I want to explore the idea that conscious pleasure is coupled with subconscious discomfort. That rings true in many ways. We might see jouissance - being that which draws us almost in spite of our self, in spite of our individual "soundness" - as a kind of meat-grinder, where the meat is our conscious will and idea of identity, and the grinder is "the world" i.e. The Real, that part of the world which transcends our individual, conscious self-identity but to which our organism can not help responding.
We do, as entities, seek out things that bring pleasure on the surface but that cause us suffering below the surface. Almost any extension of the media machine fulfills this function. There is beautiful things on the surface, and ugly questions, matters and doubts below. We consciously identify with the cool and beautiful and sexy things on screen, but subconsciously, we are drawn in by the horrible tensions and conflicts and self-debasing things that underly the very process of exposing those beauties.
For example, I am watching Mad Men, I've been at it for years, it's a fucking struggle, as it's horrible. It's extremely well made and beautiful, but the characters go through this meat grinder on an hourly basis, there is absolutely no room for psychological comfort, there is only misunderstanding, hypocrisy, arrogance, humiliation, lies, dominance and submission, disappointment - The Real. Anything that tears at the structural integrity of the subject, will do as a storyline.
Zizeks interest in movies is of course not a side-matter, it goes into the very depths of his subject matter. And I believe his approach (he has made Lacan accessible to me, as to so many others) allows for a more accurate description of what makes movies work, than the standard Hollywood 101 playbook of three acts separated by inciting incident and conflict resolution. What really makes us watch movies is the pain, stretched out across a narrative that conveys a lot of aesthetic values - either that, or the reverse.
The hysteria example touches on the reverse. In some movies, the misery that the characters go through is so blatant and obvious, the discomfort is entirely conscious, and this does indeed allow the viewer a subconscious comfort. I know that when I watch visceral scenes from Breaking Bad, for example, or Deadwood - that my subconscious being is relieved. I can feel it, in retrospect. I can feel the tensions in my body releasing as I wince. A good Tarantino movie will do the same, and I remember watching Se7en about seven times in the cinema, engorged in the suffering, not in the least as endured by the rest of the audience.
What does this tell me? It suggests that the real core of my being is not pleasure-seeking, but rather finding confirmation in conflict, in dissonance, in affirming the limits of this being, which of course must hurt, must have sharp edges, must make me bleed. I suppose one can take two approaches to life, then. Perhaps this sounds very 19th century chauvinist - the masculine approach might be to seek out discomfort and conflict, relying on the subconscious pleasure that this releases, somehow, and the feminine approach is to seek out pleasure, enduring the subconscious suffering that is called "discipline, manners, dear".
The classical wisdom that too be beautiful one must suffer is unwanted in this world, but it's true. And the reverse also, that to truly enjoy oneself, one has to 'be willing to be terrible', as Nietzsche says, or in less dramatic terms, one has to allow pain and ugliness above the surface. Maybe that notion may serve as a link to the story of the Christ, and the Fragile Absolute, which was the first Zizek book I read. I have not read the Plague of Fantasies, I think I'll go out into the rain and look for it. It's been a while since I read Zizek, I notice I missed his 'savage', cut-to-the-heart type approach.