I was up all night grinding through a paper on The Incredibles for my film studies class. Why, you may ask, would writing about such a fun movie feel like hours and hours of pulling teeth? Because instead of any of the topics I would have liked to have written about (discussing the dynamics of discourse, power, and “power” within the film, or tracking the significance of Holly Hunter’s shifting accent), I was given the lame-ass task of performing a pair of “Marxist and psychoanalytic readings” of the film. Now there are a lot of complaints about Marx and Freud out there, and most of them are bogus. Marxism isn’t a dead concept just because the Soviet Union fell, and psychoanalysis isn’t moot just because it doesn’t take neurological data into account. They’re both rich, complex theoretical traditions that have had massive impact on the way we think today, both inside and outside academia.

My complaint about Marxism and psychoanalysis? They’re total downers, dude. No matter what paths you take through these theories — historical materialism, the Mirror Stage, apparatus theory, the Gaze — they all end up leading to an Althusserian endgame in which the subject is trapped within an invisible and inescapable ideological apparatus that seems to be eternal and unchanging, despite every theorist’s claim that they’re a well-behaved, non-essentializing historicist. In Althusser’s world (and by association, the worlds of Metz, Mulvey, and even Foucault to a degree), all but the most radically avant-garde (read: unwatchable) films provide little more than narcotic, bourgeois, sadistic pleasure to their viewers while reinforcing the power of the patriarchal state.

Honestly: do I have to resort to watching Gene Shalit to find an optimistic view of mainstream film?