about me

recent thought / activity




    See the full list at LibraryThing




    provoking meaning (part two): excess information

    Okay, so I'm following up on my last post here, which dealt with Henry Jenkins' assertion that (let's recap): "To be marketable ... new cultural works will have to provoke and reward meaning production through elaborate back stories, unresolved enigmas, excess information, and extratextual expansions of the program universe."

    There's four traits in that sentence: eventually, I'd like to give sustained thought to all four, but for today I want to focus in on that "excess information" one.

    Let's start with a given: fandom is a culture that processes information pretty swiftly and intensely (especially now that it has the ability to very closely watch / rewatch / analyze television episodes in DVD or media-file formats, and the ability to share the results of this "close viewing" via the Internet). It would stand to reason, then, that giving this culture extra information to process, then, is beneficial: there's a certain kind of pleasure that can be taken from, say, tracking down all the occurences of the "Lost numbers."

    And yet... there's a problem here. There's a certain point at which this kind of self-referencing can begin to snarl up the narrative. If the information we're talking about ends up directly referenced and heavily weighted in the show (in the case of Lost, this process begins in Episode 18, "Numbers"), then it can't truly be said to be "excess," as Jenkins would have it: it becomes one of the mysteries that the show then has a duty to solve.

    Compare this, for argument's sake, against the Peter Greenaway film Drowning By Numbers (1988). In this film—I'll just quote the Wikipedia entry—"the numbers one to one hundred appear in order, sometimes seen in the background, sometimes spoken by the characters." If you know this, it's fun to watch the film with this in mind, but it functions strictly on a formal layer: the characters never comment on it, it never attains the status of mystery (or even a diegetic occurence, for that matter).

    If Lost were taking that sort of approach with the occurrence and re-occurence of the numbers, it might function as a fun sort of game (whether that's appropriate for Lost's supernatural-adventure genre is another question entirely). But blowing it up into high significance (having Hurley repeatedly exclaim "The numbers are bad!" in the first season's finale, for instance) drives up the interest in having a narrative explanation for what may be functioning as a formal device. Uh oh. This is a situation, I would argue, that is actually not possible to resolve in a way that will provide audience satisfaction, and the Lost producers seem content to throw it into the heap of things "explained" by the all-purpose "fate" excuse.

    This problem was already beginning to reveal its intractability over a year ago, when producer Damon Lindelof said, w/r/t the question of the numbers: "I think that that question will never, ever be answered. I couldn't possibly imagine [how we would answer that question]. We will see more ramifications of the numbers and more usage of the numbers, but it boggles my mind when people ask me, 'What do the numbers mean?'"

    Hey, man, don't blame us: you're the ones who raised the question in the first place.

    (Postscript: I'm worrying that Heroes is going to make this exact same mistake with occurrences of their recurring symbol, referenced now as a diegetic occurence a couple of times. It appears in some places that can be explained without having to rely on "fate" or "synchronicity" as a pattern-making force, and other places where it can't. (They may be building themselves an "out" by the fact that the symbol itself references actions of God made manifest in the world, although it would be a touch unusual for a show that's been at least partially Eastern-focused to shift to an explicitly [?] Judeo-Christian orientation. But this is feeling like too much digression, and so I'll stop here.))

    Labels: , , , ,


    Wednesday, January 24, 2007
    10:34 AM


    Comments: Post a Comment



    2011 archive >>

    2010 >>

    2009 >>

    2008 >>

    2007 >>

    2006 >>

    2005 >>

    2004 >>

    2003 >>

    2002 >>

    rss (xml)