Sunday, May 19, 2013


Last Friday, while waiting for my fried dumplings to be delivered to my door by adorable Chinese people, I watched "Pontypool". It's a not-zombie zombie film and only has a couple moments of gore, but it's a very tightly wound little thing. It will hardly take you any time.

These opening credits may not look like much, but they do hint at what the movie is really about: infected language. Actually, I'd suggest you see it, then come back and listen to this narration. It will all fall (say that three times fast) into place.

It will all fall into place. It will all fall down. Weird how we use these terms....


What this is (besides twelve minutes too long for some), is an example of semantic satiation. The phrase "come out to show them" is repeated and looped so many times it becomes meaningless. Reich had done something similar with It's Going to Rain, but that's a more glitchy piece and doesn't really demonstrate the effect.

I'm pretty sure most of us have experienced something like this before. Sometimes, it's just gibberish.

Being in a high-pressure field, like sales, and constantly bombarded with complex and seemingly meaningless terms, it's no surprise that this poor fellow has had a stroke. We see it from his point of view, so it looks more like a shift in the world.

I am very disappointed that his wife did not have him checked out while they were at the hospital. Poor guy needs some serious help.

Or it could just be that he's in an independent movie about communication.

You may have seen this before. What happened is the poor lady had a mini-stroke on the air. The language parts of her brain just stopped working.

She's not alone. I really feel bad for that poor Russian (Romanian?) lady at the half-way mark. Note how she touches her throat when she knows something is wrong.

I will say, I respect these folks for soldiering on.

Just run through it. Just burn through it. Just keep going until you can see the road again...

If you go looking for "gibberish" on YouTube, what you find, mostly, is people talking about how to speak gibberish. This is good, I suppose, as I have trouble doing it myself. I need to find the order in things.

I'm going to post this whole thing, and be aware there are some parts that are NOT SAFE FOR WORK, but the part I'd like to draw your attention to starts at 8:30. Note the subtitles and what isn't translated. Think about how little of that scene would make sense in 1998. YouTube? Facebook? Twitter? It's all gibberish. We have words for things that didn't exist ten years ago, and that are now integral to our lives.

I know it's a few years old, but again there's a level of gibberish here. The reason this is Japanese (and with no subtitles) is to make you listen for the words you DO know. Computer, browser, On-line service, double-click...none of these are Japanese words. That's part of what makes Mina's complaint "Oh, just say it Japanese!" so funny. The gag won't work in a dub.

So, going back to Pontypool, think about the opening sequence and how he explains what words mean in French. The dub destroys the entire bit of narration (and a major plot point in the film). It is amusing to me that Mrs. French has been transformed into "Madame Anglais".

Maybe it's better to not understand.


Danno Baker said...

I have to ask if that song by that Italian singer where he approximated what English sounded like to him would qualify as gibberish in the scope of this post. I don't remember the name of the song or the name of the composer but I do remember you played it for me.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

Here's what you were thinking about Danno!

Christopher Sobieniak said...

Of course I had to think of this again, damn you college!

Danno Baker said...

Thanks Chris. It's all gibberish to me.

Dr. Mila said...

Herpaderp. The computer scene (and the lack of translation in the "Black Mirror" piece make perfect sense, if you consider naming rights.

Dr. Mila said...

Dan, this is the version I played for you.