Monday, November 22, 2004

Interpreting interpreters

The Monitor has a fascinating and frustrating piece on interpretation of recent films, notably The Incredibles and The Polar Express. It does at least make mention of the prevalence of alternative and competing readings of these features. But there’s a hole in the story. Take its quote on The Incredibles from Mikita Brottman, literature professor at Maryland Institute College of Art: “I can’t help thinking of [philosopher Friedrich] Nietzsche . . . The movie salutes Superman, . . . Not the ‘superman’ in comic books but the one despots believe in. Its idea seems to be that even in a democracy some people are ‘more equal’ than others, and the rest of us shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to get in their way.”

The dog that isn’t barking here is implied in the professor’s phrase, “I can’t help thinking of.” Well, why not? How does ideology influence the way we interpret what is presented to our senses? Does her reading do justice to the film? Does it help the viewers? Speaking as someone prone to this, the danger of misreading is strong. This quote strongly implies that she dislikes the film, and as George MacDonald says, “To explain to him who loves not, is but to give him the more plentiful material for misinterpretation.” He who has ears, let him hear. (“Villainy! Have politics hijacked ‘toons?”, David Sterritt, The Christian Science Monitor, 19 Nov 2004). Oh, and I don’t think The Incredibles is Randian, either.

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