Death to Simple Narratives

Thursday, September 19, 2013 :: Tagged under: essay culture pablolife. ⏰ 3 minutes.

Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄

I've never been partial to mantras or aphorisms, but one has stuck with me for the last year or so and I'm finding it pretty lovely. It's "Death to Simple Narratives."

Death to Simple Narratives, in Fiction

The most obvious application is where people most place the word "narrative": in fiction. I'm tired of seeing almost all popular fiction follow standard templates of love, parenthood, envy, and revenge. One of my bullet points in my BioShock screed made fun of the fact that of course the character you're trying to save from a city of radicals is your daughter. Of course Mickey Rourke's character in The Wrestler has an estranged daughter. Fucking daughters everywhere, man.

Of course Jake Sully and blue Zoe Saldana get together at the end of Avatar. Of course the invasive White Guys aren't successful at slaughtering the Noble Savages for shortsighted financial gain. Of course Monk isn't killed at the end of "Mr Monk and the Three Pies, or "Mr. Monk Takes Manhattan" or "Mr. Monk and the Rapper", or any episode of Monk ever.

Now Lord knows you don't want to be "that guy" who tries to impress and outsmart everyone and everything around you (for both your sake and everyone else's), and I'm not suggesting every piece of art needs to PUSH BOUNDARIES and BREAK EXPECTATIONS. But if we could minimize the saturation of "does exactly what you already know it will" from 99.999% of the time to something like 97%, art/fiction/theatre would be a whole lot more interesting.

An application of this principle would be the following argument: a primary driver behind Joss Whedon's rabidly enthusiastic fanbase is that his storytelling breaks a few rules of pop enough that they've become his signatures. We know someone we come to love might actually die. If there's a woman on stage, she might do something that moves the plot forward other than fret about a guy.

This isn't to say he and his representations aren't without its problems or subject to critique, and trying to subvert tropes or templates doesn't automatically put you in the clear. But he's been able to cultivate a hell of a fanbase (which has in turn helped push his career) by occasionally making his narratives just a little less Simple.

Why does this matter? Well, because the fiction we produce and consume has a large part in how we process the rest of the world, which leads to...

Death to Simple Narratives, In Non-Fiction and the News

Millenials are entitled and self-centered. Straight guys desire women with big tits. Men and women are biologically programmed to be different. Just like we observe a lot of tropes in TV and movies, a lot of people go through their lives with simple narratives for how X or Y group of people are or should behave.

Let's take the ones I opened up with one at a time:

I'll first say that this is very tricky, because there are factual statements and understandings about populations of people that are perfectly permissable. To say ["lesbian couples tend to be more monogomous than straight couples"][8] is fine, because as the link demonstrates, there has been social science applied by professionals to this question and that's what they've found.

The problem is when an idea or finding or theory is reduced to something more basic that shortsells the truth, like "lesbian couples tend to be more monogomous than straight couples" getting heard as "lesbians aren't promiscouous".

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