Posted by: J Starling | November 4, 2009

Writing Our Own Narrative

This is a new post contributed by Pied Piper for discussion here.

Here is an interesting viewpoint

We live in a world of stories. Stories are invented to help us understand everything that is around us. The unpredictability of life has from the dawn of time encouraged human beings to be very creative in their narratives from the wall paintings of prehistoric times the hieroglyphics of Egyptians to the History Channel documentaries of today.

Although we dismiss as ignorance that primitive people actually believed the myths they created about everything, from the weather to the afterlife, it is more probable that early religions were understood on a much more metaphoric basis. The ancients didn’t believe that the wind or rains were gods. They invented characters whose personalities reflected the properties of the elements. The characters and their stories served more as ways of remembering that it would be cold for four months before spring returns than as genuinely accepted explanations for nature’s changes.

History shows that stories were discovered to be vital tools to influence the courses of politics, economics and power. The first steps along the path to a more civilized society was really just a process in which older, weaker people used stories to keep younger, stronger people from vying for their power. By the time the young were old enough to know what was going on, they were too invested in the system, or too physically weak themselves, to risk exposing the stories as myths.

Since Biblical times we have been living in a world where stories are used to describe and predict our reality and have been presented as truth or mistaken for fact. These narratives, and their tellers, compete for believers in two ways: through the content of the stories and through the medium or tools through which the stories are told. We don’t call the stuff on television ‘programming’ for nothing. The people making television are not programming our TV sets or their evening schedules; they are programming us.

The programmer creates a character we like and with whom we can identify. As a series of plot developments bring that character into some kind of danger, we follow him and within us a sense of tension arises. This is what Aristotle called the rising arc of dramatic action. The storyteller brings the character, and his audience, into as much danger as we can tolerate before inventing a solution, the rescue. Back in Aristotle’s day, the solution was called Deus ex machina (God from the machine). One of the Greek gods would literally descend on a mechanism from the rafters and save the day. TV commercials have honed this storytelling technique into the perfect 30-second package. A man is at work when his wife calls to tell him she’s crashed the car. The boss comes in to tell him he just lost a big account, his bank statement shows he’s in the red and his secretary quits. Now his head hurts. We’ve followed the poor guy all the way up Aristotle’s arc of rising tension. We can feel the character’s pain. What can he do? He opens the top desk drawer and finds his bottle of Tylenol and swallows the pills. He, and us, are released from our torture.

The computer mouse and keyboard have ended the power TV programming changing a receive-only monitor into a portal. Packaged programming is no longer any more valuable, or valid, than the words we can type ourselves. The addition of a modem has added the dimension of turning the computer into a broadcast facility. We are no longer solely dependent on the content of Newspapers or corporate TV/Radio stations, but we now have the power to create and disseminate our own content. You are reading this blog right now and you can respond with your own comment for everyone to see. The Internet revolution is a do-it-yourself revolution. We can now deconstruct the content of media’s stories, demystify its modes of transmission and do it all for ourselves.

For transformation there must be three stages in our redevelopment: deconstruction of content, demystification of technology and finally do-it-yourself or participatory authorship. Can these three steps see a programmed/manipulated world population become an autonomous thinking world where everyone can influence the way we live?

Perhaps we can rescue ourselves from the arc of rising tension that dooms us to stressful conflict.

Pied Piper


  1. […] There are two new articles over at Bermuda JEWEL. One of them is actually from me, writing about a gang initiative in Glasgow, Community Initiave to Reduce Violence. The other is an open mic from ‘Pied Piper’ discussing the themes of narrative in politics. […]

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