What Do You Mean It's Not Didactic?

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
NOTICE -- Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. -- BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

To the literary analyst, all works are ripe for analysis.

Sometimes, this helps you appreciate a work. Sometimes, it doesn't, but it produces insight into the the thought process and culture that produced the work. Other times, it's misguided and may even detract from the work's actual merits (unless the reader happens to be another lit nerd looking for a fun Saturday evening with a text they've already read twice).

Such an attitude may be expressed in several ways:

You can even get away with missing the point if you're a Really Serious Critic who wants to reveal all sorts of Family Unfriendly Aesops inside a work, whether or not they have anything to do with the actual characters or plot. Goodness forbid that the author(s) wanted you to do so (not that what the author wanted actually matters). If it does, though, or even quite as possibly if it does not (at least by general agreement), wait for somebody to point out the Muse Abuse.

High school and college students now write long-winded essays about the philosophical and socio-religious undertones of Harry Potter and Twilight. It gets worse when you get into works aimed at even younger audiences. Let's face it: most kids under the age of twelve or so aren't going to be terribly philosophical; most of them will enjoy a work simply because it's "funny," or "colorful," or even "interesting." Trying to find the "hidden meaning" of a children's show is more often than not like pulling apart a hunk of angel-food cake to see what's inside it.

Note that having the plot given away becomes less and less of an issue the older the subject is. Most people who haven't read, for example, Moby Dick will still be familiar with key plot points due to Popcultural Osmosis. See It Was His Sled. Late Arrival Spoiler can apply in some cases, particularly if the work has been around for a very long while; it can legitimately be very hard to discuss something which has been around for centuries as if this is the first time the audience will ever be hearing of it.

This is one of the nasty things that can happen when literary analysis becomes Serious Business.

See also True Art Is Angsty, True Art Is Incomprehensible,

Examples of What Do You Mean It's Not Didactic? include:

Anime and Manga

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion has gotten this treatment, of all places, in an economics essay here.
    • Eva's connection with this trope was even referenced in FLCL, where one of the characters is said to have "written a long book on the deep mysteries of Eva."
    • The Eva-effect reaches to the rest of the Super Robot genre. Any Super Robot show made after 1997 is either considered some sort of Reconstruction of the Super Robot genre, a Take That to Eva, a parody of classic Super Robot shows...or all of the above.
  • FLCL is one to talk: The show is full of such frantic (and hilarious) Mind Screw that it's not clear if anyone is even clear on what the plot is, let alone what it's all supposed to mean. Brought to you by the folks who made Eva, of course.
  • The last episode of Bottle Fairy inspired "Too many words about Bottle Fairy", which interprets the fairies as dolls Sensei-san's "deeply disturbed" (possibly autistic) younger sister uses to interact with a world she is unable to cope with herself.
  • Naruto gets a lot of this when it comes to the nation politics, and the use of 12 year old ninjas as living weapons, along with the true meaning of Will of Fire.
  • Gundam Wing got this treatment, by a fan who was making a valiant attempt to put out some of the flame wars being waged over pairings, and clarify the Hidden Depths of many characters. You can read the essays yourself here.
  • Here's an interesting take on anime's most famous pyromaniac, Dilandau Albatou of Escaflowne fame (the link is to the first part, but it provides useful context for part 2. The second part is the real nitty-gritty of the analysis).
  • Death Note gets a lot of this, helped in no small part by its morally-ambiguous characters.
  • Tokyo Babylon is a good example of the second point. The french edition's summary used for promotion reveals all the important plot points up to volume 6. Of a 7 volumes series.

Comic Books

  • Alison Bechdel, in her graphic novel memoir Fun Home, notes how annoyed she was with her college English professors forcing symbolism on everything they read. Probably the funniest panel in the book is a bewildered looking student asking "You mean... like... Hemingway did that stuff on purpose?"
  • Watchmen gets this treatment quite a bit, as does Kingdom Come and The Sandman.
  • There is an infamous book, "Para leer al Pato Donald" ("How to read Donald Duck"), whose basic premise is to describe all comics, especially Disney ones, as tools from the imperialistic gringos to deliberately subjugate and dominate the uneducated Latin American masses. It goes down from there.


