Recently I was watching the iconic movie: The Shining. And while, I will not specifically talk about the plot or its meaning, I’d like to observe one specific scene. It is where the wife is taking a closer look at Jack’s book, and notices something scary. The line “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” is repeated for what seems like hundreds of pages of text. This scene is probably one out of a handful of scenes that sticks like something unpleasant. Stanley Kubrick was notorious for making sure scenes were perfect, even if it took a hundred or more takes. I think that in a sense Kubrick is channeling his obsessiveness through Jack and onto the physical paper. And in the movie we see Jack devolve into a compulsive murderer with needs to silence his son and wife. The use of repetitive text put this transition into a physical format even Kubrick’s audience could understand. The audience is left to wonder in disbelief what kind of person repeatedly types something over and over again. The scene has such an astounding effect that I was left in the same mental state the wife was in when discovering the papers. But I think that this repetitive use of words isn’t just a trick that Kubrick has utilized, but it has been used quite effectively throughout pop culture.
While Kubrick allows the repetitiveness to emphasize the extent of his character’s crazed mental state, we find that other forms of film have taken an opposite approach. In the Simpsons, the use of this repetitive text is used for a comical effect. Bart writing on the chalkboard has been a staple to the franchise and is used in every episode in the intro. But everyone knows this, and what is important is how crucial the board is to Bart’s character. From the beginning the audience understands that Bart is writing repeated sentences because he’s being punished by presumably his teacher. And in what seems like a 2-3 second instance, the audience already knows Bart. They already see how defiant he is, and it hints as to his actions later on in the episode. We tend to find what he writes to be comical because the actions he is being punished for seem so odd and out there. What I mean is that we are taken aback and surprised that this character we’ve met for 2 seconds has committed such bad things. I think we find the incongruity with childhood innocence and Bart’s knowledge of the adult world almost funny, partially because every adult has gone through the same process. Maybe not every adult has gone through the same drastic transition that Bart is in the middle of, but we have all at one point shed out innocence to accept the reality of the world. It is possible that as an audience we find the actions as funny, and that’s simply it. Or we are able to create a full narrative out of the simple sentences that Bart writes, somewhat similar to the famous story written by Hemingway, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” I think that our imaginations run wild when given only a minute amount of input, and so we must fill in what happened.
Another example that utilizes this repetitive phrasing, but in another aspect is Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” album cover. I will mention before getting into the meat of this example that Drake also uses this approach in his artwork for “Hotline Bling” but I think that their goals are similar enough to be able to look at only Kanye’s artwork. In his most recent album, Kanye West takes a phrase “The Life of Pablo” and allows it to populate the cover. In Kanye’s instance, I think he is trying to achieve an almost subliminal message. Kanye West has been known to compare himself to Pablo Picasso, which seems to be the inspiration of the artwork, but I think it has to do with something else. The life of Pablo is a way for Kanye to say that as Picasso, this is his life, and his lifes work. But I would like to present the idea that Kanye put the repetitive phrase on his album, not for his audience, but for himself. I think that as large as his ego is, he must be insecure about himself about something. And the cover is Kanye confirming to himself that “Yes, I am as great as Picasso”, but he has to remind himself of this. It’s as if he requires Picasso to tell him that his work is great. And yet, I also find another motive for creating such an album cover. I think that aestetically, humans like patterns, we like things that are predictable. The repeated phrases take advantage of this fact and gives the audience a feeling of familiarity.
I think that the repetitive use of text isn’t fully utilized in our current culture, and graphic designers haven’t fully realized its uses. It can contain messages far greater than other techniques can achieve, and it has found itself to be in the center of pop culture wherever it pops up.