I am absolutely not joking at all when I say that The Sixth Sense should be required as teaching material when you’re trying to get kids to learn about why color matters.

No, the red DOESN’T mean love or violence or passion, however the creators set it up so that in this particular work red means OH NO A SCARY GHOST IS HERE.

When I was in college (as a lit major) I ended up sitting down and talking to a returning student who was having trouble in one of our classes. He liked books, and he had GI bill money so he decided to be a lit major.

He was VERY confused about the “The Curtains Are Blue And It Means Something” approach to symbolism and I remember that he very seriously got out a notebook and a pen, sat down, and asked me “Okay so what to stars mean as a symbol?” 

And I was at a loss because of course I was! Stars-as-a-symbol can mean a thousand things and are heavily dependent on context. Are you reading a book about sea travel? Stars mean a map. Are you reading Maus? Stars represent faith and community and the way that the Nazis dehumanized Jewish people. Are you reading something by a romantic author who has a thing for the classics? Stars probably have something to do with heroism and destiny. Are you reading science fiction? Stars are probably just stars but if you’re reading Whipping Star by Frank Herbert they are literally people and our entire conception of stars is reexamined.

So one one the things that I think a lot of people are missing in their high school English classes is that whether the curtains are blue matters or not depends on the work.

The fact that Hamlet is wearing black is an important part of the story and the antagonist commenting on it it is almost the first thing that happens in the play.

What color dress is Lizzy wearing at the first dance in Pride & Prejudice? It doesn’t matter, the curtains are just blue.

And that’s one of those things that it takes a lot of time and a lot of exposure to different kinds of stories to learn and when you’re in high school you just don’t have that experience and your teachers are just now telling you for the first time “sometimes it matters why the curtains are blue” and I know you’re going “okay, sounds fake” but the goal is to get you to look at blue curtains and ask if they do matter, which is why they hand you books with big obvious examples of the kind of shit they’re talking about. You read A Tale of Two Cities because it’s full of binaries and line motifs and it’s the perfect thing to teach a fifteen year old how to look for a motif because there are a shitload of them. You read  The Scarlet Letter to look for color symbolism and to ferret out biblical allusions.

“The curtains are just blue” is just “yet another day has gone by and I haven’t needed algebra.” Most people aren’t going to need algebra in their day-to-day lives but it’s handy to know how to do a bit when you need it and it’s good to learn that the concept exists.

If you’re reading books just because they’re fun and you like them then that is cool and I’m glad you’re having a good time and you absolutely do not have to give a fuck about symbolism.

But I am going to laugh my ass off at you if you’re one of those folks who is like “the curtains are just blue it doesn’t matter” and then whines about why scifi and comics and cartoons and video games are all political these days. They were always political, you just couldn’t tell because the curtains were red.

(also because you were socialized to see certain things as apolitical and value neutral but if you’re going “WHY DO THEY PUT SERIOUS MORALS AND SHIT IN A KID’S SHOW, STEPHEN UNIVERSE IS FOR TEN YEAR OLDS IT’S NOT THAT DEEP, LOONEY TUNES WASN’T LIKE THIS” I’m afraid I’m going to have to refer you to all the actual war propaganda made by Disney and Warner Brothers.)