Archive: September 2013

jcham979 and the video literacy of Breaking Bad

SPOILER ALERT: If you’re one of those people who are just starting to watch Breaking Bad now, don’t read this entry, and don’t watch the video embedded below! You’ll hate me.

Though at this point in time, if you’re just starting in on the show, avoiding spoilers is sort of like trying to avoid learning who won the 2008 presidential election.


Like millions of others I am freaking out over the end of Breaking Bad tonight. But I’m a belated fan; I only got into it very late in the game. And the weird thing is, what piqued my interest wasn’t the show itself, but an absolutely fascinating Youtube clip: The jcham979 video “Breaking Bad Finale Theory — A Case For Walt Poisoning Brock”.

This was a video that appeared in the fourth season, when everyone was arguing about who and what, precisely, was making Brock sick. In his/her/its video (the identity of jcham979 has never been made public, near as I can tell), Jcham979 assembled a six-minute-long video argument arguing that Walt had poisoned the boy. It’s worth rewatching again, now, because not only was jcham979 obviously correct, but the method was such a great example of modern talmudic video-parsing via Tivo and Youtube. At a pivotal moment at the 3:30 point, jcham979 seals the argument that “Walt did it” by throwing down a spectacular frame-by-frame analysis of Jesse being patted down. The whole video below is worth watching, but check out that 3:30 moment specifically:

The extra-meta-fun part of this video is that it neartly presages Jesse’s own epiphany earlier this season, when, while looking for his cigarettes, he has a Proustian flashback to precisely this moment — with the same “aha”.

I so heavily dug jcham979’s video that I put it in my book (which you can buy! right now! here!), in a chapter where I discuss how people are developing new literacies in media like video, photography, and even data. We’re in the very early stages of video becoming a plastic as text became under the word processor; as I wrote:

Until recently, of course, it wasn’t possible to do this with the moving image. In the decades leading up to the twenty-first century, it was difficult to impossible to parse in such detail anything that appeared in movies or on TV. You couldn’t easily rewatch it. And you certainly couldn’t cut and paste together your own video as a method of argument.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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