September 22nd, 2012

breaking bad

Not just signal efficiency

In Seven Types of Ambiguity William Empson unpacks multiple meanings from eight words of Macbeth: 'The crow makes wing to the rooky wood'. In addition to the overt meaning 'I see a bird going from a to b' he says, I think rightly, that the words suggest something like

- Night is falling
- Dark things are coming together into a collective darkness
- A solitary carrion-eating thing is moving towards a community
- A lone thing is moved to lose its individuation
- Chickens are coming home to roost
- The end of my story is coming, and it isn't going to be good

I am obviously not doing his theory justice, but I think each one of those meanings is conveyed by the words. And the meanings support each other because they are different but similar. The sounds - or words on the screen - carry much more information than they normally do.

Similarly in Breaking Bad scenes are saturated so that they carry extra information. I was thinking of two 'making meth' montages in recent episodes. One is accompanied by the Monkees, which IMO carried a subtext about commercial imitation (Monkees -> Beatles) another to 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' by Tommy James and the Shondells, which carried the meta-message that it is the perfect track, after five seasons of montages. And colour in general is information-carrying in Breaking Bad, so every scene has a colour-meaning alongside the overt meaning.

But I think that's a technical issue, and you don't get the effect by simply unpacking the meaning, like it was a compression format. What I mean is that it is not a quantitative difference from normal telly or writing. It's not 'we managed to increase the carrying capacity of the signal'. And unzipping the data packet is not the - I was going to say not the right thing. It is the right thing. But mostly you do it intuitively, and non-verbally. It happens straight into your brain, without touching the sides.

In any case the effect is not quantitative. Somehow it is qualitative. I think because you get multiple meanings coming into your brain at the same time, it forces your brain to operate with multiple processes at once, which all reinforce each other. So it gives you a heightened feeling. Like a joke does, or suddenly understanding a theory. It's exhilarating.

ETA and people who say 'you think too much' or 'you are reading too much into it' are either missing out, or more likely I think they are getting the effect of the extra signal, and they like it, but it's not registering consciously. And I totally accept that as a valid response, because that's how I respond to music, compared to someone like H who understands the signal.