Althusser – Ideology

Within this weeks lecture, seminar and screening we delved into the theorist Althusser. Louis Althusser was a French Marxist professor of philosophy, who argued that ideology was entangled within everything, meaning that everything that appears normal needs to be questioned due to its ideology. Being a Marxist thinker, Althusser believed in the class divide, the ruling class rule as the thinkers and producers of ideas, who created an illusion of freedom amongst the working class in order to keep them in power.

Ideology can also be discussed in the form of beliefs, such as religion; Althusser states that if an individual believes in God, he knows “he goes to Church to attend Mass, kneels, prays, confesses, does penance”. In the same way, I believe I am a student, which ideology suggests means I am “living life on a budget”. This is supported by Althusser’s statement “where only a single subject is concerned, the existence of the ideas of his belief is material”.


When discussing ideology Althusser created the term ‘interpellation’ which described the development of ideology for a particular individual. Althusser argued that ideology acts in such a way that it recruits subjects among the individual, or transforms the individual into subjects. Althusser presented his idea of interpellation in the form of an everyday police officers exclamation “Hey, you there!”. Althusser suggests here that the individual would turn around expecting this hail to be addressed to him and nobody else, and his actual physical movement would change his being from an individual to the discussed ‘subject’. In creating my own example of Althusser’s ‘interpellation’, I picture an individual waiting to cross a road, looking up at a set of traffic lights (red man = do not cross, green man = cross), as the green man appears the individuals movement in crossing the road turns him into a subject of ideology. The social norm is to cross a road when society tells you it is “safe to”, this rings alarm bells in the ears of citizens in that should they cross a road when the ‘red man’ was on show, they would ultimately die.

In addition to interpellation, Althusser interestingly argues that what appears to take place outside ideology, in fact takes part inside ideology, thus suggesting that those who believe they are working outside ideology are in fact working within it; (“one of the effects of ideology is the practical denial of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says “I am ideological”.) This statement leads me to the screening of the 1976 film ‘The Network’, a film which debatably attempts to convert ideology. Within this film a television networking company attempt to boost ratings through the exploitation of a deranged news presenter, who feeds the audiences the illusion that life is “bullshit”, the film begins with Beale threatening to ‘blow his brains out’ on live television, ironically, the film ends with his assassination. In subverting ideology on air the networking company receive better ratings, the
interesting thing however is, when analysing this particular film in accordance to the theories or Althusser, it would be argued that this film in fact supports ideology, due to its attempt to subvert it. Therefore when expressing Althusser’s theory, it becomes clear to me that ideology is in fact inescapable.

When looking at films in conjunction with ideology, it becomes clear that every film is a product of ideology in the form that every film is a part of an economical system. This is so due to the fact that every film company must follow the laws of the market.

An example of a film which also exemplifies Althusser’s theory of Ideology within film is the 2012 smash hit ARGO. As Althusser describes the film industry as being ideological due to the rules and regulations they must follow in the making of a film production, within the film ARGO, a CIA-Canadian secret operative attempts to retrieve six fugitives out of revolutionary Iran by using them to act under the pretence of a film crew (director, screen writer ect) to sneak out of the country. Every film is a product of ideology in the form that every film is a part of an economical system and the film ARGO uses this ideology (the economical system within film) in order to help bring six fugitives home from Iran.


Althusser, L. (2004) “Ideology and Ideological state apparatuses” in Literary theory: an anthology, eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Oxford: Blackwell (2nd edition)
Comolli, J. and Narboni, J. 1993 “Cinema/Ideology/Critisism (1)” in Contemporary film theory. ed. Anthony Easthope. Essex: Longman. 43-52


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