An analysis on both the shortcomings and successes of capitalism and the disillusionment of a capitalist society and aversion to manual labour, the exploited proletariat, and the realities of Marxist socialism. With references to Ayn Rand, Soviet propaganda, and Bernard Manderville. That’s Wisecrack’s view of Bee Movie, anyway. To me it’s just a so-bad-it’s-good failed Jerry Seinfeld animated children’s film about bees that I watch when I’m drunk.
Why analyse stories?
I like most writers gained an interest in the field through English literature classes at school. I was encouraged to analyse and critique books, and later films at university, and never stopped. There’s nothing wrong with this as it’s both enjoyable and an essential part of being a writer. How can you hope to write well if you don’t know the elements of good storytelling?
There’s not even anything wrong with making analysis part of fandom activity. Often the most loyal fans are the most critical since they pay closer attention to the work. And being aware of the flaws in a piece of fiction doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy it. I could write essays about what is wrong with Tolkien’s books and the film adaptations, but I could also write twice as much on everything great about them.
The critic problem
Being so obsessed with stories has naturally led me to making extra money by writing book reviews, and occasionally posting reviews on this blog. The general structure of a review which was given to me by the editor is supposed to be:
- The general plot of the novel
- What works and doesn’t work about it
- Who would enjoy the book and who should avoid it
In my spare time I enjoy watching reviews and video essays on Youtube. I even enjoy Wisecrack’s series of philosophy and deeper meaning videos, since it puts a lot of my favourite stories in an entirely new context that I never noticed before. Some online critics have even turned critiquing into an artform in itself, by making their videos both informative and funny. Tony Goldmark, who reviews theme parks on his show ‘Some Jerk With a Camera’ is my favourite reviewer since he uses his background in comedy music to make his videos half review and half comedy sketch show.
But even the critics I used to enjoy are deviating away from the formula that I obey strictly, something which was made even clearer during the recent Change the Channel fiasco. I’m not alone in feeling that some professional critics are getting a little too invested in what is supposed to be just entertainment and angry over what they deem as subpar. I understand that they care deeply about maintaining a high standard of quality in the industry. Yet even as a writer and part-time critic myself, sometimes I just want to scream at them ‘it’s only a story! Get over yourself. It’s not worth getting this angry’.
The rise in popularity of Youtube channels such as Cinema Sins has also created the idea that we need to nitpick every tiny detail of a work of fiction and that anything less than perfect is worthless. Yet nobody in history has ever created anything completely perfect (except for my parents when they made me!). Just look at their critique on Ratatouille. Did you even notice half of the ‘sins’ they bring up? Did it ruin your enjoyment of the film? Probably not. You were probably just paying attention to the story, characters, and great comedy, not minor continuity errors that nobody cares about.
Obsessively critical attitudes like this are part of the reason why people seem to be becoming more cynical and judgemental about media today and may even be putting off great artists from creating the things they love. Nitpicking is neither good criticism nor good entertainment. That’s why nobody wants to hang out with the person who teases you for every little thing.
The ‘wrong’ perspective
This can happen in English literature classes too. True most authors do write for their love of the craft, and with the average pay for writers being so low that’s the only real reason people should write. But what they don’t teach you at school is that more often than we’d like to admit, if you ask a writer the real meaning behind their work, they’ll answer ‘because I needed the money’ or ‘that’s the only way I could get the story to work’.
We tend to view Shakespeare’s plays as the height of sophistication which people quote to sound smart (I know I do). Yet we forget that at the time they were written, they were seen as populist entertainment, the same way that soap operas and sitcoms are generally viewed today. If you analyse them deep enough, you will find lots of bawdy humour, black comedy, and words Shakespeare made up just to suit the scene (did you know he invented the word ‘elbow’?). Some even theorise that he had to write his plays a certain way to entertain royals, not because he wanted to bore school children hundreds of years later.
This is happening even to more contemporary authors. Right up to his death, Ray Bradbury had people arguing to his face that his novel Fahrenheit 451 is about censorship, not a commentary on television like he intended.
I suppose having your work mis-interpreted is one of the risks of being an author. Then again, the entire point of literature, in my opinion at least, is that each reader is allowed to interpret it the way that they want. And if thousands of people view Farenheit 451 as a critique on censorship then there’s nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with telling the guy who wrote the book that his own interpretation is incorrect and that theirs is the only right one.
Analyse at your own will
It is enjoyable to look for the meaning and symbolism in fiction and to write it into your own stories. But I’m against the idea that all stories need to be layered in symbolism or have a deep and important message. Stories can be read and written just for fun, not because we want to play a game of ‘spot the symbolism’. Some stories can just be about an exciting adventure or two people falling in love, not a veiled essay on the Irish potato famine.
Maybe Bee Movie is a genius deconstruction of capitalism. Or maybe it’s a dumb animated movie about bees which is fun to riff on with friends. At the end of the day the only thing that really matter is what you thought of it.