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Thursday 17 December 2015

Hijacking The Narrative

A story can be very different when taken from another perspective.

Take, for example, the well-known tale of the brave police officers trying to counteract the criminal activity of a well-connected crime family in the 50s and 60s. Their fortitude in the face of a crime boss of significant power and means is an inspiration to us all. The Untouchables -

...wait, is that what I am talking about? Because I'm pretty sure that is also The Godfather, from another angle.

Think about those two novels, those two movies. They are different, yes - but they could almost be two sides of the same coin, with very little shifting. The two sets of events could happen in the same storyline, but who we root for and who we sympathise for is a case of perspective.

(I'm more of a Corleone man than an Elliot Ness - but that's just me.)

That's an example of two stories that can be seen as vaguely similar. Taking a different perspective in an existing story can lead to just as different results.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a fresh take on Hamlet. It's a play that literally takes place in and around the events of Hamlet, with the two titular buffoons as main characters. Where Hamlet itself, as a play, is afflicted with the air of melancholy and paranoia that is inherent in its main character - R&GAD is absurd and comedic, with the two regularly forgetting which of them is which.

Sometimes if we want examples of this, we aren't so lucky as to have opposing viewpoints presented in canonical media. We have to think for ourselves. (Rare, right?) So there's the story about the engineer whose family were killed in an insurgency who dedicates the rest of his life to building the ultimate deterrent against future insurgency...who is unfortunately killed when the Rebels attack the second Death Star.

This happens in real life, too. I mean history is a thing of many different stories, and history is heavily reliant on perspective. Anyone who knows anything about the second world war knows how different it went to how people think it went. The story pans out in different ways depending on whose history you read. As long as we're aware of this, though, we're capable of stepping outside the box and forming a kind of aggregate narrative that is closer to the truth than any one angle.

This is how novelists do it with complex multi-character multi-arc stories, too. Usually the end result is a pastiche of multiple stories that hammer together into one single narrative, presenting a more rounded and filled-out story than one perspective could allow for.

But if a fiction can be altered by changing perspective - if an author can make the story seem like it is going one particular way, then alter how we feel about it and what we think is going on at the drop of a hat - then surely, so can a reality.

The thing with this is that an author or creator or writer has control over their product (hopefully). They can dictate perspective as they see fit - the narrative is theirs to control. Real life doesn't always work like that, as much as people would like it to.

You see politicians do it all the time. If a story is unfavourable to them, they will try and frame it in such a way that it minimizes that lack of favour. Spin doctors specialise in this - and the hope is that the perspective shift becomes what people accept as the only truth. (This happens quite often. More often than anyone would like.)

It's not a case of opposition, either. Sometimes even a slight adjustment of angle can produce a very different result. What's the difference between a zealot and a true believer? What's the difference between a militant and a soldier? The angle of how the shadows fall. Language is very important in how we think of things, and those who use language carefully can be instrumental in dictating opinion and perspective.

Where am I going with this? Didn't start off with a conclusion in mind, really; but I think I have some idea.

Once upon a time there was a baby born. He was born in poverty, due to inefficient bureaucracy and basic lack of equality; and so we aren't surprised when this young man grows up to be very conscientious, and considerate - almost to his own detriment. He shows favour to people that he's expected to shun, and he preaches that we should help each other. Like all the time. Like the only way we can make things better for US is to make things better for THEM, because THEY are US.

He sees that people are hungry and he feeds them. He sees that the poor are being taken advantage of by the wealthy, and does something about it. He sees injustice all around him, and tries to fix it...and is criminalised for it. To the point that, in the end, he is put to death alongside murderers and thieves, because he's considered an enemy of the state - a state made great (in part) by wealth division and bureaucracy, the very things he stood against.

By now I am fairly convinced that you've realised I'm putting a spin on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It's a perspective that I buy into far more than the entire son-of-God narrative. Because isn't it actually far more worthy, far more holy, to do good things just BECAUSE they are good things? To try and make life better for people because it is not only LOGICALLY the best thing to do but also MORALLY? Isn't that a far stronger message than...well...

...than the narrative that he was the predestined Messiah, which was altered on and off over a period of centuries, mostly to suit whoever was in charge at the time, wherein he was pretty much forced to be the ultimate dude bro because of God-dad and was sent down to die for our sins? Which by the way is weak as hell - die for our sins? Why not show us how to NOT SIN? Why not show us how to not be shitty people? Nope, instead he gets to be martyred. All he does in life is overshadowed by the fact that God-dad wants him to be strapped to wood and killed by exhaustion and asphyxiation.

But that's the narrative that we use. It's the narrative that is adopted by the culture I am surrounded by. It's the easier one to get behind. That way we don't need to actually DO good things in a very pro-active and charitable way - we just need to be vaguely good, because Jesus wasn't here to show us how to live, he was here to show us that God-dad loves us so much he'd kill his own adopted son.

This is what happens when we let perspective be dictated to us - this is a literal hijacking of the narrative. I quite often like to talk about unpopular or contrary interpretations of how things are or the way things have been, if only because it shows that there is a different perspetive that may otherwise be overlooked. It's as much a reminder to those I talk to, as it is a reminder to myself. Challenge the narrative. Find a contrary viewpoint. Draw information from multiple sources. Informed decisions are cool, people! Be people that are cool.

Don't let your perspective be hijacked.

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