Media Professional Biography: Slavoj Žižek

[KJB102 Assessment one]


As technology develops and the media industry evolves (Baume, 2009), traditional models of professional communication become restrictive. Those who adapt to the changes, however, become a part of the growing, transforming industry. The success of media professionals like Slavoj Žižek can be attributed to the versatility modern communication provides. Through analysing Žižek’s career in terms of media convergence and globalisation, as well as his contribution to Fourth Estate and Public Sphere, it will be evident that working in conjunction to the changing media industry is complementary to success as a media professional.

Slavoj Žižek, born March 21, 1949, is a Slovene philosopher, cultural theorist and author. His work addresses themes in psychoanalysis, popular culture and politics. For Žižek, the ideologies of the Communist Party were insinuated into much of Slovenian media and art(Advameg, 2016) As a consequence, Žižek interested himself in Western popular culture (Myers, 2003) and studied philosophy at the University of Ljubljana and the University of Paris-VIII. In 1990, he was the candidate of Slovenia’s Liberal Democratic Party, but failed to win a place in the four-person collective presidency (Myers, 2003). From then on he has served as visiting professor at numerous universities in Europe and the United States.

The broad scope of Žižek’s theorising, his intentionally provocative style, and the way his work is leavened by humour has made him both a popular figure in the Western left and media professional of particular interest to me. In his studies, he refers to popular culture, rather than examining topics customarily studied by philosophers. He delves into contemporary issues in politics and culture, propagating his work by employing various and several facets of modern communication. His work has been distinguished by a distance to the orthodoxies of philosophy and social studies, yet he is still able to have such success in his field because he operates with the evolving media industry. By using the discussion of popular culture and events as a vehicle for his ideas, then taking advantage of the different elements of each media platform to communicate them, Žižek is, in my opinion, is a noteworthy media and communication professional.

Žižek’s success as a media professional has been promulgated through media convergence, the blurring of boundaries between elements in media systems and platforms (Turow 2009, 153). Žižek makes use of media convergence to appeal to an evolving audience. He integrates the sometimes unappealing, dense work of preceding philosophers into examples drawn from decades of popular films, songs and books that the general public know well (Myers, 2003). In his documentary, A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), Žižek appears transplanted into scenes of different films and analyses how they underpin prevalent ideologies. From discussing Nazi Germany’s propaganda epics to the political undertones of Jaws, Žižek demonstrates a blurring of boundaries by merging subjects that would usually be confined to separate media platforms. He combines history, culture, entertainment, and politics to communicate his ideas, with each subject drawing in a different audience. In his book, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002), Žižek dissects September 11 and the War on Terror with post-modern theory as seen in The Matrix movie, which further exemplifies Žižek’s use of media convergence in the cross-over of books, movies and news broadcast. The convergence of media has helped shaped Žižek’s career; capitalising on the different means of information reception provided by each media platform, his work attracts and accommodates a wide and diverse audience.

Žižek’s career has also been influenced by globalisation, the expanding scale, growing magnitude and speeding up of social interaction which in turn links distant communities and expands the reach of media across the globe (Flew 2007, 67). There were dramatic shifts of focus in Žižek’s work after 1990; he began to include current global events in his studies, notably the Iraq War (Parker, 2014). His work also became increasingly available online. By addressing topics of wide interest and expanding the accessibility of his work, Žižek expanded his audience across the globe. Since 1989, Žižek has launched over 15 monographs. He writes in Slovene, French and German, as well as having his work translated in 20 languages (Advameg, 2016). The effect is an increased transmission of information, an important aspect of globalisation. Apart from his post at the Institute for Social Sciences in Ljubljana, he is visiting professor at seemingly every reputable university: New York, Chicago, Princeton, and Columbia (Myers, 2003). He is studied in symposiums at Melbourne University, in film screenings at Sydney University, and in cultural theory studies at the University of Queensland. Žižek is often mentioned in The Canberra Times, The Sun Herald, and The Australian (Berg, 2016). It is clear Žižek’s career has been influenced by globalisation, in that he works in several languages, in numerous cities, across different media platforms. In doing so, Žižek has managed to effectively distribute his work and secure a reach of media across the world, linking distant communities into a global village.

Žižek addresses provoking subjects. His work is an agency for public discussion, educating and allowing citizens to participate in debates which would otherwise remain unheard of. The purpose of the fourth estate is to monitor those in public office, on the premise that powerful institutions have to be prevented from overstepping their bounds (Coronel, 2007). While running for presidency, he used his media coverage to share his leftist view with the previously communist country (Myers, 2003). In an essay, Five Years After: the Fire in the Minds of Men (2006), Žižek points to the irony that September 11 has resulted in the legitimisation of torture. This demonstrates Žižek’s contribution to the fourth estate; he links governments with its constituents by exposing truths and making citizens sensitive to the fact that powers are overstepping their bounds. Žižek illustrates the incident with the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as an example of the U.S. using a self-serving spectacle to instil a permanent state of emergency in citizens, allowing the enforcement of discipline and control. Žižek acts as a reporter and stresses the importance of demanding democratic transparency in State politics, especially in combating terror. His work has enabled the public to be aware of and see how powerful institutions have manipulated citizens, integrating them into the political nation and promoting participation in the public sphere.

Žižek’s provocative style of work and contribution to the fourth estate inevitably elicits the discussion of the public. The public sphere is a domain of our social life where public opinion on matters of general interest can be formed, expressed and publicised (McKee, 2005, 4). Žižek’s work deals with issues of the State and political practice in “democratic” societies; issues that affect the public. By disseminating his work across several media platforms, Žižek facilitates a space of global discussion. Often engaging in interviews available on YouTube, he allows viewers to publish and view comments (Žižekian Studies, 2016). He visits universities and speaks in conferences, which promotes audience contribution. The International Žižek Studies Conference is a prime example of how Žižek contributes to the public sphere; he creates physical spaces where the public can gather and interact (Žižek Studies Conference, 2015). Though he does not run a Facebook page himself, there are various public groups, one with almost 20,000 members (Žižek Studies, 2016). These groups act as an agency for public discussion as members can post or read insights on his work. Zizekupdates, a popular fan-run twitter account posts links to his Žižek’s newest works, which are then retweeted with comments and opinions (Slavoj Žižek Updates, 2016). Through his confronting subject matter, Žižek influences and challenges his audience to think about society and convention, things that directly affect them and yet remain unquestioned. This stimulates public discussion and he provides a platform for it, using the internet and face-to-face conferences.

Slavoj Žižek has established a successful career, continuously adapting to and capitalising on the changing media industry. The Times Literary Supplement describes him as “one of the most innovative and exciting contemporary thinkers of the left” (2016), which for me, is what journalism and communication should be about. I think his creativity in delivering his work and his ability to communicate it are two of the most important skills to have as a journalist. He inspires me to develop critical ideas and be more versatile in presenting them. His publicity has been attributed to his use of media convergence and globalisation as it has allowed him to reach his diverse, international audience. This encourages me to take advantage of technology and of my own skills as a trilingual person. It is clear that he is a key contributor to the Fourth Estate which allows us to engage in the Public Sphere and discuss significant societal issues. I deeply admire how Žižek prioritises educating people on significant issues, as I find this vital to society. In analysing Žižek’s career, it is demonstrated that working with the changing media industry is imperative to being a successful media professional.



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