An Audience is An Open Book
by contributing writer Brandon Sotomayor
If all politics boil down to sexual pathology, then the fetish of political journalism is objectivity. The bias of news sources deemed to be fake news by whatever political tendency called into question is glaringly obvious to those who hold the opposing viewpoint, while internally those who report and digest the news see that with which they agree as totally unfiltered and not ideological. We of the literary community should be skeptical of such a notion. I say that because we know intimately that the total events of a fictional character’s world are too broad to fit into a book. In order for the reading experience to be meaningful, the author must structure those events into a narrative, and the events of the real world are no different. A narrative is an enzyme for the digestion of information and events by storytelling animals.
According to an article from the Encyclopedia of Child and Adolescent Development by Kate McClean and Moin Syed titled “Narrative Identity,” “Telling stories is one of the most... universal of human experiences,” because they allow people to “transmit life lessons and history, to entertain..., and to explain the self.” McClean and Syed claim that these stories don’t just feed a need to consume stories, but also constitute the very foundations of who we are as individuals and collectively.
Studies of narrative identity go back to Henry Murray, who with his Thematic Apperception Test that he developed alongside Christina Morgan, exposed patients to ambiguous images in order to study the unique narratives people produced to make sense of them, thinking those narratives would shed light on the psychology of the individual administered the test. McClean and Syed wrote of Murray in their paper, saying he “...showed the initial power of stories to reveal parts of personality that may be relatively inaccessible in using face valid, straightforward measures.” This assumption goes relatively untested in Murray’s work however, but the question of whether or not stories actually inform who we are as people gets addressed in the work of Erik Erikson, who used Narrative Identity to explain adolescence.
In his book Young Man Luther, he writes, “I have called the major crisis of adolescence the identity crisis... when each youth must forge from himself some central perspective and direction, some working unity.” Erikson conceived the idea of personal narratives as a way to orient individuals in society at a crucial time in their lives, by as Mclean and Syed put it, “to think about themselves across different contexts.” There is no absence of a filter for this information. We are the filter given a name.
We watch the news because we are a set of stories we tell about ourselves and the world. Our political beliefs are part of the wider narrative of our lives. We want to know that history arcs towards the resolution we want. However, if the stories that others tell themselves are as foundational as our own, then how can such narratives have a prescriptive quality beyond masochistic entertainment? I’ll answer that question with another. When was the last time you finished a novel or a poem and had such a change in perspective that you trace a piece of yourself back to it?
One of the most resonant examples of that for me isn’t a book or poem, but a handful of anime films and shows produced by the studio Kyoto Animation. When I discovered their work, I was going through an identity crisis, trying to make sense of the world outside of what I carried with me from immature days, and it was stories from the animation studio, particularly the work of Naoko Yamada, that helped me to find a sense of clarity. A couple of months ago, there was an arson attack at the company’s Studio 1, the worst mass killing in Japan since World War II, and all of the support they’ve received from their fans and the anime community as a whole showed me that there are people all around the world who felt the effect of their stories just as I had.
Everything is a narrative, but not all stories are created equal. As we should know, just because all fiction is fake does not mean that it can’t tell the truth. We should embrace and be forward with ideology and narrative. Give people a story that will affect change in the world and help them live their lives. In a world that is spinning, the only lie is to claim to be still.
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by first official Nevada Poet Laureate Mildred Breedlove who spent three years writing a poem about the State of Nevada.