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Don’t worship your heroes

PROF TEARS! (Student tears also included.)/Haley Klassen
PROF TEARS! (Student tears also included.)/Haley Klassen

What you get is more than you’d think, less than you’d hope

Article: Farron Ager

What do Michael Jordan, Bill Nye, and Slavoj Žižek have in common? In addition to being figures that I, myself, and others looked up to, they all have at least a little bit of a reputation for being less-than-savory characters towards their fans.

In a blog entry for Slate magazine, Rebecca Schuman writes a plea for her readers to “stop worshipping [the] superstar professor” known as Slavoj Žižek.

A philosopher and culture critic, Žižek has been a controversial figure for most of his academic career. He is responsible for such documentaries as The Reality of the Virtual (2004), The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006) and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012). His followers call him the “world’s hippest philosopher” and the “Elvis of cultural theory.”

But he does have a mean streak. Žižek has been quoted saying “If you don’t give me any of your shitty papers, you get an A. If you give me a paper, I may read it and not like it, and you can get a lower grade” as well as “Humanity? Yes, it’s OK – some great talks, some great arts. Concrete people? No, 99% are boring idiots.”

The problem with Schuman’s article is that she doesn’t act better than the person she denounces. Multiple times during her piece, she flat-out resorts to name-calling (“Ži-jerk” and “bottom-feeding adjunct”), mocks his childhood, and insinuates that, because of Žižek, “who brings to life the worst caricatures of the humanities,” the academy as we know it is “in crisis.”

Schuman makes a good point choosing your heroes and who deserves your adoration, but really, two things worry me about her article: 1) that, in denouncing Žižek, she makes herself as caustic in tone and comes off just as mean, and 2) that she is implying that we should be worshipping other people. Especially regarding the second point, the cynic in me leans over and feels the need to say that she’d probably nominate herself as a candidate for adoration as we all participate in a golf clap in unison while uncorking bottles of champagne.

I can’t defend Žižek’s action and responses or even brush them off as light-hearted humor. The man is a jerk, but he’s a pretty decent philosopher, depending on with whom you speak. He’s got some great ideas regarding cultural theory and how it is represented in film, but that’s where the buck stops. Is he worthy of worship? Not even close. But is anyone worthy of worship? Well….

And here lies the danger of worshipping your heroes: they never really act like the way you’d expect. Michael Jordan was a fantastic basketball player and yet he verbally harassed and humiliated players on his own team. Bill Nye cultivated a love for science for an aspiring generation but there are plenty of stories online that suggest he had a rock star attitude. And, as we’ve seen Žižek, he might have some great ideas regarding culture and film, but he’s definitely not a person I’d like to have conversation with.

You have to take your heroes for what they really are: ordinary people and ordinary people not really built for idolization. If you blindly follow a person just because they’ve done something that impresses you, you’re doing it wrong.

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