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12th March 2013

Žižek, Ideology and the CrossCountry Train Network

The Everyday Analysis Collective apply some of Slavoj Žižek ideology theory to a national rail service

John McCririck tells us in a special Cheltenham Cup CrossCountry Trains advertisement that when travelling with this company “Everything is laid on for you at your leisure!” The first comment on the YouTube video of the ad, from stevealston185, however, rather gives us these odds: “5-1 sit on the floor; 4-1 sit on the roof; 3-1 trolley can’t get through; 2-1 aircon fails; Evens – DB, the German firm want rid of this god awful franchise.” On the 15:11 service from Nottingham to Cardiff Central on Friday 15 February 2013 there were approximately 12-15 standing passengers to each vestibule, every seat being taken on the under-carriaged train.

One of the things Slavoj Žižek is big on identifying is ‘precisely how ideology functions today.’ Perhaps we can propose something of an empirical means of testing this functioning, in taking cognisance of the distance between an advertisement and its advertisand. If ‘Everything laid on at your leisure’ be the slogan, and sweatily standing in an unventilated vestibule with the trolley service waiting to get past for an hour the reality, here we can do something like attribute a simple ratio, e.g., 5:2. 5 for the ‘five-star’ expectation based on McCririck’s slogan, and 2 for the actual experience (an overpriced journey in relative discomfort, which albeit got there on time).

Ideology, fittingly perhaps, is the colon that separates the ratio’s two numbers; a colon giving enough leeway to allow companies access to unlimited disproportionate distantiation. In other words, there’s no need any longer, on the ideological level, to represent a product’s actual experience with a correlative expectation: there’s no need for a monopolist to produce a true reflection of their product, to give its potential customers such real knowledge. Indeed, what other service can we use to get home? And nevertheless, it’ll be full-whack again, fare-wise, to take the next sweaty train, if we’re pre-booked on this one. As Richard Appignanesi et al put it in Introducing Postmodernism: “The opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but deceit and fraud” (p.136). Ideology functions best today when the standing are in no way entitled to take a stand. 

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