Drive-In Part VI: Yield

“What in the name of Jesus H. Christ are you animals doing in my head??!”

  • Drill Sergeant Hartman on seeing Privates Joker and mentally “malfunctioning” (and rifle-wielding) Pyle in the bathroom after lights out in Full Metal Jacket [1]
  • Although Zizek has discussed this film in other essays[2], I thought this, perhaps Kubrick’s most reflective[3], could throw some light on this essay[4], about reflectivity and power.

    The movie beings at boot camp in the Vietnam War era with marine recruits being stripped of their individuality, then brutally humiliated — in the background a prominently-displayed poster bears the legend, “Pride builds men.” Their drill sergeant verbally and physically abuses the recruits, then has them march and chant, “I love working for Uncle Sam…lets me know just who I am.” Private Pyle (so-named by Hartman after an effeminate character on a TV show) doesn’t respond well to the drill sergeant’s training, and although with squad leader Joker’s help he starts to improve, his self-control is weak; Hartman finds a jelly donut in his footlocker. The sergeant tells the group that they have not given Pyle “the proper motivation,” therefore they will be punished for any further mistakes he makes. After Hartman follows through a few times, the recruits get their revenge on Pyle – a blanket party[5]. Pyle, although successfully completing his training, snaps, leading to the scene quoted at the start of this entry. The sergeant, undaunted even when Pyle aims his rifle at him, asks, “Didn’t Mommy and Daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?!!!”

    Zizek’s article deals with the problem of psychologically treating people in our modern reflective culture – one in which even the most crude can “explain” their abuses (symptoms) socially. As an example, he discusses the outrageously racist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky[6]

    in interviews to the “enlightened” Western press, he … speaks the language of pop-sociologists and psychologists. That is to say, there are two main pop-scientific clichés about the rise of populist demagogues: they feed on the frustrations of ordinary people at the economic crisis, and social insecurity; the populist totalitarian leader is a distorted personality who, by means of his aggressivity, abreacts the traumatic personal past, the lack of genuine parental love and support in his childhood — the very two reasons quoted by Zhirinovsky when he is asked to explain his success: “If there were a healthy economy and security for the people, I would lose all the votes I have”; “It seems to have been my fate that I never experienced real love or friendship.” This is what Lacan had in mind when he claimed that “there is no metalanguage”: what Zhirinovsky or skinheads assert is a lie even if, or rather precisely insofar as, it is factually true…

    – From Joyce-the-Symptom to the Symptom of Power [7]

    Joker shows his own reflectivity (at one point he describes his behavior as a “Jungian thing,” in line with Zizek’s claim that “we have symptoms which are Jungian, Kleinian, Lacanian, etc., i.e. whose reality involves implicit reference to some psychoanalytic theory.”) As narrator, as he and his fellow recruits approach graduation, he notes that “The Marine Corps does not want robots. The Marine Corps wants killers,” an assertion that can remind us that the

    impossible position of enunciation characterizes the contemporary cynical attitude: in it, ideology can lay its cards on the table, reveal the secret of its functioning, and still continue to function. [8]

    Hartman himself, to anyone other than his recruits, would likely disavow that he actually believed his own propaganda, such as “God has a hard on for marines.” However, his sense that he has the power to so verbally bully an efficient killer into surrendering his gun could show that

    cynical distance itself relies on the unacknowledged attachment to a … religious Thing — the more this attachment is disavowed, the more violent its sudden eruption… [9]

    …eruption in this case from the sergeant’s victim/creation, Pyle, shooting him through the chest then himself through the head.

    Zizek asks how we could counteract such reflective abuse, and then suggests a clue may be found in the opposition between violent coercion and “genuine” subordination. He discusses the history of the male/female relationship and the ambiguous nature of this opposition – “it is the very ambiguity, ‘undecidability’, of a Master/Servant relationship that ‘sexualizes’ it.” Such ambiguity can be represented by the lyrics being sung in the background of the next scene, set in Vietnam, as Joker and his alter ego Rafterman are solicited by a prostitute – “These boots are made for walking/And that’s just what they’ll do/One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.”

    However, Zizek warns us to avoid

    apropos of such dialectical passages of an opposite into its other … the lure of symmetry: Hegel's point is not that the two reversals (of "genuine" authority into external coercion and vice versa) are somehow exchangeable, that they follow the same logic. Their asymmetry is best epitomized by means of reference to the couple of cynicism and irony.[10]

    Irony is a stance that recognizes that, although the big Other[11] does not exist, it does function. This recognition is what Joker lacks when humoring his superiors and believing he is being subversive. For instance, he wears a helmet that says “Born to Kill” on his head and a peace sign over his heart. (he uses the aforementioned phrase, “The Jungian thing,” along with “the duality of man” to answer an elderly colonel who asks if the peace sign is “some kind of sick joke.”) Joker believes keeping his supposed duality in mind distances him from the ideology that the colonel expresses “We are here to help the Vietnamese, because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out.”

