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What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?

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 thought process and culture that produced the work. Other times, it's misguided overkill that 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). Most of the time, it's just a fun mental exercise and a good way to boost the imagination.

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 more relevant when you get into works aimed at even younger audiences, however: 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." This provides a huge amount of leeway for the producers of children's shows to insert subtle commentaries and promote ideas without the readership (or even themselves) picking up on how they're shaping young minds, so to an extent every work aimed at young children is didactic whether the author intended it or not, increasing as the audience gets younger. This can even open the door to the authors, if they are political or philosophical partisans, sneaking propagandistic messages into the work - although this doesn't tend to happen in democratic societies.

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.

For the opposite of this trope, i.e. preemptive dismissal of all literary or aesthetic analysis, see Moff’s Law.

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

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • 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.
  • Death Note gets a lot of this, helped in no small part by its morally-ambiguous characters.
  • 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.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion has gotten this treatment, of all places, in an economics essay here.
    • 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.
    • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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 

    Fan Fic 
  • In an in-universe example, in the essay-fic, Equestria: A History Revealed, it seems that the Lemony Narrator needs to learn about this, as she picks apart benign things and events for evidence. So far, she has analyzed: the wordchoice of select sources, what rocks can metaphorically represent, cited a cereal box, and made a far-fetched leap in logic to relate Celestia to Italian food, when a cooking book mentions "the elements of a good pizza".

    Film 
  • 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.
    • Though that is the purpose of the essay and the label, Criterion Collection does expand a film beyond given dimensions and in the case of M a film set in the dying years of Pre-Nazi Germany, the context is very important since the director abandoned Germany for Hollywood and his wife who wrote the screenplay became a Nazi.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars: Just about every religion and mythology created by humans, whether real or fictional, has been likened to the "Force" of the Jedi Knights. While such comparisons are not off the mark, that's only because creator George Lucas drew on the beliefs common to all religions in fashioning a spiritual system for his characters. There are some who have even gone so far as to adopt the Jedi teachings as their religion. Many have lost sight of the fact that Lucas intended to entertain the world first and foremost.
  • While it's fairly well known that Walter Hill's 1979 crime drama The Warriors - and, of course, the 1965 Sol Yurick novel on which it was based - was inspired by Xenophon's Anabasis, the movie actually has little in common with the ancient Greek story except for its basic plot (a group of, well, warriors fighting their way back home to their seacoast town) and for the fact that its Decoy Protagonist is named "Cyrus", which was also the name of the Persian king the Greeks were fighting during the events in Anabasis. This hasn't stopped Hill from reediting his film for its special-edition DVD release to look almost literally like a comic-book retelling of Anabasis (making it, amusingly, practically a Spiritual Prequel to Zack Snyder's {{300}}, or fans of the movie from interpreting The Warriors as a tribute to Greek legends and mythology generally, especially to Homer's Odyssey. The Baseball Furies are likened to the Furies (even though the original Furies were female, and there were only three of them, and they never even appeared in the ''Odyssey''). And the Lizzies, who seduce the Warriors and then try to kill them? They must be the Sirens!
  • 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 LA 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 draws immense amounts of film criticism due to its reputation as the Best Movie Ever. Critics dissect just about every aspect of the film on the quest to say something new about it. Of course, this is at least in some part justified: Kane is a very intricately crafted and sophisticatedly styled film, especially for the American cinema and doubly so for 1940s American cinema. Amusingly, an officially sanctioned documentary on Citizen Kane, included with the special-edition DVD release, is nearly as long as the film itself!
  • 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 (apparently, they didn't watch a lot of MTV during the '80s). 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.
  • The "collectible booklet" enclosed with the DVD release of the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair casually spoils the ending of both the remake and the original while discussing the ways in which the two films differ.
  • The Films of David Lynch. Eraserhead especially.
  • Frequent with theatrical re-releases of classic movies. The 2012 re-release of Lawrence of Arabia, for instance, was introduced with a ten minute appreciation from Martin Scorsese... which managed to spoil every single plot point and iconic shot/edit Lawrence had to offer. Presumably the studios operate from the assumption that everyone watching has already seen the movie.