  • In the Criterion Collection DVD of Fritz Lang's classic M, the booklet included with the DVD opens with an essay by film critic Stanley Kauffman which not only spoils the whole plot of the film, makes several pointless comparisons to totally unconnected works (including, of all things, Oedipus Rex--you know, because there's a blind guy, and he knows something other characters don't know), and discusses ad nauseum the sociological implications of the film—all for people who may not have even popped the DVD into their player yet—but also manages to do all this in two pages.
  • This is taken even further in the old VHS collector's edition of The Godfather Volume III, which actually begins (remember, no menus on a VHS) with a twenty minute long segment of a film critic discussing the film, including spoiling every aspect of the ending, without so much as a warning. Then, the movie follows, though you're no longer sure why you're watching.
  • Is Blazing Saddles a serious deconstruction of the Western and a profound statement on race relations in America, or just a lowbrow genre parody? Depends on who's asked; of course, "both" is a viable answer.
  • For a double-dose of this concept, feel free to read this article which asserts that Fight Club is Calvin and Hobbes grown-up. Not that the comparison is without merit.
  • This is talked about in the movie Fame. Music student Bruno argues with his instructor, Mister Shorofsky, that if Mozart were alive today, he'd be cranking out rock and roll songs, not chamber music and symphonies, because Mozart wasn't doing it to be "artistic", but rather just to put bread on the table.
  • The Coen Brothers' films are much analyzed for their symbolism and subtexts, but the brothers themselves just respond "Well, if you say so."
  • Satirized brilliantly by Steve Martin in L.A. Story. Martin is in an art gallery, giving a long criticism of an unseen painting, detailing the highly erotic symbolism and voyeuristic subtexts. When the camera angle switches to a view of the painting, it's just a large, red rectangle.

Harris K. Telemacher: "Yeah, I must admit, when I see a painting like this, I get emotionally... erect."

  • Citizen Kane is a good film, but over the last 40 years or so it's gained far more traction as Best Movie Ever and subsequent analysis than anything to do with the merits of the movie itself. To the point where it's almost impossible for anybody on the planet to actually watch it with an open mind, without already being swayed by film-school graduates and other intellectual types that Kane is Serious Business of the highest order. Ironically - or perhaps not - it was a box office flop that failed to recoup its modest budget, and didn't become popular until French and American critics "revived" it 15 years later.
    • The movie itself is basically just a Take That aimed at wealthy, somewhat unpopular media mogul William R. Hearst, filmed by a guy known for doing whatever the hell he wanted to.
    • It's worth mentioning that a good portion of the blame for the film's financial failure can be directly traced back to threats made by Hearst towards local theaters. Not only Kane, but a number of other movies from the same company were also threatened if any of the theaters dared to go against it. It arguably said more about the man's power in how effectively he was able to crush it than anything in the movie itself. Keep in mind, only one theater in the United States ran the film - and it was rented independently by Welles and the Mercury Theater themsleves.
      • Which brings us to one reason why the movie is - arguably - as momentous as many claim.
    • Serious film critics will concede that the plot of Kane is actually pretty simple, and that its genius lies not in what it is about but how it was done. The first thing that most beginning film students learn is that all art, including movies, is composed of both form and content (the ancient Greek dramatic terms diegesis and mimesis being roughly analogous), and that it is ultimately the form that determines the nature of the content, not the other way around. Kane is special not because it tells an effective story (although it does, as any good literary critic will tell you), but because Welles filmed it in a highly imaginative style (visually, orally, continuity-wise, you name it) that was groundbreaking in his time - and that, truth be told, is not often seen in American cinema even today. That is what makes Kane unique - and for most jaded film critics, uniqueness is the thing that really makes them sit up and take notice.
  • In his Top 10 80's Movies video, Benzaie seems to take Heavy Metal just a little too seriously, going as far to compare it to the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, but on a smaller scale. Well, more power to you, but the people who actually made the film take it considerably less seriously in the "Making of Heavy Metal" documentary, describing it more appropriately as the last gasp of the counterculture before the wave of 1980's conservatism. And his views on the Conan the Barbarian film were taking it too seriously also. Interesting that he praised that film's audio commentary, which has been ridiculed online and even by Edgar Wright on one of the audio commentaries to Scott Pilgrim.


