“Information is everywhere”, we’re told. We often demand: “Just give me the facts.” Haven’t you thought or even said: “Before I show you the money (or believe or behave as you want me to), show me the data”?
If you have all the data, then surely you can make the correct or best decision, right? Wrong.
The way I see the world, behind everything there’s always a crafted story, not merely a basket loaded with diligently harvested facts. In culture, there is no objective category of “the facts” or “all the facts”. Cultural players, in their quests to persuade others, always select and present what in their opinion is relevant information. Trained, practiced (and often paid) storytellers choose and manipulate “the data” to tell their story, not “the” story.
You ask me:“What storyteller?” Am I talking about best-selling novelists and screenwriters? Yes. But numerous enterprising and talented storytellers roam throughout all cultural territories. Picture Wall Street, Main Street, the Washington DC political battlefield, religious faiths, social media networks, and the legal profession. Consider corporations offering us gasoline, pharmaceuticals, homes, consumer goods and services, and entertainment. Think of economists and other social “scientists”. Imagine college humanities teachers.
Why study cultural storytellers and their stories? Focus on three Es: entertainment, education, and empowerment. Analyzing them can entertain us and satisfy our curiosity. Much more importantly, there’s inherent value in increasing our knowledge and sharpening our reasoning and judgment. Isn’t it profitable to acquire insight regarding how and why alluring propaganda is trying to get you to think and act in a given fashion? We should ask if the charming narratives designed to persuade us nevertheless could injure us. Words want action, yet action (or inaction) sometimes can cost us plenty.
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Storytelling Is Selling (August 2014)