Saturday, November 3, 2012

Creating Narratives

This morning, I went back and read all my posts for the past year and a half.  I like my ideas about brain chemistry but I wish I could share them with more people.  This is the shoal on which my ship of good intentions founders: the hard reality of the difficulty of getting people to listen and understand and agree that my perspective is valuable. 

It seems that everyone loves to disagree these days.  All our media is filled with conflict, much of it, it seems to me, manufactured for the purpose of selling more goods and services.  Ah yes, commerce.  The bedrock upon which our nation was founded.  Nothing wrong with that, but I wonder if our method of promoting sales is good for us.

We seem to have entered a period in which every communication between people must be a narrative. There's nothing wrong with that on the face of things, but unfortunately, a good narrative, one that succeeds at getting people's attention and entertaining them, must contain conflict, and that conflict must be sufficiently compelling to get the viewer/reader to stay with it to the end.  "Only trouble is interesting," say the fiction-writing teachers.  So in an effort to get people to pay attention to their messages about goods and services that are for sale, advertisers (and the shows they sponsor) copy fiction's structure and try to create narratives with as much "trouble" as possible.

And so we have shows like the long-running Survivor and its many imitators, to the point where every reality show must have some kind of conflict to be seen as viable.  Even shows that are not contest shows (that is, already set up for conflict) must, it seems, contain conflict in order to be thought interesting.  For instance, American Chopper, a reality show centered on what would normally be considered a peaceful activity (crafting a motorcycle), becomes instead a soap opera about the crafters' intra-familial fights.  That soap operas are traditionally fictional is my point: what we call "reality" shows these days are more fictional than the shows they are trying to emulate.  Because of the success of American Chopper and other conflict filled shows, we now have a number of shows that are, like soap operas, based entirely on dysfunctional relationships (Keeping Up With the Kardashians is one of the many).

But what does this have to do with brain chemistry? Well, the process of creating narratives in the media is similar to the process individuals with bad brain chemistry engage in to rationalize why they feel bad.  The bad feeling that comes from the brain is out of context, so the sufferer creates a context that makes sense.  She writes a narrative that contains a conflict to which she must then respond. And owing to the requirement that in order to be sufficiently compelling a narrative must have serious conflict with dire consequences, the person who feels bad must create a conflict that requires an immediate and serious response.  Life or death, fight or flight.

Unfortunately, the drama unfolding is only happening in the sufferer's mind.  It's a private screening.  Like listening to one half of a cell phone conversation, watching a brain chemistry compelled drama makes the viewer feel as if she is missing something.  Why are you so upset? is a question that the unfortunate witness asks herself, and she can only answer that there is no rational reason and therefore the person who is upset is irrational and therefore, at best, is to be avoided and at worst, to be feared.

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