I find it bizarre — way beyond astonishing — that no one has done a study into how soaked in narrative our age is, well beyond any other age before us. And how much that narrative is fictional.
I’m not talking here of politics, though it will tie in, eventually. I’m talking our daily life and “narrative” — aka story.
It wasn’t so long ago that fiction by itself was considered a weird and possibly pernicious form of entertainment. A couple of centuries, AT MOST. Which in evolutionary terms is an eye blink.
Before that, while fiction has always been with us, it used to be in small quantities, and disguise itself as non-fiction.
Very few people reading about King Arthur or the various other fictional exploits of knights and fighters in the middle ages thought of them as made up out of whole cloth. Yes, to us the absurd turns of plot are obvious, but remember they had a pre-scientific mentality. For all they knew there were vegetable lambs just over the rise.
However, often, the story structure mimicked true accounts, biographies and rambling adventures.
It took centuries for fiction to evolve its own and have its own structure, though we are now fully surrounded by it. Just yesterday, my husband watched 4? 5? shows. I read a couple of fiction books. Our kids imbibe fiction through all those means plus games. It’s the form of entertainment that pervades everything.
Some of the more stringent sects still consider it a sin to write and read fiction, even without the fantasy element.
Obviously I don’t believe that. But I do believe we’re not taking in account how soaked we are in it.
Perhaps people don’t think it matters. Perhaps you need to be a producer of fiction to be acutely aware of how it’s NOT reality. (And some of the producers, even, don’t seem aware of that.)
Satisfying stories have a clear line of responsibility, preferably the character reaps the consequences of his own informed actions. (The informed part is debatable. In some story structures it’s not possible, such as say mystery. But I give them enough for an informed decision, which is not the same as a full knowledge.) They have a satisfying and clear climax. They have a satisfying and clear “morality” too, by which I don’t mean moral, but a self-consistent universe that is predictable.
Unfortunately, reality doesn’t have any of those. Which is why humans crave fiction.
The problem is that while snickers really satisfies, fiction only provides a so-so guide to real life. (I’m joking about snickers satisfying, before you jump on me. AFAICT that’s based on the fact they have minimal protein, aka peanuts.)
Sure, I used fiction to teach my kids to see how other people thought, and I often say it’s how we experience being in someone else’s mind. But when it comes to action-consequence, and particularly in the quantities we absorb fiction, it vitiates our thinking in peculiar ways.
Take Trump for instance. No small part of his rise is people’s conviction even before it that we’d get a new Reagan. “We suffered through Carter 2.0, we deserve our reward.” Only reality is not like that. You don’t deserve anything and there’s no such thing as foreshadowing. But of course, the fact he was a dem, and the fact the media “hates” him (Not really. Note they don’t report the stuff that would cost him his conservative base, such as Planned Parenthood support, or wanting to put his liberal sister in the Supreme court) triggers the foreshadowing reflex and people go “he’ll be just like Reagan.” And even I have to fight that, because I remember having doubts of Reagan. Not enough NOT to work for him. But I find my brain squirming that way and have to remind myself not only is the situation far more dire, but Trump is no Reagan (history, opinions, depth of thinking. Heck, the criticisms leveled at Reagan — war monger, excessive religiosity — are more like the ones leveled at Cruz, not Trump.)
But even more importantly, because our political opponents tend to come from wealthier backgrounds and have therefore been more insulated from reality, we get the strange vile prog idea that if they silence us long enough we’ll disappear or die out. This is based on the Marxist messianic promise that they are the future. Since they swallowed the whole package, this must be true. And their fiction promises them that the hero who fights for the oppressed, etc (i.e. the one imbued with Marxist ideas. The media and entertainment were taken over decades ago) always wins. And their opposition is OLD and set in its ways.
This is how they manage to completely ignore things like the barely walking zombies who are candidates for the democratic party nomination, or the fact that most of the prog rallies I pass are half and half college kids and really OLD people. Because fiction assures them all young/strong/vibrant people believe as they do.
This is how they missed the fact that over the last thirty years they became the side of money and privilege (And yep, the truly poor and dysfunctional, but those are the sheep, not the leaders.) This is how they can accept their president using “pen and phone” (“It’s a Kirk trick, so the good guys win”) while if W had done half of it, it would be terrible. Because if the villain uses trick,s then it’s pure evil. The hero can do it, though, because fiction.
This is why people like myself or the other Furies are NOT real women. Because women as they see in fiction are always on the “progressive” side. And all the “reality” they know is fiction.
We’re not immune from it either. See above example, but also how many people keep thinking collapse will be very fast and result in Mad Max. This wasn’t even true of truly collapsed places like say Beirut. And South America has been collapsing for centuries and it’s still not like that.
Post apocalyptic fiction is glorious and heroic (Unless done by our current lord and masters, in which case it’s dreary and boring.) Real collapse is slow and dreary, mostly damned inconvenient and unsafe. Real collapse is getting your car broken into twice a week, even in a nice part of town. Real collapse is getting the electricity turned off, not permanently but randomly, a few hours a day, so you never know what to count on. Real collapse is stocking up on oil and powdered milk because you never know when milk won’t show up, or will be spoiled on the shelf because of electrical black outs. (The oil thing might be Portuguese. People fry a lot, so oil disappears from shelves.)
And yeah, we tend to go for that. Just like both sides tend to think if the current system collapses, THEIR utopia ensues.
These are DANGEROUS ways for narrative to get into the brain, and if you fall into them you will most assuredly be hurt. If you live by the narrative you might not die by the narrative, but you won’t be happy, either.
Remember that. Remember you’re soaked in ink, surrounded by it, but it’s no reason to swallow it. Always be aware of the reality you live in, a reality that doesn’t foreshadow or repeat, or give clear indications of heroes and villains, or even link clear action with clear consequence. Turn off the fiction brain when you examine reality. It’s hard. And it’s not nearly as much fun.
But, alas, reality doesn’t match our fictions, and it is reality we have to live in.