Though we exist in a time of great media upheaval, where the Internet has made available so much story for so little effort, millions are still drawn to long-form traditional narratives. We still go to the cinema, the bookstore, the concert, the play, the big game, the event. Though so much power can be packed into a media snack – a tweet, a blog post, a text message, a sentence, a word, or even an acronym (LMAO anyone?) – we still sit down for super-sized media meals. Something must be inspiring us to pull up that chair and sup from the old media table. Inspiration seems to be the answer. What is the importance of inspiration to storytelling? In our digital world – full of bombardment from massive narrative abstraction and fragmentation, where so much story content is being communicated in so many bits and bytes and packets like bullets from a fiber-optic Gatling gun – we still find time to stick the old media morphine drip in. This happens when we do something so archaic as watch an hour-long drama on network television, spend nine innings at the baseball stadium, or, gasp, read an entire Harry Potter book cover-to-cover.
Joseph Campbell, were he writing this, would probably say that we go to the ‘big show’ for inspiration: to experience the empowering psychological effect of transitional tales – stories about people, heroes really, who must pass from one state of being into another in order to achieve some necessary purpose and become something greater. I believe we all want to experience this change within ourselves in one form or another. These inspirational experiences highlight the societal and personal hunger for renewal, for a resurrection of all things truly important: progress, learning, joy, improvement, happiness. I don’t think people are predisposed to simply decay – we always want more, better, different, and great, whether good or bad (as per the eye of the beholder). Consider this from Joe Lambert’s Digital Storytelling Cookbook:
Why [are resurrection tales] so powerful? On one level, we all have to wake up in the morning and choose to go on — to resurrect ourselves in the face of fate and circumstance, the memory of loss and almost unbearable struggle, and our own sense of weakness and vulnerability. The stories we are drawn to, that resonate in our direct emotional need, in general, are those that give us a reason to make that decision to go forward. They inspire us. The very word inspire, in its archaic sense, means to breath again. Stories encourage us to take one more breath, to swim up to the surface, above our despair, and live.
We dine on long-form stories despite living in a short-attention-span, digital, impersonal world. We do this, I believe, because we want to connect to characters that are becoming something greater. Why? Because we all want to be greater than we are. If it were not so, well, there wouldn’t be much point to anything. Participating in short-form media storytelling, be it tweeting or blogging or Facebook wall posting, or anything else we might do with social media, indeed generates a large, if not abstract, collective human narrative, but it also makes us subconsciously grateful for traditional narratives. How else does a film like The Dark Knight, or a media franchise like Mamma Mia!, or the sagas surrounding the winning team at the NCAA Final Four, and so on… how do they each continue to remain viable financially and culturally, despite the increasingly ubiquitous presence of the Web and it’s instant-satisfaction aesthetic? Simple: inspiration. Inspiration might come in a small dose, even in a gesture, but those stories that take work are the ones we seem to look to the most, and that is why some parts of old media will never go away. We’ll find ways, and content producers and providers MUST find ways, to keep everybody at the dinner table.