I think it was the late (and in my estimation rather great) Blake Snyder, author of the screenwriting book Save The Cat who came up with the concept of ‘Double Mumbo Jumbo’, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a bit recently.
Double Mumbo Jumbo, put simply, is the idea that “as an audience we can only buy one piece of magic per movie” (or, I’d say, book or play or other medium). Where Blake says ‘magic’, I like to think this equally means coincidence – for my money, Spider-Man 3 suffers from Double Mumbo Jumbo in the plotlines relating to the Venom symbiote (to non-comic geeks, that’s the black costume-thing which bonds first with Peter Parker and then with his rival) when it happens to land first near Peter Parker’s moped (if memory serves; I’ve only seen the film once, and don’t plan to watch it again, even if it means verifying details for a blog post) and then it’s roaming ownerless again when Peter Parker’s workplace rival is out and about in the area.
I think the second story in Pulp Fiction suffers from this sort of coincidence problem as well, though I know a lot of people hold that film in much higher regard than I do.
It’s not just a problem which you see in films, either (though the example I’m about to give was, I think, adapted to film): the novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind is very well-respected and was given to me with strong recommendations by a friend, but when I read it I couldn’t get past the fact that the main character had no personal scent (which struck me as being biologically unlikely) and also had an extrememly sensitive ability to detect odours.
This felt like a cheat to me, as if the author realised that someone with a truly super-powered nose would be unable to smell anything beyond the scent of their own sweat and clothing. I didn’t buy it, and as a result the rest of the book felt hard to swallow, built as it was on a foundation that I didn’t find particularly sturdy.
This has been on my mind a bit recently, because in the novel I’m currently writing (due for completion about half an hour before the heat-death of the universe, longtime readers might suspect) I have various ‘secret’ government agencies and bodies, and I don’t want to have too much stuff that looks like a fudge – whilst I’m confident that most readers will accept that there are bodies within government and the military which don’t appear in annual reports and budget publications, I don’t want to make it look as if I’ve made them ‘secret’ just so I haven’t got to do the research on Home Office heirarchies and departmental responsibilities and the like.
In a strange – though hopefully understandable – tangent, thinking about the concept of Double Mumbo Jumbo has partly explained to me why I find the following advert irks me more than it probably should:
The advert doesn’t really make sense to me on any level – and yes, I know it’s meant to be a bit out there and surreal, but consider the things that we’re supposed to accept:
- He’s so fond of sausage rolls he’s cloned a miniature dog to say what he can’t
- He carries the miniature dog in a jewellery box in his pocket
- He had it in his pocket, but initially wasn’t intending to hand it to her (note how he turns away at first)
- The ‘garage lady’ accepts what appears to be a gift of jewellery from a customer
- The miniature dog speaks english (with, I think, the voice of Mathew Horne)
- The dog knows which button to press on its (also miniaturised) keyboard to start the music (which is either drum and bass or garage, I think – I’m not bothered about either of those choices really, though I hope it’s the latter as it would be appropriate given the setting of the advert)
It just feels like the advert-makers have hit the ‘random’ button in an almost cynical way, as if throwing diverse stuff together like that immediately equates to something surreal and/or clever. The main problem I think I have with it is that for someone who’s “just a bloke”, and apparently incapable of expressing himself, he’s gone to a lot of trouble (and a weird kind of trouble) to express his gratitude.
In fact, within this universe where we can create speaking miniature animals to perform tasks we humans can’t, I’m surprised that there are petrol stations at all, as the normal rules don’t seem to apply; surely the pumps dispense some kind of liquid boulders, and the ‘garage lady’ is in fact the reincarnation of Alexander the Great, wearing a human outfit to disguise the fact that he’s come back as an oversized moth (I’m aware that many insects’ tracheas don’t function once they get above a certain size, so this is an inherently unrealistic proposition, but given that the shruken dog apparently suffers no difficulty breathing despite his size and being enclosed in a small box, it seems all bets are off). Actually, it’s strange that this bizarre world they inhabit has sausage rolls and money in it at all really. What are the odds of that?
I can live with the odd quirk or wrinkle to things – and as I understand it, much of the ‘magic realism’ school of writing is based on the world as we know it reacting to strange and unusual things happening – but it needs to be balanced, I think. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland boasts “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”, but that advert seems, to me, to be a case of Multiple Mumbo Jumbo, and so I can’t swallow it (then again, as a vegetarian, I was probably unlikely to swallow anything related to sausage rolls).
Come to think of it, no wonder the chap in the advert accepts the strange world he lives in: it’s clearly the early hours, and maybe he needs to believe the six impossible things I list above before he can have the sausage roll – that is, his breakfast.