drama/collective dream-- there some which are more life affirming...