The act of storytelling is in essence a linear mode of expression. There is a before and after, a beginning and an end. It is a consequence of the writing revolution, and a model from the universe that existed prior to electronic media. It functions in a way where certain things are hidden and slowly revealed to build tension and excitement, with a payoff in the end to finally sum up the whole story, which in most cases try to tell you some sort of moralistic view. One could probably trace such practices back to its roots of the Shaman or ‘campfire’ stories, where people would gather to hear the tales of the unknown.

Does this still work today? By ‘work’, I mean, will people still find this interesting and convincing? With the presence of electronic media (internet, mobile phones, video, etc), things are starting to change. I might be getting ahead of my argument here, because I’m not giving enough background on how the media is changing the way our minds work, i.e. the way we construct our thoughts and understand the world. To start off, all stories, whether visual or audio, have a frame implied; by that i mean a start and an end, whether it’s a physical frame (like the ones we see on paintings), or a time-frame. Human beings like to see things in that way, because we are affected by notions of life and death, and as such we try to make sense of our short span on Earth. So stories are convincing because they frame a moment to the benefit of their point, but have people ever wondered about what happens after ‘they lived happily ever after?’ What happens to Snow White and the Handsome Prince after they fall in love and get married for many years? Isn’t there a possibility that she might get old and ugly too and turn into the wicked witch that sought to wreck her? Would that, then, change the premise of the story, and set a new tone for its point of view?

Storytelling provides a framework for fragmented viewpoints, all making sense in their own little universes, without consideration of others, which is what makes crossovers interesting. When two worlds collide, we have a juxtaposition of ideas that form new relationships and therefore new ideas. Imagine a movie where Spider-man meets The Dark Knight, how would that play out? They probably already did a comic on that already, and that’s simple enough as they have much in common, with a clear definition on who’s good and evil. ( on a side note, the notion of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is also a concept that only exists within a certain ‘frame’, although this should be left for another essay.) But what if it was say, Spider-man meets Terminator? Not the most predictable combination but even so, would be a bizarre but interesting one to watch, if such a movie was ever made. The concepts that hold each universe together must find a way to merge and make sense of each other. Spider-man projects a thriving civilization that is threatened by some crooks with the likes of the Joker, while Terminator speaks of a dystopian and crumbling vision of the future at the mercy of machines. When civilization is threatened by a greater evil such as the Terminators, would the baddies like the Joker put down their petty goals and fight alongside Spider-man to save humanity? Or, if the Joker lives in a world where time machines exist, would he try to take over one and travel back to own Skynet, and perhaps even assassinate Spider-man’s mother? Whichever the case, it requires alteration and compromise of both sides, sometimes leading to new consequences unforeseen by the authors themselves. In essence, they are two systems conjured up by different creators being put together to co-exist, and the lines that shape their features will also be the ones that cut each other down.

Or what if it was a mash-up of a China war film on the revolution and a war film from maybe Taiwan? Both sides would have different points of views on who is the good and bad, because they have different ‘frames’, and it would be interesting to watch how it pans out, if ever made. Propaganda, is in effect also another function of storytelling, and with the introduction of electronic media, it is hard to keep their story intact with so many other interferences. Electronic media makes information fluid, joins pieces together, even those that weren’t meant to be together (not unlike the new combinations of couples across the globe thanks to sites like match.com). It is difficult to censor information from people today and to convince people of a story that only exists within borders.

Yes, there is life after death; it is continued in our sons and daughters.

One Response to “Storytelling”

  1. stephanosuh

    Just to keep in line with your examples, you should really look at comic books and their ‘alternate universe’ spin-offs. I’m not the best person to be explaining it, but there are a lot of writers/illustrators who have taken existing DC/Marvel universes and completely changed the perspective on them.

    I’m pretty sure there is a lot of writing on the subject of comic books and storytelling. The medium allows for a lot of freedom within existing ‘frames’. In some sense, a comic series will never really end, as long as there’s an illustrator or writer willing to pick it again. They’re still putting out comics for X-Men, and they have story arcs, focuses on certain characters, all branching out. In a sense they’ve really created a universe with the only limitation being the interest of the readers.

    As for story-telling evolving with medium… look at the “Lost” series. It jumps all over the place and they even use a lot of ‘flash-forwards’ which works well with the plot because it involves time travel. I guess in the end it’ll still be a beginning-middle-end model, but I know in actual writing, there have been a lot of experiments. I can’t really think of anything specific now.

    Also look at story models, which originate from literature, but are really apparent in film. There is the traditional ‘hero story’, ’slice of life’, and others. People that study this shit even break it down further, by specific authors who’ve made changes to the ‘universal’ story models.

    Also have you realized that films from different countries tell a lot about the culture? Japanese movies for example, they never have an ending. As an American, it’s uncomfortable for me because I want some closure, and a big “THE END.” Italian movies tend to go the extreme, and show either an entire life, or even an entire town’s life. American Hollywood movies are kind of in the middle. But even now they’re becoming more open-ended so they can bank on the sequels of sequels of sequels.

    I think all this said, a story will be told and retold and changed etc. to reflect the interest of the listener/reader/viewer. The people telling it will make the necessary changes to increase profit or interest.

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