BY: PAT TIMLIN
“Stories are both the form and content of the media, and provide cultural links to the most ancient human traditions. The narrative form of the plot, characters, tension, development, and resolution entertains and informs audiences, anchors the media in literary and artistic traditions, spawns celebrities, drives advertising sales, recounts history, and encompasses the American ethos” (King, Cook, & Tropin 231).
Chapter 9: Communication as Storytelling begins by emphasizing the importance of narrative traditions in human social interactions. Storytelling is representative of the human need for interaction; our instinctual and inexplicable desire for social stimulation. King, Cook, and Tropin preface their argument on the benefits of storytelling in the media by citing Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, the Koran, the Bible, and the Talmud as products of great historical storytelling. They argue, “[t] he act of speaking implicitly means to have the Other present. Media stories put one in the present moment in communion with storytellers of the past, traversing time and space” (King, Cook, & Tropin 232). The text then goes on to list the benefits of the propagation of the printed word, but criticizes it as inferior to certain forms of media due to the fact that the printed word “[…] deprive[s] the tribal collective memory of the sounds and rhythms of the storyteller” (King, Cook, and Tropin 232).
The chapter then goes on to discuss the power of interpretation, delivery, and manipulation that is associated with storytelling in the sub-chapter, Truth, Fiction, and Lying. Mainstream media sources such as newspapers, newsrooms, TV, print news, blogs, and documentaries are all subject to ratings and profit margins that decide their survival. For example, “[…] many U.S. newspapers shed most of their newsroom employees and struggled to develop new income streams from the Internet to replace subscription and newsstand losses” (King, Cook, and Tropin 236). Additionally many mainstream media sources will manipulate stories or news in order to generate profits, as can be seen the “Great Moon Hoax” of 1835. By twisting the truth to fiction, they can draw in a larger audience. The chapter then concludes by discussing the four different types of storytelling techniques:
1) Oral Histories: “Personal stories based on the spoken word […], a structured
form of storytelling used in truth-telling genres such as news, documentary,
and fiction based on fact”
2) Screenwriting: “[…] describe only what is heard or seen by a mass media audience, refrain from elaborate descriptions or internal dialogue, and use present tense verbs”
3) Genres: “[…] or story types, are comprehensive structures that provide whole frameworks of understanding to the mass media audience. They help audiences better understand media content with which they are interacting.”
4) Transmedia Stories: “[…] stimulate curiosity about” a film or other form of media. (King, Cook, & Tropin 238-240).
The required reading The Good Lynching and the Birth of the Nation: Discourses and Aesthetics of Jim Crow is an essay written by Michele Faith Wallace that proposes that the film The Birth of a Nation reflects the storytelling and racial ideologies of the American South in the years after the Civil War.
The Birth of a Nation is a 1915 silent film made by D.W. Griffith was praised for its use of a new medium; however, it was also condemned for the racist prejudices it promoted. According to Wallace, “Griffith’s intention was partly to show the undeserved and unearned prosperity of blacks during Reconstruction […],” by portraying them as animalistic, uneducated, and uncivilized (King, Cook, and Tropin 247). It is very difficult to classify Griffith’s technique under any of the four storytelling techniques, but it is clear that he drew upon anti-black sources such as writings (novels such as The Clansmen), and probably some of the racist sentiments in the South at the time in order to produce his film. However, his film relates most to the sub-chapter Truth, Fiction, and Lying in Chapter 9. Griffith’s makes use of artistic liberty in order to present African-Americans in the way that he wanted them to be viewed. He was implementing both fiction and lies in his film in order to appeal to a Southern audience that perhaps shared his racist sentiments.
The concepts discussed in Chapter 9 can be applied to one of my favorite movies, Gladiator. Gladiator is a fictional film that is based on the storytelling traditions that have carried over from hundreds of years ago to the present day. The film loosely interprets some real-life individuals such as the Caesar Aurelius; however, it fictionalizes and dramatizes the experience of the main character, Maximus. It makes use of both oral and written storytelling relics that have been passed down over the years in order to formulate a audio/visual experience to entertain viewers. A second narrative, which I am not so fond of, was first a book and later became a movie and is entitled The Last of the Mohicans. While the film is extremely entertaining, and provides a large amount of accurate historical context, I feel that it does not do justice to the Mohican, or Native American, side of the story. Much in the same way that The Birth of the Nation criminalizes African-Americans, The Last of the Mohicans also criminalizes Native Americans and barbaric criminals who are instigating violent uprisings. I feel that the narrative fails to maintain the Native American perspective of the historical happenings.