Welcome to Lit. Class.

  • The Scarlet Letter. What was once a simple romance novel about two adultering people in early Puritian society has been examined and re-examined to death since the 1850s, trying to find hidden meanings. The biggest offender is the notion of Hester's daughter Pearl being one giant symbol rather than an actual character.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely considered the greatest and most important poet and writer in German history, and particularly his most famous work Faust, which by this time has been interpreted to death, undeath, back to death and straight into the sun, thought that the entire process of over-analyzation and insisting on trying to find a meaning and idea in a work was absurd and contraproductive even in the early 19th century.

People kept me asking what Faust is about. Like I would know it!

  • Vladimir Nabokov explicitly disliked people's tendency to overanalyse Lolita.
  • Some of the newer editions of Penguin and Oxford World's Classics have started to give a warning that the preface reveals major plot details, likely because of complaints about this tendency.
  • Steven Brust, the author of the Dragaera series, is part of an informal group of writers who call themselves the Pre-Joycean Fellowship, in reference to their perception that James Joyce started a trend in literary criticism which believes that meaningful works were meant to have obscure language and lots of symbolism and anything well-plotted was not in this category.
  • A school of thought sprung up around The Lord of the Rings in which it was "proven" to be an allegory for World War II: the Shire was England and the hobbits were the English, the elves were the French, Mordor was Nazi Germany and Sauron was Hitler, and the One Ring was the atom bomb or nuclear power. Not even J.R.R. Tolkien emphatically stating—including in the prologues to later printings—that The Lord of the Rings was not and was never intended to be an allegory for World War II (and that he disliked allegories anyway), has stopped people from writing papers to that effect. Even though the allegory is literally impossible: Tolkien had been writing The Lord of the Rings and giving the Ring its central importance prior to World War II, before he ever heard of the possibility of an atomic bomb.
    • Eventually, Tolkien went as far as to write an outline of what the book would have been like if he had meant it as a World War II allegory. Among other things, Saruman would not have been counted on as an ally, and Sauron would have betrayed him; Saruman would have tried to make his own One Ring; and in the end the Fellowship would have had to use its power to win. It's also noted that both sides in that conflict would have held Hobbits in hatred and contempt, and they wouldn't have survived long even as slaves.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn starts with a death threat aimed at anyone who tries to analyze it. This is often taken as an invitation to do so.
    • The author of the blog Slacktivist once compared reading The Bible as the writers of Left Behind do to "seeing a homosexual subtext in Huckleberry Finn". This has been done, in an infamous paper called "Come Back to the Raft, Huck Honey!".
  • Nick Cave's novel And The Ass Saw The Angel is a giant Mind Screw set Through the Eyes of Madness, brimming with confusing religious symbolism, right down to the title. In an interview, he told everyone not to read too much into it, and just to enjoy it.
    • The story may be found here.
  • The original Dracula novel was a pot-boiler cross-the-world adventure. Even though vampires became sex symbols far later, the original novel is still often interpreted as heavy on sexual allegory.
  • Richard Adams has always sworn that Watership Down was intended to be a children's book. However, many fans and critics don't agree and often see the book the 1970s' answer to Animal Farm, a political animal fable that focuses on fascism and appeasement.
  • In-universe example: Grand Admiral Thrawn, resident Magnificent Bastard of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, uses this as his favourite military strategy: he can deduce a species' entire psychological makeup from their works of art, and plans his tactics accordingly.
  • Alice in Wonderland gets quite a few critics analyzing exactly what everything means. Teenagers and stoners love to paint it as a drug allegory, some see it as story of madness, a Dying Dream, about religion, a critique of British Imperialism, a meditation on language, or simply a love note to a child.
    • Dogma had fun with this one, featuring a scene where a fallen angel convinces a nun that the Walrus and the Carpenter story is an allegory for corrupt organized religion.
    • Another reading is that it's all about growing up. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice has no real plan except to get to the garden she saw earlier on. When she gets there, it's full of falsehood and cruelty: kind of like how children always want to grow up. Note also the progression from the unplanned life of a young child (Alice in Wonderland and randomness symbolized by cards) to the ordered life of an older child (Through the Looking Glass, order and logic of chess).
    • Some people (and more than a few high school text books) say that a great deal of it is based on math and logic. In his day, Lewis Carroll was known for publishing mathematical treatises under his real name, Charles Dodgson.
    • "The Jabberwocky" is one of the better known poems written by Carroll and one of the most often analyzed independently. Some academics claim that the poem is a satire of bad poetry or an example of how not to write a poem. Others claim that Carroll is commenting on the nature of language by using nonsense words that seem like real words. Still others have more far-fetched analysis.
      • A few of them are now real words, most famously 'chortle'. (If you're a gamer, there's also 'vorpal' blades being enchanted for more likely decapitations.)
    • As for The Hunting of the Snark, Carroll explicitly said that if there was a meaning to it, he didn't know what it was.
    • All of which does nothing but skim over the fact that Alice was originally just a silly story he made up on the fly to entertain the three daughters of a friend while in a rowboat. One of the girls loved it so much she asked him to write it down, and he did so, eventually refining and publishing it. Later in life, Carroll would reportedly claim it was, and always had been, a hidden tract against "new math" and how people ascribing to it lived in a world of neither rhyme nor reason, which may actually make him a victim of this trope in regards to his own work.
