Beware the ‘Storification’ of the Internet

Recently, during the advertising holidays and events of Frasier I was watching, two advertising campaigns calling back. The first, for United, wants to tell me the “story of the plane,” which the business describes as sci-fi, romance, and travel, featuring 80,000 “heroes” known as employees. A second ad, for ESPN, argued that college football has everything that “makes a great story”: drama, action, “an opening that catches your eye, a center that won’t let you go.” , and heartbreaking. the end of the nail.”

There is a growing trend in American culture of what literary scholar Peter Brooks calls “hoarding.” Since the turn of the century, he argues in his new book, Misleading Stories: The Uses and Abuses of Stories, we have come to rely heavily on narrative conventions to understand the world around us, which has resulted in “stories about truth” that affect almost all forms of communication—including how doctors dealing with patients, how to write financial reports. and logos that companies use to identify themselves to consumers. Meanwhile, other forms of discourse, interpretation and understanding such as research and debate, have fallen by the wayside.

The danger in this arises when the public does not understand that many of these stories are constructed through deliberate and false choices. Enron, for example, deceived people because it was “uniquely built on a story—a myth, really…that produced the story of the next great fortune,” Brooks wrote. Other recent scams, like those pulled off by Purdue Pharma, NXIVM, and Anna Delvey, were successful because people fell for the stories that the perpetrators were running. In other words, we can all benefit from the lesson of close reading and skepticism.

Brooks’ major scholarly works, including his seminal 1984 book, Reading for the plan: Structure and purpose in the story, help us pioneer understanding of how stories work in books and in life. Hence, he knows that his criticism of the tendency to tell stories is not exactly new. Joan Didion came to a similar conclusion in her 1979 essay “The White Album,” which was compiled from the oft-repeated quote “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” (Brooks’ version is less: “We have fiction so that we don’t die because of the goodness of our place in the world.”) In times of crisis, we yearn for the familiar features of storytelling: well-defined heroes and villains. , goals, and stakes.

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But there’s a strong narrative force at work today that Brooks, 84, understandably doesn’t understand. Misleading news: The Internet. In doing so, he not only refutes his argument; he misses how the ability to read well and know how to write a story is even more important when newspapers, the subject of many of them, reign as one of the most popular forms of media. His only statement about the Internet – a vague belief that “Twitter and memes control the presentation of reality” and that ours is “the age of fake news on Facebook” – do not understand that on the Internet in particular, more attention, reading research is. is important.

If in the midst of social unrest, we use stories to shape our worldview, then on the Internet we use stories to shape ourselves. Actor Bo Burnham, who grew up on the Internet, is one of the sharpest writers on how digital media is shaping our inner lives. In an interview for his 2018 film, Eighth grade, about a 13-year-old girl growing up online, Burnham said that when it comes to the internet, talking heads focus too much on social media and political threats. politics rather than the “trickster,” the subtle changes it causes in individuals. . He said: “There is something inside, something that really changes the way we think about ourselves. “We spend a lot of time telling stories about ourselves, and I see people being pressured to look at people’s lives like a movie.”

Just look at TikTok, where storytelling has become a lingua franca. In videos on the app, users encourage each other to “do it for the plot” or say their “core strengths” are, importantly, filming. A TikTok tutorial shows users how to edit videos to “make your life look like a movie.” Narratives are often used in speech: “I say when people call everything I’ve been through ‘trouble,'” said a 19-year-old girl with a tongue twister. “I like to call it ‘story.’ But it also provides language for emotions that are difficult to express: In another video, a young girl stares into the camera over the text, “I know I’m a character, you have no purpose but to sit wait for my situation again.”

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Here, and in many other areas of the Internet, the taxonomy of stories prevails. We tell ourselves stories to survive, yes, but we also twist ourselves enter stories to live. In the formless, endless Internet – which Burnham describes as “a little bit of everything all the time” – the language of stories is fascinating, helping to organize our offline experiences. Making ourselves understood by others is, of course, the law of social media. We are encouraged to create a brand and develop aesthetics, to share inspiring stories on LinkedIn and to justify work on BeReal. On Instagram, “Stories” allow users to share moments and experiences with their followers, and it’s interesting, too. Can be completed Discuss the story, to review your own – to view your life in the third person, collected and recreated through the lens of the camera. “What more do we want,” Burnham asked in the 2016 special, Be Happy“Rather than lying in our bed at the end of the day and watching our lives as a satisfied audience?”

Social media relies on reporting because reporting is, in Brooks’ words, “a social act.” This is not a bad thing, but it is important for us to be aware of the art and movement we put into our lives in public. As the narrators of our lives, Brooks writes, “we must recognize the inadequacy of our stories to correct our own and [others’] problem.” Drawing from Freudian psychoanalysis, Brooks concluded that storytelling should be a tool we use to better understand ourselves rather than an end in itself.

Sometimes it contradicts other ideas that come in time. At one point, he quotes the French philosopher Jean-François Lyoard, who argues that in our modern times, “history”—progress, liberation, salvation, and so on—that all societies hang at once without their power. Brooks adds, “individuals or collectives and, in many cases, are prone to reporting and seeking self-interest.” The separation of what we perceive as real and true is indeed a critical concern. What would Brooks do, for example, which Atlantic who contributed to Charlie Warzel’s statement that 2017 was “the year the internet destroyed our shared reality,” setting the stage for more realism and conspiracy theories? not clear; Brooks throws out the fascinating idea of ​​”lots of little stories everywhere” (little things all the time) as quickly as he introduces it.

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Brooks has defined his path – the novel – and is content to stay with it. But a lot has happened recently in the novel – the typical “trauma plot”, the “representation trap” that befalls many writers of black fiction, the growing disenchantment of literature stories and stories about behavior-related how either way News, regardless of media type, can be loaded with political, representational, or inappropriate behavior. Although Brooks is briefly worried about “the growing claims about him [narrative’s] the power to solve all personal and social problems” in the first chapter, it does not appear again in the many rich and intense close readings that follow.

It’s a shame that Brooks didn’t see how well his argument was relevant. Today, news has become ubiquitous, thanks to one part of the Internet that makes news reporting to everyone’s government – anyone can write or film their experience and put it online. And “telling people’s stories” – in a novel or film, a Twitter thread or a TikTok video – has become less well-supported, often seen as a “brave” way to create empathy and change. politics.

In his own way, Brooks bristles against this. In the second chapter of Misleading news, for example, he talks about what he calls the “epistemology of narrative”—in other words, how do we know where the narrator’s material is coming from, or what Could that be what he intended to do? This question, as it relates to the works of Faulkner and Diderot, felt particularly important to me as I watched back-to-back campaigns that extolled the virtues of narrative. Most of the stories that reach us through our screens require the kind of analysis that Brooks advocates for. Common sense and educated people in the media are the only antidote to the news driven culture.

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