First, if you haven’t seen or heard Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, we can’t be friends. Here’s an excerpt from the album/movie:

Okay, now we can be friends again.

As I watched The 400 Blows, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Roger Water’s rock opera which struck a common chord with Truffaut’s vision: the authoritarian regime of the classroom, the dysfunctional familial relationship, and a protagonist characterized by outbursts of destructive behavior. Pink, the main character in The Wall is closely modeled after Waters’ own past, much in the same way Truffaut interweaves portions of his own life’s story throughout 400 Blows. The author is ever-present in both narratives, and as discussed in the Lamarque reading, there’s a serious question as to how biographically we should read into the film. Certainly it could provide the impetus for a further discussion of authorial intention, but is that a valid road to walk down? Is it meaningful to say that The Wall is really just a manifestation of Rogers’ own rage towards his dysfunctional family and societal alienation? Is it right to attribute Truffaut’s vision as merely the desire to seek revenge on his own parents? Is this analysis, the comparison of a 1970’s rock opera to that of 1950’s French New Wave cinema even useful? What is to be gained by these different levels of criticism?

In some ways, it fulfills a selfish desire within myself. I love hunting for connections, digging for intertexuality as though I were Sherlock Holmes grasping at clues that would eventually unravel some great mystery, culminating on Tuesdays and Thursdays as I pace around our classroom, drawing furiously at an oversized pipe before exclaiming, “It’s elementary! One can see how these various elements of medium, authorship, and context line up quite so to produce THIS!” as I draw the Revolver of Meaning from my cloak and proceed to shoot each of you between the eyes with a Silver Bullet of Understanding.

(truth be told, I have no idea if that ever happened in a Sherlock Holmes novel. Admittedly, my Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is quite rusty)

But beyond my own selfishness, what point does this serve? Perhaps, I could argue that Waters was somehow influenced by Truffaut, that The Wall is simply 400 Blows On LSD (it’s too bad Jared’s not in this class, he might want that for his band name collection). Or perhaps I could argue that although Rogers and Truffaut never even remotely knew each other, there was a combination of societal and personal variables that aligned at just the right moment to produce thematically similar works. In fact, I could go down the list of “4 Ways into Criticism” and probably develop a new angle, a new dialogue, through each. Hell, I might even claim there are 5 or 6 ways into criticism, much in the same way there are “8 Themes to Good Design”. (IDP reference to those who have forgotten – shame on you).

But what point does all this serve? And what does it have to do with Interaction Design?

There’s a lot of rhetorical questions here, which I probably won’t answer, so please forgive me. But I will give this last one a shot, and I think it has a lot to do with this blog, perhaps even the nature of the class. For a while, I’ve been asking myself how this comes full circle – how film and literary criticism makes its way back into HCI/d and I think I’ve come up with an answer, at least for myself. I can’t guarantee it will do you any good.

That selfish desire to look for intertexuality and connections between works I mentioned? We all have that. We’ve honed and developed it over years of schooling, taught to critique literature and film at a very young age. Think about it, what’s the first thing you do after you see a movie with some friends? You form a social circle in the lobby and talk about it until everyone has used the restroom. You start critiquing it the moment you leave the theater, because it’s what we’ve been taught to do since first grade. We write reviews on Amazon, look for symbolism in House of Cards, and debate the political influences of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (oh you don’t do that? Uh, yeah umm, me neither).

Now think about your phone. Do you form a circle with your friends every time you launch a new app and discuss how it relates to the interaction of another app? How this app is really just a manifestation of the designer’s teenage angst? (Shut up, you’re design students, you don’t count. It’s our job to talk about this. I mean THEM – you know, the people who aren’t us. The, whatchamacallit… the users. Yeah, those guys). Of course we form judgments or opinions about an app, but they don’t usually go beyond the surface of “this is a piece of shit. I’m deleting it.” or “this app is fucking awesome!”. We don’t make the same connections or apply the same critique towards interactive experiences as we do with movies, television, or books. I can’t necessarily prove beyond doubt that The Wall and The 400 Blows have a thematic relationship. But it’s the first thing I thought of – my mind made the connection without me even needing to actively “think” about it, or even question its relevance. The connection was already made. And through those connections, we have a conversation. Like right now.

My goal, at least as a designer, would be to impart this power on the user. For the user to look at my design and realize, “oh, this interaction paradigm could totally hinge on his obsession with tectonic plates and their existential relationship to Hello Kitty”. (yes, I know that last part makes no sense, but neither does most criticism at first). My point is… well that. That a user shouldn’t just hold a device in the palm of their hand and accept it as-is, or consider it anything less or more than some silicon from Cupertino. Ideally, they would look at an iPhone in the same way I look at The 400 Blows and The Wall – with an instinctual desire to make connections between one and the other.

Oh, and just to bolster my previous arguments, take a look at the ending of The 400 Blows:

And the ending of The Wall (fast forward to 7:30)

Is there anything there? Who knows, but at least it got ya thinking.

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