    Literature 
Welcome to Lit. Class.
  • The Scarlet Letter. What was once a simple romance novel about two adultering people in early Puritan 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 — which, In-Universe, is implied to be how people around her see her.
  • 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.
    • Of course he also nearly demands it in the forward of The Defense and understanding most of Pale Fire is impossible without it.
  • 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 popular reading of The Lord of the Rings holds that it's 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. J. R. R. Tolkien emphatically stated—including in the prologues to later printings—that The Lord of the Rings was not an allegory for World War II and that he disliked allegories anyway. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 communism, and specifically, Stalinism.
  • 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, while others see it as story of madness or a Dying Dream. Still more think that it's satirizing religion, British Imperialism, or language and logic. Of course, originally it was just a silly story to amuse some children. 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.
      • There have also been some laughable attempts to identify "Mormon themes" in Twilight by people whose total knowledge of Mormonism seems to come from reading a couple articles on The Other Wiki. Mainly they just take concepts that are vague or fairly common and try to label them as uniquely Mormon, as though Mormons are the only ones who believe in close-knit families or frown on sex outside of marriage.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Confidence Man. note  The story is a social satire by Herman Melville, but it's so complex with his opinions on morality, religion 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.
    • On the subject of Melville, we can't go without mentioning Moby Dick. It's been described as the epitome of everything American. A metaphor for the ambitions and desires that make up the American Dream; the quintessential story of the "Go West" attitude, and of the stubborn desire for upward mobility and to win in the competition despite odds. It seems to be applicible to all aspects of that Americana Thing.
      • Then again, Melville may have meant more to this than just that standard American Dream message, if at all. But I doubt the teachers would point that one out.
  • 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.
    • This seems to be something the author believes as well: "Politics change, but stories remain." Of course, considering that this is the man who didn't realize until decades later that the story of the alcoholic struggling-writer antagonist of The Shining (written while King was struggling with his own alcoholism) might have been just a wee bit autobiographic, invoking Death of the Author is a pretty safe bet when it comes to finding deeper meaning in his work.
  • 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 derogatory terms).
  • There are pieces of literature that are standard reading for all IB students, including: Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, An American Childhood, Things Fall Apart, Heart of Darkness, Oedipus Rex, 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.
    • The same goes for honors English students in college prep Catholic high schools and AP (Advanced Placement) English literature students everywhere.
  • 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.
  • This review of the Sesame Street classic The Monster at the End of This Book, which argues that it's about general relativity, and a deconstruction of free will.
  • A large amount of House of Leaves is people doing this to the fictional film "The Navidson Record". The novel itself seems to invite it to a large degree, to the point that some have theorized that, at its heart, it's a satire of overanalyzing stories.
  • This is used in-character in The Belgariad, where a ghost story is told near the beginning of the first book, and the leader of the farming community it was told to passes it off as a moralistic sermon about fear and greed. The irony kicks in, in a later book, however, when the protagonists go to Maragor, the place where the story was set and could have actually happened, as it is inhabited by the ghosts of the Marags, slaughtered ages before.
  • Franz Kafka, after running out of his literary writings to analyze, lit profs gathered up various insurance claim reports Kafka wrote in his day job as a Insurance lawyer and trawled them for meaning.

    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.
  • Parodied many many times in Cheers in which the barflies would do it as their version of a mental exercise. For example, this examination of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, with Norm later huffing at Cliff, "I suppose that proves that the Coyote's the Antichrist? Come on!"
  • 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".
  • 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'."
  • In the classic Doctor Who story "City of Death" the TARDIS lands in an art gallery and is mistaken for a piece of modern art. Two art lovers note  wax lyrical about its brilliance as a comment on modern life. Seeing three people and a robot dog pile into it before it de-materialises in front of them doesn't change their mind.
  • The show LOST is meant to evoke this. The show is filled with all kinds of mysterious symbols, strange happenings, and hints that there's something happening that's bigger than anyone had anticipated. The show's creators insisted that they had a plan all along, but by the time the show was over, most people realized that they were making it up as they went along. There wasn't a big overall plan, and most of the symbolism used to hook people didn't really amount to anything.

