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Slavoj Žižek, the academic Armond White.

Slavoj Žižek, the academic Armond White. (photo)

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When I first arrived at NYU six years ago, one of the friendly student paper editors tried to turn me on to philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Žižek with the promise that he was “the academic Chuck Klosterman.”

This has turned out to be unnerving and sometimes annoyingly true. Žižek and Klosterman are both ubiquitous and oddly self-parodying, and their rates of production are mind-numbing. I wonder how academic types who never got over the heady ’60s and ’70s — turmoil on the campus! adoring students changing their lives with Foucault! — feel about Žižek, who (like him or not) is the closest thing these days to an academic rock star.

Undeniably charismatic and intelligent — with a voluble speaking manner and Cold War-villain accent — Žižek’s excelled at the art of packaging dense academese (he can explain Hegel clearly in about ten minutes, which is a special talent) and sexing it up though his infectious enthusiasm. He also understands the benefits of self-caricature, and that centering his discussions around Big Event Movies like “300” and “United 93” will get him press and followers in a way that no mere Lacanian discussion ever could.

There’s a tense discussion going on right now about where the future of “serious film criticism” will land. Will publications stop hemorrhaging money and restore word counts, or will everyone who wants to write at length and in depth about film be forced to retreat to academia (itself contracting and shrinking)? In the middle of it all stands Žižek, to be reckoned with whether you like it or not.

03052010_300.jpgTo me he plays a bit like an academic Armond White. His latest provocation, for example, is a incoherent rant in the New Stateman about “Avatar,” which — predictably enough — he despises because “its full trust in fantasy, and its story of a white man marrying the aboriginal princess and becoming king, make it ideologically a rather conservative, old-fashioned film. Its technical brilliance serves to cover up this basic conservatism.”

That’s not so far off from the complaints that have surrounded the movie for (jeez) half a year now — it just has a veneer of complexity on top, with terms like “3-D hyperreaity” and allusions to every Baudrillardian’s favorite film, “The Matrix,” which will surely one day be its own “field of study” or “discipline.”

It’s not that I’ve never learned anything by listening to Žižek, it’s just that there’s a real danger when the public face of academic film criticism becomes a guy whose persona is every bit as important as the actual content of his dispatches. Isn’t that the opposite of what academic film criticism should do?

[Photos: “The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema,” Microcinema International, 2006; “300,” Warner Bros., 2006]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.