In his essay collection, Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman discusses advertising strategy in a Mad Men world. He argues that we as viewers grasp the perfection of Don Draper's Kodak speech in the first season because we understand that advertising is not selling us a product, but rather our feelings about a product. That may not be something that people understood fifty years ago, but we buy something because we understand what intangibles a brand is selling and we want to be associated with that brand (his actual example in the book is Obama and Pepsi). I argue that we don't look for not-so-hidden themes in advertising, but in everything we watch. Maybe it's the advertising that conditioned us to do this, maybe it's the other way around, but it's why people immediately jumped at Avatar and its anti-imperialism message. Yes, that notion could not have been any more clear in that movie, but neither could the Lost Cause mythology have been any more clear in Gone With The Wind and it's only recently that I hear people discussing that.
We look for the hidden meaning in things that we watch and those who make what we watch know it. Again, this is most clear in advertising because it is usually something we are watching for free and they try to provide impetus for us to act, but it is of course true in movies or television. Cameron wanted us to think about the War in Iraq when he made Avatar, just like Lucas did in the Star Wars prequels. Similarly, a movie can be made devoid of hidden meaning so that viewers are encouraged to enjoy it only at face value (prime example: Gladiator). Movie makers have been doing this for a long time, to be sure, but the major discourse of these themes had been the purview of critics until blogs democratized that flow of thought. People like to deconstruct what they watch and so it is no coincidence when a movie tries to reveal a theme to make itself more interesting than it may be at face value. Enter: X-Men: First Class.
A mild spoiler warning for what comes after the jump.