What piece of art or pop culture first got you thinking critically?

I always enjoy reading and participating the AV Club’s Friday Q&As.  (I’m not going to tell you my username there, but I will tell you that, to quote The Simpsons, it’s “a name that’s witty at first, but that seems less funny each time you hear it.”)  They usually ask the staff about which work of art or piece of pop culture caused a particular reaction in someone or made them consider something for the first time.  A couple of weeks ago, for example, the question was on which work of art made them reconsider religion (or consider it in a context outside the one they were raised) for the first time, which led to some nice examples and discussion from both writers and commenters (on another note, the AV Club’s commenters are among the most thoughtful bunch I’ve found on the Internet).

Anyway, I had an idea for a question I liked and I wanted to write about it, so here’s my question: What was the first work of art or piece of pop culture that got you thinking critically about it outside what was presented to you at on the surface?  It might be a difficult question to answer, because I wouldn’t be surprised that it’s a tough thing to remember, but if you’re like me, there is a moment that sticks with you at some point in your life.

I can still remember mine– the work, the episode, the specific moment. It was The Simpsons episode “Cape Feare”. It’s a Sideshow Bob episode, and at his parole hearing, he’s asked if he poses any threat to Bart Simpson (who’s now put him away twice, for framing Krusty for armed robbery and for attempting to murder his Aunt Selma). Bob, of course, denies it, after which he’s asked about the tattoo that takes up almost his entire torso:

When asked to explain it, Bob comes up with an absurd, yet lovely story: It’s German for “The Bart, The”. Which makes no sense, but he’s so charming and erudite, the parole board coos at it. And then one board member says, “No one who speaks German can be a bad man!”

A great line that gets obvious laughs now, but to 12-year-old me, it was a moment where I realized “Wait, everyone knows about Hitler… oh, I get it!” Then I realized that The Simpsons was trying to get me to think about the joke. It wasn’t just the first time I thought about a joke beyond its surface, it was also a moment where I realized that was the point. It opened up a whole new world of of possibilities in art and how my mind could process it. It wasn’t just a good joke, it was the first step to a new level of self-awareness. (Okay, maybe that’s a little overblown, but remember, this is 12-year-old me– something like this would have been a revelation, especially since I was largely otherwise surrounded by a culture that discouraged critical thinking.)

Do you have a similar experience? What was the first time a work of art struck you in a similar fashion? How did you react?


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