Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stories we tell


I mentioned the idea of the stories we tell and how they affect us, as a community and as people, in The generic white guy. In that case, I was talking about diversity. Diversity is something we've allowed Hollywood to drop the ball on, and I believe that's had numerous negative effects on society as a whole.

It's not the only failure of our storytelling, though.

We tell Yojimbo a lot. We only rarely tell The Seven Samurai. I partly chose these because they not only illustrate my point, but also because, both being movies directed by Akira Kurosawa, I won't credit one moviemaker over another in the choices. If it makes it easier for some, however, substituting A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven won't change anything I'm discussing here.

We tell the story of the individual, usually the story of the individual who is either better than the community or, as here, gets one over on the community. We rarely tell stories about the value of communities.

There are multiple factors that come into this. I think that the rise of the notion of the director as auteur has made it an attractive position for people who see themselves as uniquely able to tell stories, and, as such, inclined toward stories about a single "chosen one" who is uniquely able to save the day. It is also the story that's easiest to turn into a repeatable formula, which is important for studios that are now all run by corporations that need to see why it will work.

This is also the easiest story to tell in a movie that runs 90-120 minutes. Adding more and more characters to represent community is difficult. The Seven Samurai is nearly twice as long as Yojimbo, although The Magnificent Seven is only a half-hour longer than A Fistful of Dollars. On a television series, it's easier to stretch that out and look at the community. In fact, if you are telling an over-arcing story, it becomes difficult not to expand to a community, if only because you have to show all of the details and events.

We used to have a lot more stories of communities. Even when Howard Hawks made Rio Bravo in part as a response to the idea in High Noon of the marshal trying to recruit amateurs to help in his fight against a gang of criminals, he still surrounds John Wayne with Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and Rick Nelson, because teamwork was important.

A rote peek at my favorite movies would, I'm sure, offer plenty of examples of individuals who have to go off on their own to win the say. Dirty Harry leaps to mind. I'm not ashamed of that or talking those movies down. I don't think the individual who saves the day's natural opposite is the community comes together to save the day, it's opposite is closer to the morally indefensible Complainer is Always Wrong trope of '80s TV cartoons. I think there's a place for both individual and community victories in our stories.

The problem, however, is when there are too many stories of individuals who solve things while everyone around them does nothing or even actively works to thwart them, is that we begin to see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories and neglect our need for our community. We also see the solution to our problems as being a strong-willed individual who will ride in and fix everything single-handed. That's how a motherfucker like Trump gets elected president. People believe too strongly in that mythology.

We're seeing more teams. The Marvel shows thus far have indeed forced characters who would by nature tend toward working on their own, and forced them to look to others for help. The newest Star Wars movie, Rogue One, and Guardians of the Galaxy both handle teams in an organic manner that tell good stories about people working together.

Nothing is ever as simple as can be covered in a blog post, and certainly not mine, but I think it's important to see what stories we're being told and how they affect us and the world around us. We eventually internalize and, in some manner, believe in the stories we tell ourselves the most, so it's good to occasionally look to see if it's one that we are proud to stand behind.

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