Wednesday, September 7, 2011

#37 -- The 10 Types Of Bombast In Storytelling

"It isn't on drugs, it was just born intelligent enough to choose stupidity over seriousness like a giggling vizier with schemes to poison the kingdom's groundwater... bombast is good-simple."

Three things happened at once. Boombastic, by Shaggy, was on playing off Pandora, Sucker Punch: The Long Version, was playing on mute on the TV, and we had just finished rearranging the bookshelf. Strange to see Othello next to Watchmen next to Paradise Lost next to The Diamond Age. Then we paused Pandora, threw on Deadmau5, and kept staring at Sucker Punch from across the room. What a meaningless piece of background-movie. It's blustery and when it waxes poetic, it forgets how to speak English. That doesn't stop it from tripping over its voluminous bombast and it can't even shoot straight enough to hit that target.

1. speech too pompous for an occasion; pretentious words.
2. Obsolete. Cotton or other material used to stuff garments; padding

The dictionary treats the word like it's a dirty. . . word. It so isn'
t! Etymologically, it's cool to see that it comes from an airier / padded definition. Now, bombast can be a bad thing, particularly if a story has been relying on realism for credibility, that story is just flat out fucked and silly if it becomes too bombastic. That said, bombast is buoyant and it can come in a lot of forms.