  • The foreword to The Flood by Ian Rankin mentions how the author attended a lecture on his book, and was surprised at the things that were being read into it, most of which he'd never consciously included.
  • Twilight seems to have had a bunch of critics' panties in a bunch when they found out that the author was a Mormon. When Bella and Edward decide to remain chaste, it seemed to produce theories that the author was brainwashing kids into accepting everything about her religion. "We can't have sex because it'll kill you except for when we get married for some reason" does sound rather like abstinence moralizing.
    • Though, according to a lot of current and former Mormons that have read the books, there are a lot of things in the books based on Mormon ideology/culture. However, the general consensus is that it isn't intentional proselytizing, just the author writing what she knows. For specific examples see this hilarious series of posts.
    • Cleolinda Jones recently blew her own mind when she realized that the Quil/Claire "relationship" (the one where the teenage werewolf imprints on a two-year-old?) may actually be named after/inspired by Clare Quilty in Lolita. Cleo believes this might be some sort of cosmic joke.
  • One edition of The Moonstone added a footnote to highlight a sentence that had been dropped from certain editions of the book because it made the solution to the mystery too obvious. Which, of course, flagged it as a vital clue—without being told it was important most readers would have skimmed right over it.
    • A very similar thing happened in an annotated copy of The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, in the story The Picture in the House. It mentioned a dropped line that "disastrously telegraph[ed] the climax", and then went on to list the line, which did indeed ruin the ending. Of course, you really shouldn't read footnotes of annotated editions on the first reading.
  • Decades after it was published, it was "discovered" that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz actually was intended to be read as an allegory for political people and events of the time it was published. Apparently the people who made this discovery had no problem believing that these allegories were meant to be there, even though they were much more clear to scholars looking for something to analyze than to readers of Baum's age who were surrounded by them every day.
  • S. E. Hinton started to write The Outsiders when she was sixteen. To vent. Which really makes you wonder about how much symbolism she stuck into it.
    • Not as much as Taming The Star Runner, written twenty years later. It's about a sixteen-year-old who writes a novel and struggles with father issues. He goes to live with his uncle after fighting with his widowed mom's abusive husband. The uncle and the boy are basically both Expy's of the author at different points of her life.
  • The Confidence Man.[1] The story is a social satire by Herman Melville, but it's so complex with his opinions on Morality Tropes, Religion Tropes and Idealism vs. Cynicism that entire other books are written on the analysis of all the symbolism. The man didn't even put a pun into the book without a deeper meaning, apparently.
  • Everyone has a high school English teacher who thinks every word of every book is dripping with meaning. The best is when the story actually does have an obvious moral, but the teacher is so busy hunting for some other theme in insignificant bits of imagery that he/she misses the point. Like, deciding that the main theme of The Stranger is something about nature.
  • A recent printing of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice contains an "introduction" that discusses the story and compares and contrasts it with Jane Austen's other works. It manages to spoil not only the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but also every other Jane Austen book while comparing and contrasting it.
  • The Bantam Classic printing of Great Expectations has a lengthy introduction by John Irving that does spoil the whole plot before page one of chapter one, does compare the book to various other works of Dickens, and does go into way too much scholarly analysis, but at least doesn't go into much Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory.
  • Bill Denbrough, one of the primary protagonists in Stephen King's IT, addresses this ("can't you guys just let a story be a story?") Being laughed at by his incredulous writing course instructor, said protagonist leaves the university to become a successful horror novelist.
  • The original Winnie-the-Pooh novels have dozens of serious or semi-serious works written about them such as The Tao of Pooh or Pooh and the Philosophers. Usually these are written with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, though, so they can often be quite entertaining (the Disney version does not get the same treatment; if these books mention it at all, it's usually in degradatory terms).
  • There are pieces of literature that are standard reading for all IB students, including: Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Taming Of The Shrew, Othello, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, An American Childhood, Things Fall Apart, Heart of Darkness, Oedipus, Antigone, The Bluest Eye, Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, you name it. If we've read it, we analyzed every last sentence to death. This also includes Maus and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, which are, after all, comic books. International Baccalaureate English students are practically parodies of this trope, taken to over the top ways. For example, see this analysis of Keats.
  • Salvador Plascencia made a complaint in one interview about how people were trying to find a metaphor in everything mentioned in The People Of Paper: "These mechanical turtles are really mechanical turtles; they are not a symbol. People ask me, "Were they Volkswagen bugs?" I'm like, "No! They're mechanical turtles." They're looking for the metaphor." Though considering how he admits in the same interview that even he gets confused about his confused book and that said book features a blatant Jesus parallel in the resurrection of Little Merced, you probably can't blame said readers for thinking that the mechanical turtles symbolize something deep.
  • The Old Man and the Sea: GOOD GOD! this one's been analyzed to beyond death. Mr. Hemingway said it was just about a dude and a fish.
  • There's an analysis of Harry Potter entitled Harry Potter and International Relations, which looks at how IR theory relates to the Harry Potter universe.

