"Studies of media texts, such as a 'critical reading' of a film which identified a bunch of 'meanings' the director hadn't intended and which nobody else had noticed, were clearly a waste of time."
I laugh out loud when reading this and I agree to a certain extent. I always recented the school assignments that would have us analyzing what possible meanings an author wanted to convay in a text, or a director in his or her movie. I believe there are as many movies and books as there are readers and spectators. Therefore, trying to figure out a certain meaning that readers and viewers may identify is ok, but not always when the author or director is concerned. I remember wondering in high school, what if the author didn't have an underlying meaning or message, perhaps he or she just wanted to tell an entertaining story and leave the messages and interpretation to the reader? I wonder how the author or director feels when a critical researcher finds a meaning in a text that was not at all the intention of the artist. One must remember that the spectator of a movie interprets it subjectively in his or her own way, al though culture may influence on the interpretation.
I guess my teacher's question is posed incorrectly. Have the kids do assignments on different possible meanings in the audience of a movie if you must, but not those of the director. I doubt there's always underlying meanings with everything.
This makes me think of the novel I just read, The Da Vinci code, by Dan Brown. It was a fascinating read, perhaps not due to the narrative but to its conspiracy craze. The message here is that the painter Da Vinci hid codes and messages in his art. So to pursue the questions of my ex teachers and some critical researchers: what's the meaning of the author here? To rewrite our history (i.e. that the novel is based on facts)? Or is he just telling a fascinationg story (i.e. the novel is pure fiction)? Or did he want to defame the church or raise the interest for art and cryptology? Or, did he just want to cause commotion and earn a living? Well, he certainly did that.