Vibe Vectors

Sianne Ngai and Haley Thurston have done much, I think, for aesthetics by formalizing certain descriptive terms previously used informally: the zany, cute, and merely interesting (Ngai); the baroquewhimsy, and cheesy (Thurston). I want to continue that project here.

In a separate project from this blog, I’ve sketched out what a “vibe” might look like if factored in terms more amenable to aesthetic discourse (though not nearly so formalized as Grietzer’s computational sense). I’m tentatively carving up a film’s (or visual artwork’s) vibe into six constituent vectors (sources). Those are structural, sociocultural, emotional, representational, stylistic, and tonalchromatic.

To illustrate I’ll break down the vibes of Jodorowsky’s 70s cinema, especially El Topo and Holy Mountain, as a study. There are correspondences, for example, between the sociocultural vibe-component Buddhism and the representational vibe-component the Om, or between the representational vibe-component laughing crowds and the emotional vibe-component humiliation.

  1. Structural: odysseys/quests, challenges/tests, town/country
  2. Sociocultural: Mexico, Latin American history, Christian, Buddhist, imperial/colonial history, capitalism/communism, tyranny/democracy, the World Wars
  3. Emotional: humiliation, passion, dehumanization, anger, lust
  4. Stylistic: surrealism, magical realism, Western, naturalist-camp
  5. Representational (visual subject matter and motifs): sequences/numerology, desert/dry-heat, pueblos, monks/friars/priests, cowboys, military/police, jewelry, makeup, the Om, bees/honeycombs, Christ, the Pietà, untouchables, dwarves, flayed animals, firing squads, gushing and excessive blood, breasts and natural nudity, crossdressing, laughing crowds, guns, firing squads, mobs/justice, costumes/uniforms, waltzing, “masters,” phalluses
  6. Tonalchromatic: black-white/good-evil symbolism, bright Latin colors, unfiltered/unprocessed