I’m an English major in college going into the second semester of senior year. Aside from the horrifying notion of having to find a real person job and that I’ll be done with being a student in a few months, this also means that I have to write the dreaded senior thesis. I’ve been putting kind of a lot of thought into this over the past three years, because it’s very easy to view a 35-50 page paper you write at the end of your college career as the “Well, this is what I learned as an English major. I promise it was worth it!” paper.
So, naturally, I’ve discarded a lot of dumb ideas.
Word of God vs Authorial Intent: Outing Gay Characters In Harry Potter and Earthbound
There’s this thing in literary theory and interpretation called “the intentional fallacy”, which is a fancy way of saying that just because the author says something about what their work means, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true. The reasoning behind this is because the meaning of a work could be greater or lesser than the author’s intentions. For example, let’s say that the author of a book says that this one scene has a tree and that tree represents a penis.
Just because it’s their work, that doesn’t mean this interpretation is correct. Someone could read the work and come up with another interpretation where the tree serves as a symbol of lost innocence, recurring throughout the work, and realize a greater meaning to the tree than the author ever conceived. Alternatively, someone could read the work and argue convincingly that the tree was just a tree and there’s more significant things going on.
Basically my point here is that just because the author offers some analysis, that doesn’t mean it’s true. But what about when, instead of explaining deeper meanings, they just reveal information not disclosed in the work? Like outing gay characters.
It’s not strictly analytical, but if there’s nothing in the work explicitly stating this, is that really any different? It’s still a reading of the text, taking information that’s in the work and interpreting it to scratch beneath the surface. So does J.K. Rowling’s statement after the last Harry Potter novel had been published that Dumbledore is gay fall victim to the intentional fallacy? Searching for another example, we have the 1994 video game Earthbound and the character Tony.
Tony’s sexuality is never discussed in the game (as he’s something like eleven years old, like most of the main characters in the game), but years later the game’s creator Shigesato Itoi stated that Tony is gay. This tends to be accepted as canonical information about the character, however, revealed through a term known as “the word of God”. Is this the same thing as the intentional fallacy, though?
Of course, this is so open to debate that this is basically an impossible paper to write, since it’s just discussing the boundaries of theory, analysis, interpretation, and all kinds of other critical messiness.
Also I was probably only interested in writing this because I’m still pissed J.K. Rowling couldn’t just write that Dumbledore was gay at any point in the fucking books. The whole series is thousands of pages long; how hard could that have been? She could have made such a strong, progressive statement but noooo. Sure, she can say Dumbledore is gay and most people will be aware of it, but over time, how well is this information going to be known in the future if it’s nowhere in the books?
“How Should I Know What Fooly Cooly Is? I’m Still In Grade School!”: Absurdist Coming of Age in FLCL
I first watched FLCL in my junior year of high school and never knew something so nonsensical could make so much sense. It’s kind of hard to explain, but basically FLCL (pronounced “Fooly Cooly”) is a coming of age story about a boy named Naota who, although he acts much older than he is, is still very much clinging onto his childhood.
Also, (spoilers) it’s set in the middle of an intergalactic war between an organization attempting to defend the earth from an extraterrestrial corporation named Medical Mechanica that “flattens” worlds and has somehow also captured a powerful alien named Atomsk who has the ability to instantly transport anything across the universe, who an alien named Haruko is attempting to free, apparently working for another extraterrestrial party, but by the end it is revealed that all along she only wanted to free him to gain his powers for herself and along the way, she interferes in Naota’s life and relationships with his family and his semi-expatriate older brother’s ex-girlfriend that now he’s sort of dating, using them as pawns to progress her plan, such as exploiting Naota’s previously unused ability to transport solid matter instantaneously through his head, such as robots.
It’s all pretty straightforward.
I’ve written pretty extensive analyses on FLCL for this blog before, and it’s a lot of fun. But I think it would be really fun to do an academic analysis of it and discuss how the show uses absurdism to create one of the most nuanced and engrossing coming of age stories I’ve ever seen. The show regularly stretches the boundaries of realism, and even its own previously stretched realism, and I think it’d be really fun to analyze what sort of statement and environment this makes for a coming of age story.
As just one example, here’s a scene with the character Amarao, who serves as something of an older version of Naota: obsessed with his adult state, but incapable of letting go of his childishness. Pay attention to the absurdism here, how the art style constantly shifts between a refined and detailed style with an authoritative and knowledgeable Amarao and then to a cruder, more whimsical (and South Park-esque) art style where Amarao bickers about his haircut in a high-pitched voice, describing something that looks more adult without really describing anything, and then rattling on further about candy.
Furthermore, and what I find really interesting about the whole thing, is that the absurdism allows these to take place at the same time. These two different sides of Amarao actually take place simultaneously, in that we’re not shifting back and forth between two different realities or scenes or anything, this is all in sequence and in a context where this reality-bending fits. It’s like seeing multiple sides from one side, like Picasso’s Weeping Woman. This sort of stuff happens all the time in FLCL, and it is fascinating.
Of course, the problem with this as a senior thesis for the English major could be seen in that last clip: the work you write on has to have been originally written in English. Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.
I’m In Lesbians With You: Scott Pilgrim as an Analysis of Breaking Up and Moving On and Every Other Type of Relationship
I kind of love the movie Scott Pilgrim versus The World way too much. I’ve watched this movie while in a relationship, after a breakup, and just plain single with nothing interesting happening any which way. While I take issue with a lot of the movie (Ramona doesn’t really seem to care about Scott, the “It was just a phase” joke about a character’s sexual orientation, how it kind of gets boring towards the end), I do think it offers a really interesting insight into relationships. Scott’s trying to get over an ex-girlfriend, trying to feel comfortable in a new one, trying not to hurt a rebound anymore than he already has, dealing with his ex-girlfriend moving on, and dealing with his current girlfriend’s exes. The last point, of course, would seem to be the premise of the movie, since the idea is that Scott has to defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes. So that’s the most obvious metaphor, but the tension from the rest of it is absolutely fantastic too.
Much like FLCL, what would make this worth analyzing is the absurdism. The way the film plays around interchangeably with realism and fantasy is a lot like that “seeing two sides from one side” thing I was talking about with the hypothetical FLCL paper. Scott literally defeats Ramona’s exes in combat whereupon they explode into piles of coins. The video game metaphor as a means through which Scott comes to terms with the people in his life and, finally, himself seems like it would be fun analyzing.
But not enough where I’d actually want to do it.
Something About The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas
It’s no surprise to anybody who reads this blog that I’m obsessed with The Mountain Goats.
My favorite album, All Hail West Texas, has a very simple cover. It’s just text saying the name of the artist, the name of the album, and the description “fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys”. And as much as I love this album and probably know most of the words by heart, so far as that description goes: sure? I gotta be honest, I have a really hard goddamn time trying to piece this album’s story together. I know it’s only a loose concept album, but I have a really hard time figuring out which songs are supposed to be about which people. Hell, I don’t think I could figure out which seven people John Darnielle is singing about in which songs.
Of course, the problem with this is that I have no idea what I’d write about. This isn’t an analysis, this would just be a bunch of close reading. As much as I love Darnielle’s writing, I got nothing for how I’d actually write an English paper on it.
The Social Commentary in and the Methodology of Satire and Children’s Literature: Or, A Goddamn Thesis About Both Oscar Wilde and Dr Seuss
Except wait this is actually what my senior thesis is.