Arguably, story is in our souls.
People have told stories since they first walked the Earth. We find stories painted on rock walls, woven into tapestries, and carved into buildings and monuments. Stories have been handed down from generation to generation, written, published, recorded as voice and music, acted out on stage, filmed, and posted on the Internet.
But there are stories and there are stories. Stories can relate history, teach science, provide moral education and guidance. They can entertain, relax, offer welcome distraction, even bind us together. Or they can mislead and manipulate. Like every tool we create, stories are morally neutral. They can be used for good or ill.
In the political realm, stories convey messages about people, organizations, policies, or programs. Here, they have basically one purpose: to align people with the storyteller. While the practice is ancient, in recent times a word has emerged for it: narrative.
Before the early 2000’s, you didn’t hear “narrative” used that way. You were more likely to hear it with regard to fictional storytelling, where it refers to storytelling passages distinct from dialogue. It only became a common term for political storytelling about ten years ago. In either sense, narrative is basically the same: the organized telling of a connected series of details and events.
In every narrative, material is selected and arranged with a goal in mind: to engage the audience’s attention, draw them into the story, and align them with designated characters. In other words, narrative manipulates the thoughts and feelings of its audience. In a work of fiction, such manipulation is essential to achieving the goal of the story. It hooks you, draws you in, and keeps you entertained until the climax and denouement. You welcome that manipulation. Without it, boredom would drive you off to something else!
But in the broad realm of politics, manipulation by narrative has a very different purpose. Far from entertaining, it seeks to gain the audience’s allegiance. From the company proclaiming its good intentions to the candidate running for office to the party hammering its agenda through a legislature…