By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn February 10, 2011 at 1:22AM
There's a difference between thinking long and hard about something and only thinking that you're thinking long and hard about something; therein lies the brilliance of the Film School Thesis Generator, a vastly amusing work of interactive satire that popped on the web a few weeks back. Matt Singer offers an eloquent rundown of its appeal.
While not exactly an affront to academic thinking, by spitting out jargon-heavy analytical nonsense about whatever movie a user types into it, the Film School Thesis engine shows the ease with which anyone can create the illusion of big ideas under the auspices of big words. The brainchild of designer and writer Mike Lacher, it offers the ideal outlet for film nerd procrastination (or maybe the worst one). Lacher answered some questions via e-mail about his inspiration for the device.
How did you come up with the idea for this thing?
I majored in film in college, and I wrote scores of papers about semiotics, gender politics, dominant notions of whiteness, and whatnot. Looking back on four years of papers, I realized that almost every thesis statement I wrote was like a bingo cage where I took the name of a movie and several film theory jargon terms, and then expounded upon it for five-to-twenty pages. So I thought it would be entertaining to create an application that would do exactly that.
Above: Mike Lacher, the generator of the Film School Thesis Generator.
Although part of the joke is the jargon, I was surprised to see that it still managed to make some vaguely accurate assumptions...or at least it sounds that way, some of the time.
Sadly, there is no complex algorithm. It just sticks together a movie, a verb, and a couple jargon objects together at random. I love it when people think there's some kind of attempted intelligence behind it, and especially when they think they've found a bug. I've gotten outraged emails from people who can't believe that it said such weighty things about "Step Up 3D." This sort of thing makes me hope that some people are using it in earnest.
Are you opposed to academic film studies? Or are you just mocking a version of it taken to the extreme?
I paid way too much money and spent way too much time writing papers about notions of suburban containment in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the deep, geopolitical significance of a guy kicking a turtle in "The Wind Will Carry Us" to wholly oppose film studies. I don't deny that it's a legit field, we should give some amount of thought to entertainments that we spend huge amounts of time and money on every year, but I always felt like film studies can get a little carried away. I remember reading an article about action movies in a film journal which ended with the breathless, excited, and self-congratulatory conclusion that teenage boys putting their feet on the seats in front of them during "Die Hard" are essentially fantasizing about being fellated by Bruce Willis as John McClane. I think there comes a certain point where you have to ask yourself if what you're seeing is really an amazing confluence of Freudian notions of the human mind filtered through the lens of Plato's cave, or just some fourteen year-olds putting their sneakers on the back of a chair.
Can you see what films people have been searching for? If so, which titles come up most frequently?
Oh man, I wish. I didn't build it to have any sort of database, so it doesn't remember anything. That would be a terrific zeitgeist.
How would you feel if film studies students started actually using the engine to generate real thesis topics? Is this the downfall of civilization as we know it?
Absolutely. Without film students writing accurate analyses of motion pictures, what will keep the world spinning upon its axis? What happens when cogent unpackings of jump cuts in "In The Mood For Love" run dry and instead we must feast upon nonsensical discussions of constructivism and the myth of the auteur in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"? Seas will boil. Locusts will swarm. No one will know why "Boudu Saved From Drowning" is a complex metaphor that symbolizes the moral conundrums of inter-war France.