    Magazines 
  • 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.

    Music 
  • 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 affected 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!'"
  • "Bohemian Rhapsody" is ripe for analysis, mostly because of its somewhat nonsensical and generally evasive lyrics. However, Freddie Mercury stated that it's really not meant to be taken seriously, and that "none of our songs have hidden messages, except maybe Brian's."
  • 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.
    • It actually did work in terms of engendering a serious AND passionate discussion on "irony" in high school English classes across the land at the time the single was released, though. So because of a song ridiculed for not getting the concept of "irony", quite a few Generation X/Y cusp children got an extraordinarily thorough education on the subject.
  • 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.
  • The lyrics to many hits Elton John and his principle lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote in the early 1970s were, like The Beatles' songs before, overanalyzed and misinterpreted to Bernie and Elton's annoyance/bemusement. The duo later satirized this by writing the deliberately nonsensical Word Salad Lyrics of "Solar Prestige A Gammon" from Elton's 1974 album Caribou. It, like "I Am The Walrus" before it, was inevitably overanalyzed and misinterpreted.
    • Of note is the misinterpretation (according to Word of God) that "Madman Across The Water" referred to President Richard Nixon, or that "Honky Chateau" was a slang for "White House". The Word Salad Lyrics of "Levon" are also picked apart regularly.

    Theater 
  • 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 William 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 
  • This amazing deconstruction of Sinistar entitled I Hunger, therefore, I live.
  • The Game Overthinker makes a habit of doing this to video games. See for example his episode Super Mario and the Sacred Feminine.
  • Chrono is a Christ figure. And that's just the beginning.
    • One of the arguments given is that the three gurus are named Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar... which is actually a Woolseyism inserted in the English version. In the original Japanese, they are named the much less impressive Gash, Mash, and Bash.
  • The MOTHER fandom has this in spades.
    • GIYGAS IS A FETUS.
  • Many of the articles on www.insertcredit.com, and even more so on its spiritual successor, www.actionbutton.net, indulge in this trope in DROVES.
  • HALO: Combat Evolved [and only Combat Evolved] is a post-modernist work of art, comparable to the Iliad, the Chief descended from Rambo AND Captain America, and... look, you just got to read it.
    • It's specifically features religious references all over the place. Heck, even the main theme is Gregorian chanting.
  • GameFAQs has plot analysis for the entire Silent Hill series that are longer than the installments' walkthroughs combined. It's possible the authors simply finagled course credits for games already played. At least it makes interesting reading for fans who can't get enough Silent Hill.
  • Most of the reviews for DOOM: Repercussions of Evil parody this trope.
    • Well, of course. John's rage against the demons stems from his father's longstanding disapproval of his career choice. You see, he sees his father as the demon. But as we all know, John's father was only looking out for his son. It was John, betrayer of his own father, who was the real demon. Of course he was a demon only until he became a zombie.
  • There are a few people who analyze the living crap out of Alice: Madness Returns, as can be expected given that it's a Darker and Edgier sequel to Alice in Wonderland.
  • It's been written, and seems possible, that The Legend of Zelda, particularly OOT, has Trinitarian/Biblical undertones in the nature of Triforce. There are three parts of the triforce, Courage (represented by Link), Power (represented by Ganondorf), and Wisdom (represented by Zelda). There are, as well, three Spiritual Stones. This may just be the Rule of Three motif, but it's always possible.
    • The Seven Sages are important as well for a number of reasons. The motif of number seven as a powerful number goes back at least as far as Mesopotamian times (Sumerian mythology/history has a group of people, the Apkallu, literally known as the Seven Sages.) and it, that is the importance of the number seven, certainly appears in the works of the Bible as well.
    • Majora's Mask, gets this due to being the Darker and Edgier direct sequel to Ocarina of Time that deals with the nature of masks and a "Groundhog Day" Loop with The End of the World as We Know It via Colony Drop of an angry anthropomorphized moon always looming.
      • Some have theorized that the different areas and dungeons represent the stages of grief that Link is going through over the loss of Navi. Or alternatively, the stages the whole world of Termina is going through in the face of their impending destruction.
      • This episode of Game Theory proposes the idea that Link died in the opening of the game and all of Termina is merely his purgatory until he accepts his death and moves on to the afterlife proper.
  • Website Sydlexia loves to create parodic overanalyses of old video games, including "Pac-Man is an allegory for the futility of life in a western capitalist society", "Duck Tales is impossible to beat and proves that reality is a lie" and "Mario commits all seven of the Seven Deadly Sins in Super Mario Bros and is one of the most amoral protagonists in video games."