    The cynicist is quick to denounce the ridiculous pretense of solemn authority; the ironist is able to discern true attachment in dismissive disdain or in feigned indifference…

    [F]rom the right premise that “the big Other doesn’t exist”, i.e. that the symbolic order is a fiction, the cynicist draws the wrong conclusion that the big Other doesn’t “function”, that its role can simply be discounted — due to his failure to notice how the symbolic fiction nonetheless regulates his relationship to the real of enjoyment, he remains all the more enslaved to the symbolic context that defines his access to the Thing-Enjoyment…[12]

    He is happy to pose for the TV camera and joke with the other marines – in front of a city they demolished – that they are filming Vietnam the Movie as a Western (as one of the squad says, “We’ll let the Gooks play the Indians!”)

    As a true Hegelian, Lacan was fully justified in inverting the commonplace about the liberating potential of the unconscious impulses which resist the “repression” of the Authority to which we submit consciously: the Master is unconscious; he exerts his hold upon us in the unconscious.[13]

    American television, as a corporate reproduction of its dominant ideology, is a huge part of its nation’s Unconscious. When interviewed for TV, Joker quips that he “wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture and … kill them.”

    This, precisely, is what Lacan has in mind with his les non-dupes errent: those who are not duped by the symbolic fiction are most deeply in error.[14]

    Immediately after this interview, he and the other marines encounter another prostitute in front of an abandoned cinema. After negotiations, one of them enters the cinema with her, and we cut to the third Act, where the squad encounters a sniper. The Kubrick Corner article[15] brings up many parallels between the two prostitutes and the sniper. Near the end, Jungian Joker, believing he is acting humanely, shoots the fallen sniper – a teenage girl. The Kubrick Corner essay also shows parallels between his act and Pyle’s suicide, revealing the act as Joker’s symbolic “suicide” These couplings can raise the issue,

    perhaps the original enigma that psychoanalysis endeavours to explain is … how can the effective behaviour of a person who professes his/her freedom from “prejudices” and “moralistic constraints” bear witness to innumerable inner impediments, unavowed prohibitions, etc.? Why does a person free to “enjoy life” engage in systematic “pursuit of unhappiness”, methodically organizing his/her failures? [16]

    After killing the sniper, Joker, who (with Rafterman) had been shown throughout the movie walking in the opposite direction from their fellow marines, walk in synch with them, singing the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club. The screen then goes dark and the credits roll to the song, “Paint it Black.” We can use this ending to contemplate the

    symptom of Power: the grotesque excess by means of which, in a unique short-circuit, attitudes which are officially opposed and mutually exclusive reveal their uncanny complicity, where the solemn agent of Power suddenly starts to wink at us across the table in a gesture of obscene solidarity, letting us know that the thing (i.e. his orders) is not to be taken too seriously and thereby consolidating his power. The aim of the “critique of ideology”, of the analysis of an ideological edifice, is to extract this symptomal kernel which the official, public ideological text simultaneously disavows and needs for its undisturbed functioning.[17]

    On that note, I’ll end with an article on how America’s supposedly opposing parties are working together against its most vulnerable here[18]. As Joker says, “It’s just business.”

    1. Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford. Full Metal Jacket (1987.) in: Screenplays for You.
    2. Slavoj Žižek. “Underground, or, Ethnic Cleansing as the Continuation of Poetry with Other Means.” in: InterCommunication. Vol. 18. Autumn 1996.
    3. Jason Francois, Padraig Henry, Mathew Ryder, and Tieman64@hotmail.com. “Deconstructing Masculinity.” in: The Kubrick Corner, Part 12. *Warning* very long but, as usual for KC, full of astute observations.
    4. Slavoj Žižek. “From Joyce-the-Symptom to the Symptom of Power.” in: Lacanian Ink. 1996-97.
    5. “Blanket Party.” in: Wikipedia. March 16, 2013.
    6. “Vladimir Zhirinovsky.” in: Wikipedia. May 27, 2013.
    7-10. Žižek. “From Joyce…
    11. Very briefly, the “big Other” is

    a purely symbolic order. It means that we all engage in a minimum of idealization, disavowing the brute fact of the Real in favor of another Symbolic world behind it. Zizek expresses this disavowal in terms of an “as if”. In order to coexist with our neighbors we act “as if” they do not smell bad or look ridiculous – “CHRONOLOGY • Slavoj Zizek – Key Ideas.” in: Lacan.com. 1997/2006

    (For more info, there are several entries, starting with this one, tagged with the phrase in this blog.)
    12-14. Žižek. “From Joyce…
    15. Francois, Henry, Ryder, and Tieman64. “Deconstructing Masculinity”…
    16-17. Žižek. “From Joyce…
    18. Jon Queally. “Bipartisan Victory as Republicans and Democrats Agree Poor People Should Go Hungry.” in: Common Dreams. June 11, 2013.

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