By: Stephanie Swide
I feel incredibly lucky to be pursuing the study of one of my greatest passions: film. As a Film and Media major I often feel like I have one foot in academic study and one foot in my hobby of mass entertainment. I not only study “films” but also television and new media with the option to study forms as diverse as pornography and Youtube. We break down our texts like any other discipline until they are nothing but pools of “isms” and critical analysis vocabulary in varying degrees of sensical critique. We are trained to spot patterns and to look for the deeper meanings that exist below the surface of the presented texts. This type of analysis is politically charged, often agenda-fueled and downright invasive to those who might wish be remain passive spectators or consumers of such entertainment. Personally, this is exactly what I live for…most of the time.
But what happens when you just want to relax? What happens when you just want to kick back and watch that trashy reality TV? Or when you feel like rustling your nostalgic feathers with movies from your childhood that make you wish you could forget all those pesky terms and theory? Is it possible to turn off critical inquiry? And should we?
Last week, I grew tired of analyzing films for class and realized I needed a break. I ran through the list of movies on Netflix and ended up rummaging through the Disney section finally settling on Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Not a classic, not particularly well-done, not even well-received by critics (an ambivalent 49% on Rotten Tomatoes). On a Wednesday night at 11pm I fixed myself a glass of wine and settled in for the night with a crappy animated feature and with the hopes of escaping my tireless running mind.
An hour later I felt I was still running. I couldn’t turn it off. My brain had seen Atlantis: The Lost Empire and declared it a text. There was no coming back. I was fighting myself trying not to think of the white heteronormative Milo character or the “noble savage” racialization of the Atlanteans and not to ask the question “just what did all this really mean?! The deeper implications! The cultural relevance!”
I told a story like this to a professor once who joked back “Ha! We broke you!” I laughed then and I guess I’m laughing now but recognizing my bittersweet farewell to passivity. Perhaps this entire sentiment if rooted in the sense that I feel I’ve lost my innocence in some way. I admit to sometimes being nostalgic for a time when art was just aesthetic and when I was culturally illiterate because Disney movies were so much simpler when a sword was just a sword.
Although in a final defense of theory, without critical analysis these films become much more powerful in their ability to indoctrinate spectators and to perpetuate propagandistic stereotypes of race, gender, normative lifestyles and dominant ideologies. This leads me to my final point. The ability to dismantle these texts is ultimately empowering because it calls attention to structures and codes embedded into our culture. In recognizing these structures we gain an ability to critique them and open the door for change. I believe that power is worth the loss of a little entertainment.