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Connect the Pop
Inside Connect the Pop

Lead With Your Feelings: A Counterintuitive Approach to Critical Thinking?

It occurs to me with some abruptness that I’ve been doing quite a poor job here the last few months… well, at least in one key respect.

Ever notice the little rationale for this blog over on the right side there? You know, the part that says

Is it really possible to be a fan and practice critical literacy? “Connect the Pop” shows that it’s not only possible, but also vital, necessary… even fun.

Well, that word “vital” may represent an overstatement, I realize: many fans, just like many non-fans, don’t exercise critical thinking around pop culture, and it hardly kills them.

But the spirit behind the thought is still worth exploring (in my case, championing).  It was born from the belief that I could demonstrate the mutually beneficial co-existence of a fannish sensibility and critical thinking by example. If I just kept presenting a sufficient number of fun topics, whether Sherlock Holmes or The Avengers, and overlaid them with discussions of marketing, gender representation, and so on, the connection would be clear… right?

I’m not sure that it is, though. And that could be because I’ve never said something like this explicitly:  young people should be informed that critical thinking is not a cerebral-heavy, analysis-first, egghead-y approach that, yes, can focus on their favorite pop culture texts but drains the joy out of them in the process. In short, critical thinking is not innately better suited to humorless grad students than, say, your typically expressive, bursting-with-emotions middle graders.

Why am I so sure of this? Because—and you’ll forgive the self-centeredness of what follows, I hope—every time I approach a new text I pay attention to my feelings first. They lead the process, providing the groundwork for any possible insight well before any insight actually shows up. They indicate the the things worth paying attention to, kind of like combing a beach with a metal detector: you still have some digging to do, and what you uncover might just turn out to be a piece of trash, but it’s also the only way to uncover any hidden treasure.

So with this in mind, here’s a “Self-Questioning Checklist” that you should feel free to adapt and distribute.

  • Why do I want to read this particular book, play this particular video game or watch this particular music video, etc.? What feelings do I expect to get from it?
  • How do I feel at any given moment while reading/watching/etc.? Quick, I better jot that down—either with a sticky note in the pages of the book, or after hitting the pause button, or taking notes in the dark. Whatever it takes.
  • When I reflect on what I felt during that passage/moment, how does that feeling connect with everything else I felt during the experience? How did that feeling contrast with, or build upon, the other emotions that the text triggered? Is there a structure or pattern that I can detect from the ebb and flow of various emotions?
  • What formal techniques of the medium made me feel the way I did? For example, was the language employed especially creepy or lyrical? Was it the use of striking color in a comic? The use of a musical score in a TV show or movie?
  • What narrative techniques had already predisposed me to feeling the way I did? For example, were characters already established for me to find likable or attractive (or the opposite) so that what happens to them later would have a predictable emotional effect on me? Alternately, were there certain genre elements that set me up to feel the way I did, pushed me in specific direction?

…okay. so does this help at all? Anything you would add? Let me know, please, either here or on Twitter.

The end result of students following a process like the one above could very well be a highly idiosyncratic and colorful response to text and a highly specific and well-supported one. Sure, that may come across as a kind of watered-down version of Pauline Kael… but personally, that’s always worked for me.

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About Peter Gutierrez