TV Traveller Blog - Matt Graham


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Remembrance Day — is it really true?

15/11/13


Remembrance Day is remembered in many countries as a celebration of national values and tradition, a day that most people approve of, for its maintenance of the kind of tradition that gives their lives meaning.  A generation of young men lay down their lives in World War One for the good of the country — its a great story, but it has little to do with the wider historical picture of a clash between hungry European empires a hundred years ago, desperate for new markets overseas. In other words, it may actually, at least partly, all be a rather sophisticated work of fiction.

In other words, this type of National Myth may have little to do with a more accurate factual picture – the same way as Columbus Day, which is celebrated in the Americas as a celebratory tale of boldness and individualism, has little to do with what actually happened when an Italian sailor charged with finding a faster route to the Spice Islands, landed in the Bahamas in 1492 and met the Arawak Indians, who did not wear clothes and wanted to trade beads with the Europeans.  “With just a few men, we could make them do whatever we want,” he wrote to his masters back in Spain who were funding the expedition and who’d been promised a return on their investment  — the kind of people with a record of expelling Jews and Muslims from their own country, which did not bode well for the poor Arawaks.

In other words, the National Myth of the Americas, which is all about bold exploration and individualism, is actually, like Remembrance Day, not completely factually true, depending on who you are.  After all, there’s a popular t shirt here in the Americas which features one of the last Indian leaders to hold out against the Whites, an Apache chief named Geronimo — check it out below:

Behind all of these National Myths is the power of Fiction, that helps to create stories that we can relate to and understand out of real events.  This power is a tremendous untapped emotional force, and even today, in the age of nuclear fission and DNA technology, remains largely a mystery to us. There’s one thing though that is undeniable; its been around for a very long time, so it must have an important use for evolutionary purposes. This is the purpose of new research into story and the mind, being carried out by today’s neuroscientists around the world.  Books like Jonathan Gottschall’s “The Storytelling Animal” have investigated the connection between fiction and fact in national mythmaking, for example.

Did you ever notice how your life seems to be like a story?  There’s a beginning, where you started, and there were some problems along the way, like finding a girlfriend, looking for a job, splitting up with your girlfriend, getting hooked on drugs, buying a house, and there’s where you are today. You are like the main character in your own movie. Our life stories are like personal myths, because the way we understand the universe is through story; this is why if you can communicate story well, it is much more effective than being “good with the facts.”

This is why fiction is important, and that is why being a skilled operator of fiction is in evolutionary terms, a much strong talent than being technically correct. Emotional reality is much stronger than actual reality.  In fact, when we read nonfiction, we are actually on guard, yet when we tell stories, we open our hearts and are open to change.  Therefore, the message is clear; if you want to deliver a message, tell it in story form.  No amount of brilliantly written nonfiction can compete with this simple reality, and that is why the great ideas of humanity are expressed in simple, powerful stories – the writers of the Bible knew this for instance, and the book is filled with parables about how to live a good life and that includes various simple lessons, such as being kind to others and sharing the wealth. This simple, powerful message is a Revolutionary one that appeals all across society.

Brilliantly written scripted TV series like BREAKING BAD or CSI are continually successful the world over, because the better you tell a story, the more people will listen and want to watch it, and the more easily you’ll get your ideas across.  The same is true even of unscripted entertainment, because shows like IDOLS and MILLIONAIRE carry simple stories of normal people thrust into everyday situations and becoming rich beyond their dreams through their unique talents.  This narrative may not be “actually” true, but it fits our preconceptions of the event.  Some people have the gift of creating stories, and these people wield incredible power.  In Ancient Greece, Plato remarked that the poets should be expelled from Athens because he recognized this was true. The situation has not changed almost three millenia later. Story is Power.

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