Consciously Consuming Media and Narratives

Stories have always been the glue of community life. Until now.

Posted Apr 20, 2017

Once upon a time, in a sleepy reality I call Before Digital Era, the primary story making experience was still hooked up to family life.  As a boy, stories heard around our dining room table defined how I saw myself.

Family narratives used to reveal how and where we fit into the bigger picture.  They pointed the way to vital traditions of connection and meaning.

Stories have always been the glue of community life.  It has been so in every culture. 

Until now. 

Now family time has been replaced by device time.  Most modern stories are products for a consumer culture. By the time a child is ten years old, he or she has an imagination structured by tens of thousands of messages all reinforcing the whopper that meaning can be found through the brand of running shoes you wear, or the kind of ride you drive.

As a result, separation and alienation have never been greater.

When I was still a newcomer to filmmaking, and fighting for a place at the table, I complained one night to an old mentor about the harsh unfairness of Hollywood.   He was not buying a word of it. 

“You are forgetting, Barnet.  You are not in Hollywood.  Hollywood is in you.”

I chewed on that one for many years before the light when on.

Nowadays I am bombarded with information from every direction.  I have had to become a conscious story consumer. I am responsible for every message I let in from a story. It is up to me to participate. 

There has to be a contract between an audience and a storyteller for the magic to occur. It is a co-creation.  Walt Whitman said, “ To have great poets, there must be great audiences”.  If we don’t know what value to expect from the contract, then maybe it is because we have lost sight of our roles as participants.

Quantum physics tells us that an observer has something to do with the experience of reality.  If the environment is an extension of my perception, even a little, then if I change my mind about what is important to me, it will produce different results.  

In other words, if you change your stories, you will change their meanings and thus the experience of your life. There are no bystanders in the commerce of stories.  We are all participants.

Here are some ways I approach it.

From action-hero stories I get what it means to live every moment as if it is my last. To be engaged, involved and committed to a cause.  To participate with honor.  I understand the importance of get-up-and-go.

Love stories unfold in enchanted pockets of gracious giving and receiving. They foster my compassion for the loss and hurts of others; physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. They tease open my heart and mind.

Space operas and science fiction help me see past the world of form. Beneath the veneer of every alien civilization and dimension await shared universal tests. How do I make a difference? Live more. Stretch more. Forgive more.  What am I prepared to move beyond (or leave behind) to access Forces within, to go boldly into the unknown.

Dramatic stories help me connect with the feelings of others. How do I deal with my own relationships; with my spouse, children, friends, boss, colleagues?  With myself?  With the Divine?  When I can recognize myself in another person, it increases my ability to respond to them.

Comedies always force me to wonder why I take myself so seriously. Funny stories remind me to laugh. To find humor in the frantic dance I do for love without remembering I am loved all along.

Horror stories and war stories have lots to reveal about what is dark in me as well as what is light. Often reflecting judgments or emotions that are not fully expressed, or that I am denying altogether.  Stories that arouse strong feelings of antipathy in me are always a sure sign of resistances, fears, and blockages to my growth that persist below the waterline of my awareness.

We can change our stories as easy as this. Somehow the world magically rearranges itself to reflect a new story.  Take a moment to experiment for yourself. Pick a story, event, or conversation and start with these steps:

-What is your reaction to the so-called facts of your current story? Does it make you angry? Does it upset you? Do you wish it would go away?

-Create an alternative meaning for your story, one that you prefer. But no super heroes or helpful aliens. It must be within your realm of possibility. You are the protagonist; you are the hero.

-Feed your new story with committed attention, and be vigilant for evidence to support it.

-Stay detached from evidence to the contrary. Don’t let them suck you in.

-Most importantly, live your new story heroically. 

About the Author

Barnet Bain is the writer and director of Milton’s Secret, and the author of The Book of Doing and Being,

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