Reading Through Different Lenses: Critical Reading

by Brian H. McLelland

As one develops advanced critical reading skills over a period of time with practice, critical reading can be a lot more accessible than you might realize. Text analysis shouldn’t cause you to feel perplexed or intimidated. At its essence, critical reading is simply about analyzing text for meanings that go beyond just the words on the page; more importantly, it allows one to expand the meaning and obtain a better understanding of the literature. WorldWarZ-Poster

For example, let’s critically examine a movie poster for the recent film, World War Z.  What you should do first is to pose the the following question: What do I see? Personally, my response is “Zombies are trying to reach a helicopter.” That’s a good start, but let’s go further. You, as the viewer, do not know they’re zombies. You may know they are zombies because of the film itself or the film trailer, but those are outside sources. If we consider that they may not be zombies, we have to consider what else they could be. They’re quite obviously people, but what kind of people are they? These questions are the first step to critically reading and analyzing a text, in this case a poster, beyond its superficial components. (In the Liberal Arts disciplines, we call these methods of reading “lenses.” To read a text differently, you might change lenses, which results in the themes, motifs, and meaning of the text being changed  or varying unexpectedly.)

With the ‘zombie’ notion removed, we’re left with the horde and the helicopter. Well, it’s possible that the bodies clamoring over each other could represent the Occupy Movement, or the 99%, while the helicopter may be representing the 1% or upward mobility. No longer are the bodies struggling to reach the helicopter as detestable as when we initially perceived them to be zombies. As a result of changing the lense, we can possibly identify with the hopes, ambitions, and efforts of that faceless mass and the tenacity with which it fights. This is what would be referred to as a Marxist lens since it’s specifically examining the poster as a struggle between class and/or socio-economic status.

Look again at the poster, we can’t determine the race or ethnicity of those individuals. What if those bodies all belong to a particular ethnic group? Then this poster might highlight immigration struggles with the helicopter representing freedom, mobility, and the chance at a better life. This would be reading it through a Critical Race Theory lens.

All of the readings that we will encouter in our lifetime can take on various meanings and interpretations. Any social identifier can be moved among the participants to gain a deeper meaning of the text.

Critical reading can be utilized for any media or discpline such as film, television, videogames, novels. The skill of critical reading is something that you will continually utilize throughout any academic discipline you engage in. You can refine this skill by simply playing a “What if?” scenario while viewing or interpreting these various types of media. Another type of lense or question to pose is “what if all these characters are actually dead?” Try to imagine what evidence you would muster to make that case. Perhaps one character doesn’t interact with anyone other than our book/film/show’s protagonist; is that character alive? Do they even really exist? This is the same skill that you’ll apply to critically reading a text.

Critical reading means gathering all of your prior knowledge and understanding onto a text. Your own personal experiences allow you to expound on everything you see, read, and think. This skill will allow you to examine and interpret all text that you read, whether from a newspaper article, Facebook updates, or job postings. What information is being conveyed? Who is it aimed at? What would motivate the author to write this? By honing your critical reading skills, you are preparing yourself to become a critical thinker, an individual who makes informed decisions.

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