Live-Action TV

  • Convincing people that Alan Shore represents Spock is easy. Convincing them that Christine Daaé is Jon Stewart...
  • Parodied in an episode of Frasier, where Frasier and Niles read the manuscript to the second ever novel of a famous author, then tell him how much they enjoyed how it was evocative of Dante's Divine Comedy. The author states that he didn't intend such imagery, and bitterly concludes that he must have "drawn the whole thing from Dante", before angrily destroying the manuscript. Frasier and Niles console themselves by claiming that the critics would have picked up on the Dante allegory and torn the novel apart.
    • In another episode, Frasier begins having a bizarre dream. He spends the entire episode over-analyzing and racking his brain trying to figure out what the dream means and what its trying to tell him. He finally concludes that since he had been complaining about being bored at work, his brain invented some overly complex problem to keep him entertained. Simply "having a weird dream" wasn't enough.
  • There's a special feature on the Muppets season 1 DVD which apparently was a video specifically made for Stockholders meant to convince them to buy stocks in The Muppet Show. In it, the muppet presented a list of various demographics, and what that demographic would like about the show and why. One of those groups listed was intellectuals and college students, and the thing that would appeal to them was (paraphrasing) "The Meaning of everything".
    • There's a reason for this, that was part of their video used to sell the idea to the network execs long ago before the pilot ever was made. So the reason why it seemed they were selling something, is because they were.
  • Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus, where a murder mystery about railway timetables is given an inane analysis by "Gavin Millarrrrrrrrrr". An excerpt:

"If La Fontaine's elk would spurn Tom Jones the engine must be our head, the dining car our esophagus, the guard's van our left lung, the cattle truck our shins, the first-class compartment the piece of skin at the nape of the neck and the level crossing an electric elk called Simon. The clarity is devastating. But where is the ambiguity? It's over there in a box."