The 10 types of bombast in storytelling are:
  1. Voluminous Bombast. This is the most common type of bombast these days. Comic books came into vogue recently with celebrated success. These are large stories with large meanings -- frequently meaningless meanings, true, but they are decedents of The Illiad and The Odyssey. It's a viewtiful sight to behold. They are shoutey and they smash shit up by purpose-driven men and women with axes, guns, swords, guns that are also swords, and batmobiles. The best example of voluminous bombast is 300, a grossly-inflated comic-retelling of an ancient-Greek story. It's beyond criticism, tempered lazily to a blunt edge with an too-big hammer, and it gets its point across by making you afraid that at any point, large humans will noise at you! This is simple and honest and is one of the oldest versions of bombast and it can never die because it's the most easily-excused. You can't hide from big sounds. Try to close it out all you want, it'll just rattle your bones with or without your permission. People love rock concerts because they make crowds vibrate at the same frequency. They all share the experience, the same feeling at once. That's why rock stars love their jobs, they hold the crowd in their hands, a powerful feeling. And that's why loud, voluminous, bombastic stories are the so loved. They are the drunken-makout of storytelling.
  2. Absurdist Bombast. If Voluminous Bombast is a story in rock-concert form, then Absurdist Bombast is its self-aware, slightly-ironic younger brother playing with the recording's RPMs and mashing them up against The Roots and Led Zeppelin's subtler, deep-tracked bass-lines. It's the same story but it's indifferent. It isn't serious and instead of bellowing with pride, it cackles, clacking coal-covered fingertips against each other, sometimes pausing momentarily to drink another pint of seawater. Have you seen Crank? Crank is absurdly bombastic. It isn't on drugs, except during the parts where Jason Statham does drugs ("Dis is the Haitian shit! It is made of Plant Shit!"), it was just born intelligent enough to choose stupidity over seriousness like a giggling vizier with schemes to poison the kingdom's groundwater. It is a simple puzzle, sure, oftentimes without an actual solution or a reason, and absurdism wouldn't want it any other way.
  3. Bombastia Nostalgia. Recent-past historical-fiction. Americans are suckers for nostalgia and tradition and the people that were ballsy enough to bend and break those traditions back when they were considered law. The Bombastia Nostalgia is glamor, outdated, which we know we shouldn't revive, an ancient, beautiful, poetic society felled long ago by hubris and crushing, intimate, lives that remain be dead. It's dreams and photographs of run-on emotions. It's Mad Men. Big cars, blurred filmstrips, willful ignorance and elegant self-destruction. There's societal fervor, and most of all, there's pride. It's a creased-edged version of the present that we "outgrew," armed with the advances in civilization (or silent-regression, depending on who you ask), and yet we wouldn't mind going back to it. It's quieter than Voluminous Bombast, but not as soft as Regretful Bombast, which we'll talk about in a moment.
  4. Closed Bombast. A close relative of Bombastia Nostalgia, separating itself because it isn't as focused on society, no, it's more individual. It's reserved, it's cagey -- it's the most masculine bombast. It always walks; until it has to sprint. While sprinting, it can capably load a gun, some kind of old bolt-action rifle. Professionalism and manliness, this is a heart attack locked and loaded. Think of Michael Mann and Christopher Nolan's movies. The Prestige, Inception, Heat, and Collateral are all movies about very ordered men that work efficiently until they allow emotions to get the best of them. Then things crumble. That's when they are forced to accelerate from low-grade gasoline to whatever they used to put in the space shuttle. Shit blows up and innocents we secretly loved die. When Closed Bombast is pushed, it pushes back and it pushes back angry!
  5. Regretful Bombast. One way you could go after being pushed would be to suffer under the weight of the emotions let loose. Instead of fighting back, the emotional, regretful event causes the person to sink into melancholy. Now, the genie is out of the bottle, and loaded with way, way, way too much self-pity, the characters have to face it. Garden State comes to mind, which is a mediocre movie that's terribly in love with its own regret. It's soft, it wants to be alone. It shouldn't be, but it wants to be. There's a lot of mucky emotion in the past that, regretfully, must be dealt with. It isn't romantic by default, it wants to be if it can earn it, and it can indeed, just think of the part when they get drunk in the empty mansion and Natalie Portman does that goofy 4-second tap dance in front of the fire. We were thinking of mentioning The Fountain but its characters are actually struggling to keep things steady while fighting a losing battle. They're fighting but they're realistic and they'd rather not have to.
  6. Ecstatic Bombast. These are the characters that are so glad that they get to fight. For lack of a better explanation, this is Michael Bay, particularly Bad Boys II, Bay's truest movie. But why is it so bombastic? Because, bitch! Ecstatic Bombast would never lie to you. We're here with our gleeful loudness not because we're proud or honorable like Voluminous Bombast, but because there's no greater feeling than to watch the fragments of a crumbling earth tornado around us. The most villainous form of bombast, Ecstatic Bombast shows no regret, no emotion, it is a purely-destructive force. It's a nice thing to look at once in a while, but baby, you wouldn't want to live there.
  7. Bombast Immaterial. The other type of bombast whose meaning is difficult to ascertain, Bombast Immaterial is wandering, inaccessible, and often impenetrable. It has meaning, it's just going to take a to figure out, it might not be fun to figure out, it might not be a good answer, and you might go crazy in your attempt. It's Paradise Lost. It's James Joyce. It's Neon Genesis Evangelion. Yes, we did just mention those last two in the same breath, and we promise never to do so again. One is the height of artistic deconstruction and the other is about metaphysical alien robots, but both are as stubborn as steel coconuts. Bombast Immaterial is an amorphous thing and honestly, Neon Genesis, trust us, isn't worth figuring out, despite it's impenetrable mind-fucking weirdness. That's the problem, for all the insanity and burned-brained cells Bombast Immaterial can produce in you, it might end up being stupid, maybe even stupider than you. James Joyce is not stupid, his work is Immaterial Bombast that must be reassembled to understand, and when you do, you'll be able to see the difference between meaningful bombast and bullshit, which is what Neon Genesis is. You might not understand Bombast Immaterial the first time around, so you'll immediately assume it's smart, which works to its benefit if its indeed stupid, like Donnie Darko. It is the only type of bombast that can be benefit endlessly from its psycho-epic frame, expending towards the stars, like Black Swan, or into a giant hot mess, like Australia.
  8. Hindsight Bombast. Unique to historical fiction, this is a high-volume bombast that makes you hate yourself, especially if you're white. Acceptance of "that's how things were" tragedy in any historical fiction/non-fiction, accuracy is less important than you'd think. It's older than Bombastia Nostalgia because it's more imaginary and because everybody that was alive back then is now dead. It strives to teach lessons and comfort you in the present, presenting humanity's dirtiness and self-contempt rather than glamorizing ancient people's pride and heroics. Heroics are important in Hindsight Bombast but those people are like the samurai in Seven Samurai, banished for who they are after doing good. Romanticization isn't the point of Hindsight Bombast, even if there is a romance in the story.
  9. Smooth Bombast. It's swagger. It is somehow softer, dark, pulpy, and hyper-real. Basically Indiana Jones, or Harrison Ford in general. Zidane (the good one, not the Frenchman, fuck no) has got the Smooth Bombast. There's no way it could be that inhuman and loaded with fake charm, but it is! It so is! Smooth Bombast is smooth like water-packed sand is smooth. It can go from fine to grungy in a singular spectacular moment and it wouldn't even notice it's bleeding until you inform it of the bullet-hole gusher straight through its upper thigh. Smooth Bombast outruns the bad guys in a stolen Aston Martin and crashes it with (somewhat begrudging, unspoken) indifference. Smooth Bombast also steals Jeeps -- and gets in fights with Nepalese gangsters because it's loud with faulty braggadocio. Smooth Bombast always wants to do the right thing, even if it's the stupid thing.
  10. Bombast Familia. This is the tightest, most painful, most personal, most bottled, most highly-pressurized bombast. Part of us wanted to call it Casked Bombast, but we kept coming back to the painful, drunken haze that sets in from too much gin and Scotch deep into the night -- the amount of consumption (no, not that kind of consumption (or maybe it is, now that we think of it (it isn't (SATINE!!!)))) you'd only let your family see. Armed to the teeth with that legally-dead B.A.C., all that bombastic pontification comes out after years contained and alone like the Tyrones in Long Day's Journey Into Night or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or almost anything by Arthur Miller. The part in The Crucible when John Proctor has to choose whether to live or to kill his family's name by falsely confessing to witchcraft, that is the very definition of gigantic, appropriate Bombast Familia.
By definition, bombast is unnecessary -- we deny this reality and substitute our own. Big emotions are great entertainment. They bring down kings and cats alike and they are usually easy to understand. Bombast is good-simple.

-- Ghost Little and Doberman
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

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