I love thinking about society and culture. There’s nothing I won’t analyse and discuss, from the Hunger Games to the state of modern education. Thinking in itself is a pleasure. But I’ve recently realised that this sort of analysis can work in two different ways, and mixing them up can cause problems. So today’s the flip-side of my last blog post – today’s all about thinking.

My friend John recently introduced me to the joys of Overthinking It, the website that ‘subjects the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve’. I love their tongue in cheek analysis of such apparently shallow subjects as Taylor Swift’s 22. This is thinking as play, kicking ideas around to see what happens. Insincere fun.

Then there’s the sincere analysis. The most obvious example around culture is the way that feminist writers discuss the impact of, for example, a Disney doll. But this also covers topics such as the themes and characters in Game of Thrones. It can just be academic, but it can be about issues with real social impact.

The line between the two is often blurred. Cracked’s After Hours videos, my favourite examples of this kind of thinking, deliberately veer back and forth between plausible analysis and absurdity. This makes the absurd even more entertaining, and the critical analysis more accessible. But in doing so it can make significant points seem absurd and open valid arguments to attack as just ‘overthinking it’.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t mix up the two – far from it. But next time a piece of analysis seems to stretch the bounds of plausibility, think to yourself – is this sincere, playful, or both? Can just part of it matter?

  1. John Moley says:

    I’m glad you’re enjoying Overthinking It. 🙂
    Personally, I get a bit uncomfortable if someone says that any course of intelligent discussion or reasoned argument is merely frivolous or without value. I’m a great believer in “intermediate impossibles” as described by Edward de Bono. I don’t have a copy to lend to you, but this review does a decent job of summarising key concepts:

    • Looks like an interesting one from de Bono. I find his sideways approaches to thinking thought-provoking and sometimes useful – I’ve seen the thinking hats successfully applied. The idea of not just saying yes or no also has a role in improvisational theatre:

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