9 Oct 2012

Slavoj Žižek: Romney, Big Bird, and the prospect of avian apocalypse

A brilliant take by Slavoj Žižek about Romney and Big Bird, which I am republishing here with complete disregard to copyrights.

The bourgeois media and the Democratic party machine were confounded by Mitt Romney’s invocation of Big Bird during the first US presidential debate, a sentiment that soon gave way to cynical amusement and playground mockery. But Romney had inadvertently revealed a deep truth about the Capitalist canon’s troubled relationship with oversized birds. Birds at once represent freedom, a visual cliché widely used by Liberal parties around the world depicting a bird in flight, never in repose, and the possibility of being devoured by the feathered creatures that have learned to negotiate gravity far better than un-mechanised humans could ever do. Romney’s Big Bird metaphor deserves more analysis than it was given by the mainstream media arm of the post-wage capitalist complex.

Icarus meets Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was a seminal revelatory moment of this troubled relationship with avian species that capitalism has obsessed about. Hitchcock’s vision was the inverted dystopia of that fragile peace we have established with birds through an economy of breadcrumbs. It is not accidental that the Reagan-Thatcher trickle-down effect has also been discussed in terms of breadcrumbs. Abandoning social safety nets for the sake of an organic redistribution mechanism driven by aggressive growth was a central pillar of the Late Capitalist Order of the 80s, the Thatcherite fantasy of forcing more and more people to leave the perceived safety of the welfare state nest, if you excuse the pun.

Now let us pause and think, who are Romney’s political idols? Isn’t his carefully arranged hair itself a homage to Reagan’s cinematic history and Thatcher’s post-housewife persona? In fact, Romney encapsulates more of Thatcher than Reagan, particularly in relationship to Lacan’s discussion of the inverted gender subsequence that traces the ideology of the self among the ruling class. Accidental? I don’t think so. British friends tell me about Thatcher’s attempt to destroy the BBC, and her particular irritation with Spitting Image. If I were conspiratorially minded, I would remind you of what Big Bird and Spitting Image have in common: they are puppets. But I will leave you to draw that conclusion on your own.

Being Engulfed by the Feathered Being
Romney’s choice of words was very interesting, in the sense that Freud described when he developed the idea that what is said is not important, but how you can reinterpret it. To remind ourselves, Romney said ‘I love Big Bird’. Love. Curious choice of words. Love is the word we use to imply gluttony, as in ‘I love McDonald’s’ or ‘I love Dunkin' Donuts’. The Republican candidate wasn’t making a reference to public funding cuts directly, he wants to devour the flying nemesis, the feathered image of ourselves that has been repeatedly defeated since Icarus.

But as Hitchcock reminded us, we could be devoured by the birds first. Romney in fact is taking Blair and Bush’s pre-emptive war mantra to the next step, the action preceding the conceptualisation, a total continuous state of pre-emptive wars that perpetuates the vigilant condition and with it the total subjugation of the post-recession exhausted working classes. Romney’s fantasy is that of perpetual war against the winged malice.

On the Levantine UFO  
Coincidentally, a few days after Romney made his declaration of war against Big Bird, Israeli jets intercepted and shot down an unidentified flying object. Unidentified Flying object. ‘Unidentified’ is of course a reference to Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’, the possibility that there is a man with knife hiding behind the shower curtain, but also other possibilities that we haven’t even conceived of. But more interesting is the reference to a flying object. Object is a distraction, it denies our flying friend agency to pretend it’s a machine, in fact it is a flying subject, no other than our winged nemesis, which Romney had just declared war against. Accidental? Given Israel’s desperation to reinvent its cold-war role as a regional spearhead of US hegemony, that is highly unlikely.

The Yugoslav Army, because I always talk about that
When I was in the Yugoslav army, we would often wonder into the woods and shoot down the local Virga bird. We would also tell lots of filthy jokes, like the one about the psychiatrist coming back home to find his wife sleeping with his patient’s alter ego. Eventually we discovered that in all our dialects and languages the penis was referred to euphemistically as the ‘bird’. The act of internalising the winged nemesis as the implement of sexual violence.

It’s foolish to think of Big Bird as an innocent character for children’s entertainment. For that, a small or medium bird would have been enough. Big Bird is an ambassador, a peace envoy, symbolically constructed as a mark of the working relationship between man and bird that prevents the pigeons from taking over the whole place in return for breadcrumbs. Romney seems dangerously close to attempting a coup at that decades-long mutual understanding and simultaneously resurrect the war economy. As Lenin would have said, we need to clip his wings. 

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  1. Replies
    1. AAAND I just realized it was a parody. Nevermind...

  2. Probably the second best parody of Zizek I've read, after anything by Zizek himself. The guy's become a spoof of pretentious, willfully obtuse Marxist academics. To employ a bit of the Zizekian psuedo-dialectic: the quantity of ponderous self-satisfied pop-Lacanian analysis he produces has reached the point where it qualitatively transforms into its own punchline. I do admire his prodigious work ethic, though. He's like the Robert Pollard of philosophy, only less consistent.


Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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