Death of the Critic

Schools of Theory

Written by: Tom Blaich

As this site moves forward and we begin to introduce more complex topics it will become useful for us to give a primer in some of the themes and ideas that we are talking about. We've done a little bit of this already, but starting this week we will be digging in a little deeper into the topics in question. Death of the Critic is, at its heart, a critical website where we try to take a deeper look at different aspects of media. From movies to games to music and more, we aim to enhance the discussion around media in order to deepen our knowledge and understanding.

Let’s talk about schools of theory. When we critique, frequently we do so through a specific lens. Works can have a lot of meaning hidden deep within them, and if we aimed to fully analyze a book, movie, or game, we could easily fill an entire book. So we use these schools of theory as a way to focus in on one particular area of a work. This helps us hone in on a specific idea and expand upon it more fully than if we had tried to do a very broad reading. By centering on one aspect, the analysis becomes more clear and focused.

Over time these schools have grown and changed. What started out as a more formal way of reading literature, where there was a distinct right and wrong, has morphed into something much more open to interpretation. There is of course plenty of scholarly disagreement on the application of theory, and this had led to the rise of the different schools that look at texts in different ways.

There is no single “right” way to read a text, and as such we will explore many different types of readings and schools here. Our goal is to better understand media, not to find the one true answer to everything. The schools that we will be discussing in the following weeks are:

New Criticism
Looks at a work based on what is written as opposed to what the author intended. The foundation of modern critical theory.

New Historicism
Looks at a piece through its historical context to help better understand the history of groups through literature.

Looks at the structure of a piece and how it changes the meaning of a work. Very relevant in discussions of video games and films.

Gender Theory
Looks at the way in which different genders interact within a piece.

Queer Theory
Looks at gender and sexual identity and their role in character interactions and the way it shapes a work.

Marxist Theory
Looks at how distinct classes interact and conflict with each other.

Post-Modernist Theory
Looks at the social landscapes of the 1900’s, especially in regards to the treatment of minority groups. Gender Theory and Queer Theory could be categorized under this.

Post-Colonial Theory
Looks at how historical colonialism affects a group, the exploitation of a less advanced group by a more advanced one.

Psychoanalytic Theory
Looks at the psychoanalytic ideas of people like Sigmund Freud to examine a work with emphasis on the conscious vs. the unconscious.

Each week, we will tackle one of these schools to examine further. We will give more background and provide examples on how they are used. Think of it as a primer in how we use critical theory. Once that is concluded, we will start to experiment with the applications of this theory in critique.  As we go forward, this list may expand based upon feedback, but we will collate all of the links here as an easy way to access them.


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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