    Web Comics 
  • Dinosaur 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.
  • Kris Straub's earlier comic Checkerboard Nightmare occasionally featured the arthouse critic Lance Sharps, a Scott McCloud parody. In his review of CN itself, he remarked that "At first I imagined the robot to be some sort of rape symbolism, and was quite disappointed to find it was merely a robot."
  • Parodied in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:
    "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 

    Western Animation 
  • Fillmore! has an episode where the Book Club try to steal the best books from the library for themselves. The head of said club when he is collared and sent to detention rants about how the Book Club deserve them more than others as they are the only ones who appreciate them in the right way and understand things like the subtext of Judy Blume. Ingrid Third points out, "Judy Blume doesn't have a subtext, but she is very good."
  • A serious investigation into the "deep philosophical significance" hidden between the lines of the Super Mario World cartoon episode and YouTube Poop staple "Mama Luigi".
  • Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster is at least a little about scientific skepticism, isn't it? Anybody?
    • Pretty much every version of Scooby-Doo. Whether intentional or not, the fact that every villain in Scooby Doo episodes is a normal person masquerading as a supernatural monster is very much in line with the typical skeptical mindset, which feels that a naturalistic explanation (Old Man Johnson scaring people away from the pirate treasure by dressing up as a werewolf) is much more reasonable and likely than a supernatural one (werewolves exist).
      • Talking dogs, on the other hand, are entirely reasonable.
  • The Journal of Cartoon Overanalyzations thrives on, and parodies, this trope.
  • South Park parodied this in the episode The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs, in which the boys write a book of absolutely horrible depravity with the express purpose of outclassing The Catcher in the Rye's disappointingly non-vulgar content. But lo and behold, everyone else applies this trope in droves. This can also be seen as a commentary on South Park itself, as well as critics who analyze it.
  • In 2005, the journalist Wilker de Jesus Lira wrote a monograph called "O merchandising capitalista no desenho Bob Esponja" (The capitalist merchandising in the SpongeBob cartoon) where he attempts to show that SpongeBob preaches the American capitalism that predates the lower classes, saying that "SpongeBob is the perfect capitalist employee, who doesn't rebel against his chief and accepts everything, even if he lives with a misery salary".
    • Others have argued that each character represents a deadly sin. Krabs is Greed. Plankton is Envy. Sandy is Pride. Partick is Sloth. Squidward is Wrath. Gary is Gluttony. and Spongebob is lust (in case anyone is confused, lust is not simply referring to sexual lust, but for a general act of doing what on wants, i.e. hedonism).
  • People love applying this to My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. There's been essays on everything from the political makeup of Equestria to the application of Jung's shadow archetype to the Great and Powerful Trixie to psychoanalysis of the main cast, complete with personality disorder diagnoses. This is part of a larger trend of overanalysis (often lampshaded as "Today on overanalyzing a child's cartoon..."), which includes the famous physics presentation that concluded that Applejack is made out of dark matter.
  • There is a German cartoon series called Benjamin Blümchen & Bibi Blocksberg. It's about a talking elephant and a school-age witch. That's it. Yet, the German Federal Agency for Civic Education analysed the series, and produced a frighteningly plausible report of how this apparently innocent children's series is heavily politically lopsided agitation material; strongly anti-capitalist, nihilist, and even denouncing the democratic process in favour of popularism. Thus, they classified as being harmful to a child's political and socialisational development.

    Other 
  • 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: Sigmund 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....
    • Modern psychology would go for a subversion: all such meaning comes from the person making the argument. Unconscious symbolism is simply too idiosyncratic & personal, which is also why dream analysis is pretty much gone.
  • 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.

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