On Storytelling: A discussion of the privileging of certain forms of storytelling over others

Part One: Please don’t tell me that the movie was better than the book.

I suppose the first stories I was introduced to were the ones my parents told me, the ones that sent my infant self into sleep. As soon as I could talk, I was the one who held those books, told the story that I could see even though I couldn’t read yet. I would make up stories to go along with the pictures, each time telling a different story even if the pictures didn’t themselves change.

Soon after that again, I was introduced to the magical world of movies, animated Disney classics at first, but with the occasional slightly more Hollywood Classic thrown in every once and a while. I became deeply attached to these people, these stories acted out in front of me.

Music wove in and out of each day, listening to the 80s music my parents would play around the house, and occasionally sitting my parents down to treat them to my tone-deaf toddler theatrics. I would tell my parents stories of great adventures, and occasionally write them down when I learnt how.

So, you see, I’m a longstanding fan of stories. In all their forms.

***

I’m sitting in the break room at work with a book in one hand and an apple in the other, absolutely gobbling up the story and pretty much ignoring the apple entirely. A co-worker walks in and audibly snorts when they see I am reading a book.

They then proceed to interrogate me about my reading habits, which I inform them are less like habits and more like a long-term addiction.

And then they say the words that any avid book reader dreads.

“Why don’t you just watch the movie. It’s probably better anyway.”

I won’t lie, hearing this for the millionth time that day alone made me want to throw my book at them.

As one of the many times I am regularly asked why I am always reading books, as if the possibility of watching ‘the movie version’ is infinitely better, this particular moment stood out for me because my co-worker also told me, mere moments later that they don’t read books at all, simply because they prefer movies instead.

This shocked me beyond belief. How could they not read books when they are so much better than movies?

And then I realised I was part of the problem.

***

For some reason, books and movies have been pitted against each other for nearly a century in the battle for the ultimate storytelling form. For many people, this is the most common example of the privileging of certain forms of storytelling, though this act of privileging specific forms is not exclusive to film and books. Television, visual art forms, music and theatre, along with other literary forms are often subject to this system of privilege as well.

I suppose it is easy to blame it all on the old High Culture/Popular Culture dichotomy, to point the finger at centuries of aristocratic shaming of any forms of creativity widely available to the public. However, it clearly goes beyond this.

To place certain forms of creative work over others is to privilege particular forms of access, with movies and television often being more accessible to a mass audience (I speak here of course of low to middle class people in developed nations where these forms are readily available. I will continue to address other traditions of storytelling below.) These fast and easily consumed forms are often more accessible to audiences, whether they are paid for or otherwise. It clearly takes less time to watch a film or television show than it does to read a lengthy book, and so for more people, this is the most accessible form of storytelling for them and seems the ‘better’ form for this very reason. Similarly, the restricted accessibility of certain forms of traditionally high culture forms of storytelling such as theatre, dance and opera often see these forms labelled better because of their long-standing (and often expensive) cultural value.

But I feel there is another problem at work here. To engage with other forms of storytelling can be quite easy also. It takes less time again to listen to a good song, or moments to view an astounding piece of artwork. So why do we prefer films and television, or other video media?

***

For thousands of years, our primary form of storytelling was exactly that, telling stories. The verbal tradition of storytelling is often ignored in debates about creative forms of storytelling.

And I think it is because we want to think we have found better ways of telling stories, when in fact, verbal storytelling forms the very basis of all other forms of storytelling. Films, plays, songs, even novels, rely upon the tradition of verbal storytelling in order to create the foundation for the work they do. Every form is developed with an understanding of the role of the storyteller and their voice in the sharing of stories.

We experience this on a personal level every day, telling our friends and family what we did that day, any funny anecdotes, things that made us sad or made us laugh. We rely upon verbal storytelling for so much of our social interaction.

We even have social media accounts dedicated to telling our stories.

I don’t want to compare tweets and novels and say they are all equal in merit. Often, there is more effort put into a published novel, or completed film than goes into a single tweet.

But that isn’t a matter of the strength of the form. That is purely the work of the person behind the story. An artist, a true storyteller could take any form and share their story with immense power.

That is the power of stories.

***

We are constantly trying to one-up ourselves, trying to convince ourselves that each move we make can be characteristically better than the next.

But when it comes to storytelling, I think we need to take a step back and really consider that all forms of storytelling are equally as valid and equally as important.

One form is not characteristically better than the other, simply because it is a different form. It is the way in which a storyteller chooses to use the form that really makes the story worth paying attention to.

So we should stop trying to convince one another that the book was better than the movie, or vice versa, and instead just be grateful that we are all as equally invested in storytelling, in all its varied and exciting forms, as we are.

‘Part Two: They better get this adaptation right’ is coming soon.

 

 

© Hayley New 2015

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An Open Letter To Marty McFly, on the 21st of October 2015

Dear Marty McFly,

Well, it’s here, your future. Honestly, I think you are going to be little disappointed.

There are no hoverboards. No self-lacing shoes. No flying cars. None of that cool stuff you were expecting. And trust me, we are all as disappointed as you are. But there are bigger disappointments.

We’ve had some pretty awful things happen since 1985.

There have been wars, numerous wars, where victory has been declared over a pile of helpless bodies. There have been terror attacks, declarations of “strength”, as if strength was measured by one’s ability to slaughter the supposed opposition. We’ve had some terrible world leaders, (I suggest googling George W Bush and Vladimir Putin to start with). There have been famines, and droughts and mass breakouts of disease. There has been a lot of death and hunger and hatred, in neighbourhoods and across nations. There have been shootings and bombings and every –ism you can think of. Our environment has suffered, as have our animals. So much sadness, so much grief, and so much ignorance. Too much to list it all here.

And the worst part is, a lot of this could have been prevented. In most cases, we’ve not been the innocent ones. The truth is, no-one has claim to that word anymore, not even you.

When you hear about all the things that happened in the last 30 years, it’s no surprise you climbed into that DeLorean and skipped ahead, crashed your way through time to now. You missed a lot of terrible things.

But there has also been some pretty great things. And you missed those too.

We’ve made huge strides towards helping people*, decreasing child mortality and global hunger significantly. We’ve cured diseases and made developments in technology that can only improve our chances of curing others. We’ve tumbled walls and we’ve achieved equality for more people (though even this is arguable). We’ve learnt a lot about our world and about the universe far beyond. We’ve made such tremendous art. We’ve learnt a lot about each other. We’ve done our best to ensure our best foot is going forward in the world, even if we have made a tonne of mistakes along the way.

Sure, we’ve still got a lot to do, but there’s a lot to celebrate here. We are still learning, and we’re not giving up.

And there is one thing that I think you will be excited about, the one thing we have that gives us hope.

You see, we still have the whole future ahead of us. The whole big wide open future and all its possibilities floating ever-ahead of us. The future never stops being there, it never stops stretching out and giving us chances to make big things happen that could change everything. And that’s really exciting.

Potentially more exciting than a hoverboard could ever be.

In a world so obsessed with the past, with looking back and getting caught up in immense nostalgia for the past, I want to thank you for reminding me to look ahead, imploring me to remember the future and all its vast and changing possibilities. It was a necessary reminder.

I sincerely wish you all the best, and good luck trying to work it all out. Trust me, all of us still are.

Kind Regards,

Hayley

*See this video regarding the Millennium Goals list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5DZF7YvwwM

 

© Hayley New 2015