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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]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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