What does Snakes on a Plane have to say about western civilisation?

This style is familiar:

Snakes on a Plane comments on western society’s hypocritical view of sexuality, and its repression of said sexuality through the symbolic use of snakes representing western society.

The most obvious example of sexuality in SoaP is the actual sex scene. This is an important facet of the movie, because the people having sex become the first victim of the snakes. This simple first act already lays out the snake’s hatred for sex. Western society’s (the snake’s) disdain for sexuality becomes more and more obvious as the specific targets of the snakes takes focus during the movie. While the background attacks are given no great importance, the targets that deal with sexuality are. The breast, the genitals, the tongue, the buttocks, and even the eye are all popular signs of sexuality in today’s society. While the eye, at first glance, may seem a-sexual, in fact the eye can be used as a primary tool of sexuality. When one person sees another of the opposite sex, they subconsciously (and sometimes very consciously) observe their figure to determine their potential virility. Even this kind of unconscious sexuality can get you killed in today’s society. Snakebites on the neck also appear as a motif repeated throughout Snakes on a Plane. While this might seem normal, in fact, it is a subtle nod towards a lover gently kissing his companion’s neck. In all these attacks, the bites kill or injure. This shows western society’s hatred for any open sign of sexuality.

I’ve no idea whether this is serious, but it feels like a school essay and is a great example of how to get good grades in the humanities 🙂 I used to produce this kind of thing all the time in my English Lit. classes, which seem stranger the older I get. As I remember it, there was a sure-fire way to succeed in English Lit.:

  1. Read something ‘meaningful’. Let’s say it’s ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ by Fay Weldon.
  2. Find vaguely related concept in other literature, preferably classic. Fay Weldon’s main character has similarities to Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, for example.
  3. Extrapolate wildly. The author’s clever use of water in this scene symbolises the cleaning of sin…The tragic ending is an ironic juxtaposition…etc.

It doesn’t mean anything, but examiners love that stuff. What you must never do is criticise the text. I found the feminist theme in She-Devil to be muddled and nonsensical: irony heaped upon ambiguous metaphor leading to nothing much. I had problems with the classics, too: Hamlet’s age changes from late-teens to early-thirties as the play, which takes place over a few months, progresses. Clever metaphor for maturing, blah blah, but this is a stage production, not a novel, and I never understood how this could work in the theatre with a real actor. My teacher wasn’t too bad and I could get away with asking this kind of question in class (although I never did about Hamlet – it’s entirely possible there’s a valid answer there), but it was always clear that in coursework or exams I was to stick to doctrine and gush over the language, draw inferences, make up analogies, etc.

Fair enough, but as a result I lost interest in the subject. I came out with a good grade but no desire to study it further. I guess I was starting to realise that literary criticism is entirely subjective, which wasn’t ever suggested by the A-Level. There really were right and wrong answers, which is just silly. The subject put me off reading anything ‘high-brow’ for years, as if the snobby attitudes were somehow the fault of the texts.

It’s possible that hindsight is cruel. There may well have been teachers with a genuine love of literature who simply wanted to share this with their students. Maybe the examiners would have reacted favourably to questions – maybe I just gamed the system. But it’s hard to see the concept of examining people on the meaning of literature as anything but bizarre. Really, you need only make any vaguely cogent statement in grammatically correct fashion to get full marks – how can two viewpoints be compared objectively? I sometimes wonder whether the subject makes more sense at university-level, but not for long.

This isn’t meant to criticise the SoaP essay, which I admire greatly. I don’t think I’d ever have come up with that analogy.