Narratives

Dec. 23rd, 2009 01:24 am
mellicious: pink manicure (Xmas - purple star)
[personal profile] mellicious
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live."

Who said that? Joan Didion, maybe? (Googling says yes.) I really loved both Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album - meaning Didion's book, not the Beatles album, although I like that too - back in the day, so it's probably from one of those two books. More likely the latter, I would guess - if you've never read Didion's long essay about her intersection with the Manson case, it's well worth seeking out, and I suspect it's the source of that quote.

In any case, that phrase has stuck with me, even though I don't believe that I thought it was as profoundly true when I first read it as I do now. I've come to think that that is one of the few things I've found in my life that really explains the crazy ways that people behave. We define and redefine our lives by telling ourselves stories. The stories may be essentially true or not so much, they may be helpful or harmful, but it's just something that humans do. We cast our lives and other people's lives as narratives.

I didn't intend to make this political, but I think politics is one of the ways this gets used on a regular basis. The religious right in particular is really good at using it; it's a lot of the reason they were so successful for so long, I think. If you have relatives like I do who are dumb enough to forward you the stuff they get from various right-wing mailing lists - and if you're masochistic enough to read them sometimes, like I am - you see the narratives they construct really clearly, about Obama and Acorn and all that kind of stuff. It depresses me just to think about it. No wonder they're all crazy.

Most people are recasting the narrative in their heads about Tiger Woods these days, although I think they were just being unrealistic about him in the first place. Nevertheless, this is about narratives, and the narrative about Tiger was that he was some sort of saint or paragon, which he clearly wasn't, so much. Is it fair that he's getting compared to that other famous philanderer, Bill Clinton? Probably not, to be quite honest. The narrative in MY head about Clinton is that he's a serial adulterer to a degree Tiger never dreamed of, although I might be lying to myself there. Although to be honest, who Tiger Woods sleeps with is not something I care too much, about, either.

(How about this for a narrative: rich, powerful men cheat. I know there are exceptions, but honestly, if you're that kind of person you get women throwing themselves at you all the time, and it seems to me that you really do have to be some kind of a saint to resist straying at least occasionally. But maybe I'm just overly cynical there.)

I know the first two examples I came up with are black men, or men of mixed race, anyway, and there's all sorts of things I could say about the racism inherent in the narratives people come up with about both of them. It's not really my intention to go there, but definitely there's racism inherent in these narratives, let's just say that. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, all that stuff. Whatever's going on in the back of your head is naturally going to affect the stories you tell yourself. (I started to say "color your stories" but I think would be a really unfortunate word choice here.)

Well, heck, let's talk about another black man who was much in the news this year: Michael Jackson. I know that the story in my head about him changed dramatically after he died. When he was alive, I pretty much thought of him as this weirdo child molester, and his death and all the subsequent publicity caused me to pretty much completely recast that story; I came to really think he may have been innocent of those charges, which I never believed before. Which makes that a really tragic story, if true.

I meant to talk about the way we recast our own lives, when I started writing this, but as usual my brain went haring off in a completely different direction. Oh well - I think you get my drift. Anyway, I'm no sociologist but that's my two cents.



Come to think of it, I think I need to get over being defensive about my choice of examples. Between those three men and Sarah Palin, that covers about 95% of the news this year. Now that I consider it, I'm sort of surprised no pundit or magazine has called 2009 the Year of the Black Man yet. (Or have they and I just missed it?)

And boy, I could write a whole 'nother entry on Sarah Palin and her narratives.



Note: I wrote this this morning, and this afternoon I happened to have to wait in the accountant's office for a little while, and what should be sitting on the table but the new issue of Newsweek - with Tiger Woods on the cover and an article about celebrity culture which talks about celebrities and their narratives. So hey, I wrote this before I knew that existed, okay?

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