    • Not to mention the analysis of "Le Fromage Grand," a pretentious French film with a ridiculous shortage of dialogue:

"Brian and Brianette symbolize the breakdown in communication in our modern society in this exciting new film and Longueur is saying to us, his audience, 'go on, protest, do something about it, assault the manager, demand your money back'."


  • Parodied by The Onion on at least three occasions.
    • Made all the more hilarious by an AP English test from a few years back that involved analysing an Onion article.


  • The Beatles song "I Am the Walrus" supposedly originated after John Lennon heard that Beatles lyrics were being used for literary analysis in university classes. Finding this ridiculous, Lennon decided to write a song where the lyrics sounded symbolic but were just utter nonsense, as a Take That against people taking their songs too seriously (of course, this would turn into a trend with later Beatles songs, even naming the associated trope, and it became a case of Gone Horribly Right when a certain cult leader's attempts to find meanings in nonsensical Beatles lyrics led him to send his followers on a killing spree in 1969).
  • Just about everything Bob Dylan ever wrote. It doesn't even seem to matter what he says in interviews about what a song does or doesn't mean (although more often than not now he just avoids those sorts of questions altogether).
    • The Bob never answered those questions; he's just more subtle now. Ed Bradley asked him in the 2000s if his latest album was a new departure, and Bob ran Bradley into the dirt with a story about how an old jazzman showed him this "mathematical chord progression" that emotionally effected the listener every time. Back in 1965, some (even more) hapless reporter asked Bob about his "message," eliciting the scathing reply:

"What's my message?" Bob seizes a mercury arc light from the coffee table. "'Keep a cool head and always carry a light bulb!'"

  • Isn't It Ironic, don't you think? Alanis was initially evasive, but later on claimed that it was the use of "ironic" that was the irony; "it was specifically written from the standpoint of someone like a teenage girl writing in her diary." She intentionally misused ironic IN an ironic way. Alanis was twenty-one when that album came out, so she could very well have been a teenage girl herself when she wrote the song. It is ironic, however, that an entire song about irony wasn't actually ironic, the question is only in intent.
  • Steely Dan, although many of their songs require a bit of background understanding of the subjects, this article looks a bit too deep to find meaning in things already explained by Word of God, and has probably the most gutter-minded perspectives on the band to date, and simultaneously pointing out the obvious as well as missing the point.


  • William Shakespeare is a frequent victim of this. Every plausible intellectual slant, and more than a few implausible ones, have been earnestly applied to his work by English students. Some, fearing a desecration of the Canon, oppose any and all film adaptations, and heaven forbid that you stage the plays in anything but their most complete forms. Even if the original performances were heavily improvised and no authoritative versions ever existed, canon is Serious Business.
    • The book version of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's play, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), ruthlessly deconstructs the sort of forewords usually included in Shakespeare reprintings. Not only does each member of the troupe get a foreword, there's a foreword to the foreword, an afterword to the foreword, a foreword by the publisher, a foreword by Shakespeare (in which he gives special thanks to the Dark Lady), and even a foreword by the reader, in which he (read: you) complains that the endless forewords are getting annoying and demands that the book Get On With It Already.
    • Isaac Asimov had a little something to say about this, in his short story The Immortal Bard.
    • Hamlet is certainly the best example of this dynamic. Literary critics have found a staggering quantity of meanings and lessons in the play. One of the more obscure, but enjoyable, explanations is that the entire play is an allegory for the conflict between Copernican and Ptolemaic astronomies.
  • There's an argument that virtually every play by Henrik Ibsen lacks an Aesop, instead showing characters in conflict and letting the audience decide who's right and who's wrong. Didn't stop a fair number of people from being utterly appalled by the ending of A Dolls House for seeming to promote divorce. Feminist authors hailed Ibsen during his life for A Doll's House in spite of Ibsen's strong denial that it had a feminist message.
  • Played with at the opening of The Pajama Game, where Hines appears in front of the curtain to proclaim the play's serious themes:

"This is a very serious drama. It's kind of a problem play. It's about Capital and Labor. I wouldn't bother to make such a point of all this except later on, if you happen to see a lot of naked women being chased through the woods, I don't want you to get the wrong impression. This play is full of symbolism."

Video Games

Web Comics

Alt-text: i tried to figure out all the symbolism in this comic and i was SO CONFUSED

  • Anything Starslip's Vanderbeam analyzes becomes saddled with more symbolism than it deserves. Taken to extremes:
    • On one occasion, Vanderbeam escapes a villain's mind control by realizing that the mind control technique "shifts the context to a metadiscussion on the commodification of power."
    • Vanderbeam later saves the universe by recontextualizing a piece of artwork, "calling attention to its dual nature as object and objectification".
    • He later defeats a villain by analyzing the artistic and cultural significance of the design of the villain's ship.
  • Parodied in SMBC: [1]

"That's not how English class works. What we can do is pretend the book is a towering riddle of symbology designed to obfuscate a central theme so simplistic that it can be expressed in a single paragraph during a one-hour midterm."

  • One fan of Bloody Urban left a comment praising this page for its (completely unintentional) satire of capitalist values.

"This got a few comments on deviantart praising my witty critique of the hypocrisy of fast-food consumption. Apparently I have captured the dilemma of the modern consumer. And I was like Really? I thought this was just a fat joke...."

Web Original

"Jesus Christ, this guy fucking dissected the entire movie of Click. This is like a professional film thesis.. on Click."

Western Animation


  • Improv comedy troupe/public pranksters Improv Everywhere parodied this trope by setting up a New York subway station as an art gallery, where preexisting objects like trash cans, advertisements and passing trains were the "art". See a video of it here.
  • Aversion: Freud would say that unconscious conflicts resolve themselves by being expressed through symbolic stories. So, the fact that an author denies the presence of any deeper meaning to their work (as in the aforementioned The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where the idea of a Kansan taking trip to the capital to appeal for help from the ruler seems to be a fitting metaphor for ruritans, mired in a farm crisis, traveling to D.C. to ask the President for aid), does not in and of itself prove that no such meaning exists. As long as the explanation makes sense, it's worth considering; and this is at the root of what makes something art or not. As long as the explanation makes sense....
  • Any series that maintains a solid internal consistency can be subject to this. It becomes easy to find how a throw-away remark or the viewpoint of an isolated character becomes supported by all the other elements of the work, even if the author never intended or agreed with such statements.
  • The Official Couch Potato Handbook has a page deconstructing Gilligan's Island in terms of Freudian symbology. It's disturbingly plausible.
  1. Most authorities trace the origin of All Fools' Day to a Hindu vernal celebration, a masquerade called Huli... The avatars of the Confidence man are quite literally avatara, that is, successive incarnations of the Hindu god of salvation, Vishnu. The first major avatar of Vishnu is as a fish who recovers the lost sacred books; the first avatar of the Confidence man is an "Odd fish!" who brings to the world injuctions from The Bible. The second avatar is a tortoise who upholds the world; the second avatar of the Confidence man is a "grotesque" man who slowly stumps around, lives "all 'long shore" and holds his symbolic "coal-sifter of a tambourine" high above his head. After this comes eight other major avatars and innumerable minor ones; the Guinea avatar lists eight other men and innumerable minor ones... The teachings of Buddha aimed for nirvana, which means literally the extinguishing of a flame or lamp. According to Hindus, Buddha was Vishnu incarnate as a deceiver, leading his enemies into spiritual darkness. The last avatar of the Confidence man, the Cosmpolitan, finally extinguishes the solar lamp and leads man into ensuing darkness.