Why the 'Don't Think About It!' Argument is Dumb

Whenever there's a dumb new movie like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Little Fockers: Revenge of Robert De Niro, and the people who write about movies for a living point out how terrible it is, the fans of those movies respond with the same argument: "Don't analyze it! It's just supposed to be fun!"

The first problem here is that they have it backwards. It's not that we analyzed it, found it lacking, and therefore refused to enjoy it. It's that we didn't enjoy it, so we analyzed it to figure out why. Those are the basics of grown-up critical thinking. Anyone who watches a movie, doesn't like it, and doesn't try to determine what went wrong is a sucker who will never learn from his mistakes and will keep watching movies that disappoint him.

The filmmaker Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters) put it more succinctly: "I can’t tell you how many people have told me, 'When I go to the movies, I don’t want to think.'... Why wouldn’t you want to think? What does that mean? Why not just shoot yourself in the f****** head?"

But never mind that. How did we come up with the idea that some things can only be appreciated if you don't think about them? While certain pleasures may diminish if you over-think them, the notion that some entertainments thrive only if they receive no attention is ridiculous. If you completely shut off your brain and don't allow yourself to have any thoughts on whatever it is you're looking at, you're not being entertained. You're just being pacified, or possibly stimulated.

And there's nothing wrong with being pacified and/or stimulated! But looking through a kaleidoscope, or gazing at a picture of a beautiful naked person, or seeing a lovely photograph of a sunset -- all activities that would seem to require no thought in order to be appreciated -- well, none of that is entertainment, really, is it? Strictly speaking? And a movie that only works on the level of pacification and/or stimulation isn't a good movie, is it, any more than a kaleidoscope is a good movie?

So then I got to wondering. What are some things that truly require no thought to be enjoyed -- things that, indeed, might be ruined by applying any thought to them? Are there pleasures so fragile that they could be damaged merely by contemplation? I believe there are a few!

- Playing with a balloon. Either the kind you blow up with your mouth, or the kind you fill with helium.

- Using a flamethrower. Setting stuff on fire is terrific, especially if you can do it from several feet away. But pondering what happens next is a buzzkill.

- Being high on prescription painkillers.

- Petting a dog. (Or cat, I guess, if that's your thing.)

- Watching goldfish swim around.

- Taking a nap. Thinking about how much you're enjoying the nap will definitely ruin it, as it will require conscious thought, which will wake you up.

- Lemonade. You will not enjoy it as much if you think about how much sugar is in it.

- Watching YouTube clips of babies making funny noises. You could get into issues of pediatric psychology and examine why the babies make those noises, and what emotions they represent, but nobody will want to talk to you if you do.

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Eric D. Snider (website) thinks about everything and nothing.