יום שני, 27 בפברואר 2017

Classic Narrative Models Must Evolve in the Digital Age

When It Comes to Story, You’re Not Getting It

The Hero’s Journey was vital to the survival of our species. Ancient storytellers explained the terrifying unknown, instructed us in the hunt, reassured us that if we behaved in certain ways, the gods would look favorably upon us. Stories reinforced, justified, and glorified our ways. They made us right, and did so with drama, appealing to our aspirations and imaginations. And at the core of so many of the best stories was that single element that quickened our blood, giving us a thrill…conflict.

After tens of thousands of years, not much has changed. Any screenwriting teacher will tell you that every film, every scene, every page of your script needs to be brimming with conflict. Without it, they warn, you might lose your audience. And so our primordial conditioning is perpetuated.

In our discussion of Collective Journey, conflict still exists. We are not suggesting that a new narrative model is emerging that is only about sweetness, unity, and light. But because so many of us are now able to express ourselves and have access to one another’s point of view, because the world has become so intensely networked, the nature of conflict itself is changing.

The vast majority of our stories aren’t reflecting this. They are falling out of sync with our sensibilities and our lives. They are no longer telling us the things we desperately need to know.

In recent years, after the relaxation of standards and practices in television and film, we have been deluged with antiheroes. From Tony Soprano to Dexter, it was a shock to watch our protagonists behaving badly, and getting away with it.

Those stories may be well told, but if you look closely, popular antiheroes are still moving through the same process of refusing the call, engaging with mentors, and crossing thresholds that signify Joseph Campbell’s classic Hero’s Journey model. Rebels and outlaws have also been around for ages, so that’s not what we’re talking about. Our new model reflects something bigger than a plot twist.

Before we proceed with describing what is unique and vital about Collective Journey, lets do a quick rundown on about a dozen elements that have become problematic about pop culture’s approach to traditional narrative.

By the way, this is not a condemnation of the some of the fine stories you see in these images. We’re just pointing out that story itself is now rapidly evolving, and there is an imperative for us to keep up with it.
The old model is driven on conflict.

Conflict is perceived by most to be the best way to hold an audience’s attention, so our stories are required to be conflict engines. Our heroes must desire something they can’t have. They’re beset by disagreements, power disparities, physical and psychological opposition. If violence is not explicit, it’s absolutely implicit. We’ve become wired to hunger for violence.

2. The old model is weighted on masculine impulse.

Conflict is naturally perceived as masculine, cause and response, the direct clashing of forces. Only one (or a very few) can surmount the threat on behalf of the community, and he becomes our hero. There is aggression, confrontation, violence, a sense of rightness that must overcome or defeat wrongness. In doing so, the hero reinforces his community’s values, restoring order and the status quo.

3. The narrative has been linear.

There is a beginning, middle, and end, with a clearly delineated path to be taken by the hero. The vast majority of our stories are short; minutes at times, and hour or two at most. At that length, this direct path is the most serviceable way to resolve the plot, and the most conducive as a generator of head-on conflict.

4. A singular villain is favored over systemic change.

Big problems, broad issues, and monolithic institutions are represented or symbolized by a single antagonist. Once the villain is defeated, all is set right in the hero’s world, but the system that spawned the villain persists.

5. A good versus evil binary.

Popular stories tend to polarize characters into heroes and villains, simplifying conflicts with an eye toward crowd-pleasing endings where the evil character gets his comeuppance and complex problems are neatly resolved.

6. The feminine is temptress, innocent, or goddess.

There has most often been very little nuance or complexity in the roles of women and girls, even when the woman is cast as the hero.

And when we do get a “woman of action,” she is cast as a stand-in for the masculine warrior, bearing his weapons, taking the journey in his footsteps.

7. Not conducive to communications technology.

Think of nearly every contemporary movie or TV show you’ve seen for the past decade. What did the writers need to get rid of in order to complicate the plot? It’s actually silly how often we’ve seen storytellers rid heroes of mobile phones, social media, and most any other information resource in order to escalate the conflict.

8. Narrative built on knowledge scarcity.

It’s entirely strange—even frustrating—for us to watch characters running around searching for information that could easily be found in their own pockets. And yet the withholding of knowledge, or the pursuit of some piece of information is still a driving factor in so many of our stories.

9. Mentors are rarefied elders.

The mysteries of life, the training we need, the way forward can only be found through that unique individual that we find through happenstance, or has been gifted to us by the gods. Their age and experience provides us with enlightenment. Without a mentor the hero is lost.

10. Celebration of heroic power and glory.

In popular Hero’s Journey stories, the individual is distinguished and celebrated for saving the many. The means by which the hero achieves victory are equated to power and influence. For his great deeds, we elevate the hero above ourselves.

11. The hero loses.

But in that elevation, the hero is no longer an ordinary and equitable member of the community. The experience has changed him. He has seen and done things the average person cannot comprehend, and so becomes isolated from others. Sometimes the hero makes a deep personal sacrifice in overcoming the villain, and is permanently scarred. In any event, the hero is never the same.

12. The community loses.

Without the hero all is lost for the community. We are dependent on the hero, and without one, we are weak, uncertain, defenseless. Often in the hero’s absence someone far less qualified (and sometimes dangerous) is put into a leadership position.

Even when the hero returns in triumph, our community gains from the hero’s boon, but we never develop self-efficacy. When dark times return, we will need the hero again.

Any one or few of these narrative elements is fine, but far too often we are seeing them clustered in our stories, and that makes even the funniest, most action-packed, or emotional story feel both too familiar, and somehow out of touch with our 21st century lives.

We’re not getting the stories we deserve…or need.

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