Slavoj Žižek and Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind
If Slavoj Žižek were to find out I was using his 2002 book, Welcome to the Desert of the Real, to prove that aliens exist peacefully, he would view my efforts as my own passion for the Real. According to the philosopher, the Real is a fantasy within itself that intensifies the human passion for the Real, or our longing to escape our social reality or everyday life, which we acknowledge as socially constructed. In his perplexing yet enlightening first essay, “Passions of the Real, Passions of the Semblance,” Žižek introduces one way in which the public is instructed in what is Real through the ideological state apparatuses of Hollywood cinema. Writing in the aftermath of September 11 at the dawn of the “War on Terror,” Žižek claims that Hollywood exploits and capitalizes off of our passion for the Real by providing us with a Real of their own, one which simultaneously serves the best interests of national security. Hollywood creates the Real that the CIA works to uphold, penetrating the minds of the viewers’ Real. Acting thus, as an ideological state apparatus, the cinema industry works as an institution aligned with the ruling class’s values, and crucial in disseminating those values to the population.1 It can be concluded that Hollywood creates a Real where aliens are hostile monstrosities. With the age of technology and the twenty-first century, the government and CIA found a new means to instill values believed to be in the best interest of the security of the nation: A rise in the public’s virtual reality.
The first interaction Žižek comments on between the CIA and Hollywood exists in the range of films, Escape from New York (1981) to Independence Day (1996). The government invested in Hollywood cinema to intensify people’s fear of a terrorist attack:
The ultimate twist in this link between Hollywood and the ‘war against terrorism’ occurred when the Pentagon decided to solicit the help of Hollywood: at the beginning of October 2001, the press reported that a group of Hollywood scenarists and directors, specialists in catastrophe movies, had been established at the instigation of the Pentagon, with the aim of imagining possible scenarios for terrorist attacks and how to fight them.2
Žižek asserts that numerous meetings were held with White House advisers and senior Hollywood executives to coordinate how American cinema could help get the ideology of the ruling class to the general Hollywood public, and that this ideology specifically assisted in shaping the public opinion about counterterrorism. At this point in the text, I was drawn to Žižek’s analysis of Hollywood’s function as an “ideological state apparatus.” The concept of an ideological state apparatus was developed by post Marxist theorist, Louis Althusser, to describe institutions that are formally outside the state, and furthermore, serve to translate the values of the ruling class.3. Immediately, I thought about Dr. Steven Greer’s 2020 film Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind.
I stumbled across Dr. Greer’s documentary at the very start of my spiritual awakening, when I first explored the existence of forms of higher consciousness, communicating with my spirit guides through signs and synchronicities. Perhaps my simultaneous growing interest in the metaphysical world and eagerness to explore a life in exposing government wrongdoing is not a coincidence. The movie provides fool-proof evidence that through Hollywood propaganda, the general public adopts the ideology that aliens are unfriendly and even a threat to human civilization. The U.S. government feels more secure in their holding of power over us when they project their own fear of an unfamiliar power upon us and have the general public mimic their values. In War of The Worlds (2005), Tom Cruise must save his children from aliens that survive by drinking human blood. Signs (2002) is one of many films to portray a hostile alien invasion of planet Earth. Seen through the perspective offered in Žižek’s essay, every aspect of these films contributes to creating a passion for the Real in the spectator—a yearning to adopt the apparatus presented. In typical films with aliens, extraterrestrials appear gruesome, usually at an intimidating height and size, with a menacing voice. Filmmakers ensure they are sufficiently ugly, slimy, and weirdly-textured to adequately provoke disgust and, hence, hostility within the audience. The decisions of Hollywood directors are influenced by those dispersed CIA agents working to uphold the government’s ideological state apparatus and establish the aliens’ standing in the moviegoer’s respective Real.
With the help of Dr. Russel Targ—former leader of CIA’s top secret remote viewing program—and civil rights attorney Daniel Sheehan, Dr. Greer collaborates with other experts to expose the government’s projection of fear and animosity of aliens upon the public through Hollywood productions. When something is unfamiliar to the U.S. government, it is interpreted as dangerous. Instead of adopting the curiosity of people around the world attempting to make friendly contact with aliens through specific guided meditation, the CIA is employed to generate the Real of an alien threat. Maybe the government feels that if we are exposed to the wavelengths of consciousness or energy of a higher civilization—with more advanced technology for transuniversal or interplanetary travel—we would transcend into a state other than our Real —something again unfamiliar and, therefore, intimidating to the people in power. It is unknown why this fear is generated by the CIA or those who specifically are behind the orders to create an anti-alien environment. What Dr. Greer, I, and many others argue is that learning about aliens, their intentions, and their civilizations, can help us to rise above our Real into some transformed state to improve the lives of all humans.
What would happen if instead of trying to escape mundane reality we attempted to escape our passion for the Real? What if there was a world where we all reached the part of our minds capable of transcending animal instincts? In a lucid dream, we can control and change our experience in a higher level of consciousness—or fifth dimension. What else would be capable of on this level? World peace? A transformative relationship to our environment? The end of capitalism? Humanity can learn from a higher civilization. Žižek claims that the only way to escape ordinance is with willingness to take a leap without coordinates, without the confinements of the state system’s logic.4 Making direct contact with aliens through Greer’s meditation protocols is exactly this. To me, the idea that aliens exist and that they are dangerous is an obvious projection of our own socially constructed ideal of what constitutes danger. How will we ever understand things we don’t know if we label the unknown as a threat? What if the aliens simply don’t have a Real holding them back from curiosity about another civilization? If we followed Greer’s leap of faith, in accordance with Žižek, we would have a chance to put our neverending craving for the Real to a halt. Who knows, we may even be satisfied with the Real we discover: a Real in which there is life beyond Earth.
Steven Greer takes Žižek’s description of Hollywood’s function as an ideological state apparatus under the CIA even further. Greer claims that the cinema instigated a concrete ideological fear that other forms of media were given the means to adopt as well. Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind suggests that CIA agents were sent to work with various media companies, including the New York Times and The Washington Post, to censor what was being discussed or written about in regards to news headlines about UFO sightings. 5 In this way, Hollywood was not the only perpetrator of alien anxiety—as the news media industry followed closely behind in generating similar hostility toward these species.
In Greer’s arguments about alien contact in relation to an ideological state apparatus, the institution is the media or culture industry; the value is the antagonism of extraterrestrials; and the ruling class is the US government, specifically the CIA. By burying their own insecurity within American Hollywood classics, the government successfully translates their own Real into the Real of the general public. Maybe Žižek would say that Dr. Greer and his followers are caught up in a Real of their own. I’d rather believe in a Real where my consciousness gets to dictate my fate than a Real where money, power, and ideological state apparatuses rule my life.
- Slavoj Žižek, “Passions of the Real, Passions of the Semblance,” Welcome to the Desert of the Real (Verso Books, 2013) 5-40.
- Žižek, “Passions of the Real, Passions of the Semblance,” 18.
- Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, Translated by G. M. Goshgarian (Verso, 2014).
- Slavoj Žižek, “Passions of the Real, Passions of the Semblance,” Welcome to the Desert of the Real (Verso Books, 2013) 81-2.
- Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: Contact Has Begun, directed by Michael Mazzola and featuring Steven Greer (1091 Pictures, 2020).