Call For Comments: On Multiple Readings and Variant Interpretations

Poster for 101 Dalmatians

From Mav: I was having an interesting conversation with friend-of-the-show Andrew Darowski the other day about the idea of multiple readings. For those who don’t know, in addition to the Protagonist Podcast, Andrew is host of a podcast called Disney Animation Minute Essentials where he and his wife Kestra step through classic Disney films one minute at a time. it is a ridiculously Herculean effort that I can’t imagine doing myself. Anyway, Andrew and Kestra are currently working on the film 101 Dalmatians and there’s a particular scene in the film that has received some criticism for being racist. Of course, as is often the case with these things, there are some others who argue that the scene is not racist. While often the whole racist vs. not racist argument is dumb (and usually the answer is very clearly “racist”) in the case of the 101 Dalmatians, I think it’s more complicated and both sides have a legitimate point. Sometimes a text can have multiple readings. In fact, almost always, a text can have multiple readings. Really, the whole point of literary studies is comparing different readings of the same text.

Still from 101 Dalmatians showing the dogs covered in soot

For those unfamiliar with the 101 Dalmatians scene, basically the dogs are trying to escape from the evil Cruella’s crutches. They end up covering their fur in soot and mud, and so they look like black Labradors instead of Dalmatians and they escape. Some people have argued that this has a problematic blackface aspect to it… I think there’s a lot of complex nuance in the scene. Andrew has also suggested that the scene could as easily be read as an allegory for the Underground Railroad or Holocaust escapes. There’s a whole history of “passing” narratives that I also think could be allegorically read in here. And of course you COULD also look at it from the perspective of blackface. The point is, the whole thing is super complicated. But we love complicated here!

Obviously, it’s not JUST 101 Dalmatians where this is an issue. There can be complicated readings of pretty much any text. When we were talking, Andrew mentioned several others saying:

“There’s also X-men being read as racial allegory and lgbtq allegory and any other minority reading a person wants to use. And I’ve always loved that Invasion of the Body Snatchers gets read as critical of homogeneity through communism or homogeneity through McCarthyism. A lot of people want to talk about a reading of a text like there’s only one, or there’s a right one, or an intended one, and that’s not an ideal way to approach cultural discussion. Ironically, [my brother] John helped me see that with 101 Dalmatians but I remember him stubbornly arguing with my other siblings about whether Harry Potter’s resurrection in the last book was a Phoenix motif or Christ motif. Neither one is a wrong reading (probably)”

Still from s1e6 of Loki

Like I said it’s a big part of the fun of literary criticism. And in fact, it’s a big part of why I listen to so many podcasts. For instance, last week was the season finale of Loki. I actually hated the final episode… a lot actually… I felt quite let down by it. In fact, my review of it was “s1e6 of Loki might have been my least favorite episode of all of MCU TV (Netflix, ABC, Freeform, Hulu inclusive). Yes, including Iron Fist. No, it does not include Inhumans. I’m not crazy.” BUT, I also listened to several podcasts that reviewed it positively this week. Including those of our friends at Church of the Geek and There Was An Idea who all loved it. And while I don’t quite agree with either show on the episode, I loved listening to their takes on it. In fact, I’d argue that TK’s take on the episode on There was an Idea actually makes me glad that the episode WASN’T something I enjoyed because I enjoyed her positive critique so much more. Her take made it worth me watching something I didn’t much like. I still disagree with her. But again, that’s kind of the fun of it.

poster from Avengers: Infinity War

And this can work anywhere. I’m sure lots of people don’t agree with my reasonings for loving Riverdale of Fast & Furious, but it’s (hopefully) at least fun and educational to listen to me (and everyone else) talk about them. That really is what this show is. I love when a single text can be look at with a Marxist lens. I love when someone breaks down a text and offers a queer reading of something that is typically thought of as heavily heteronormative. I think it’s fascinating when the same movie, book, TV show, or comic can speak to a staunch conservative misogynist racist or a socialist lesbian black feminist. I absolutely positively LOVE theological readings of pop culture texts, and I am a godless heathen! Ted Cruz legit thinks that Avengers: Infinity War is all about how the evil democrats want to destroy half the universe. He’s wrong… but I’m absolutely fascinated by trying to figure out how the hell he got there!

SOOOO… we’re going to do an episode on it! No, not on Ted Cruz. We want to know what you think about how people interpret the things they read to get to different ideas. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

1 Comment and 4 Webmentions for “Call For Comments: On Multiple Readings and Variant Interpretations”

  1. Those are some harsh words on the Loki finale and, to your point, that makes me SO EXCITED to talk to you about it! And, of course, very excited to listen to this episode of the podcast!

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