Saturday, September 28, 2013

Big Fish: defending the liar-poet

At one point in the 2003 film Big Fish, Will Bloom says to his larger-than-life storyteller father, Ed,“You’re like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny combined – just as charming, and just as fake.”  Will seems to have been taking notes from the critics of poetry and fiction through the ages, and his hangup with verisimilitude would likely have earned him a verbose ink-wasting toy from Sir Phillip Sidney[1], who said “these… be they which most properly do imitage… to teach and delight, and to imitate borrow nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be, but range, only reined with learned discretion, into the divine consideration of what may be and should be.”

This film, as it centers on Ed Bloom and his self-fashioned Homeric epic of a life story, addresses head-on the perceived binary of "true versus interesting."  Certainly Ed’s son Will sees it as a binary, and because his father dwells so much in the realm of interesting, Will perceives a lack of truth.  To what extent this binary itself is true or useful then comes into question.  As viewers we are allowed to experience a large portion of Ed’s poetic, inflated narrative, and determine for ourselves its value.

The argument of Renaissance theorists, in defense of poetry that was both written in common vernaculars and about non-religious subject matter, was that narratives don’t have to be true, or explicitly religious to have moral value for the reader.  Giacopo Mazzoni[2] (defending Dante) said that “Perfect poetry is a game…it puts delight first in order to provide a later benefit.” Mazzoni proposed that there is value simply in being transported by “delight” and transcending actual sensory or historical experience.  Perhaps Ed’s stories were providing something valuable regardless of verisimilitude. 

But Will, understandably, has trouble finding his footing in this entire story, with no way of contextualizing what portions are based in lived experience.  He appears to have dismissed the stories as a whole, and because those stories are so much of whom his father is, he is left without a relationship with his father.  This plays out into an actual estrangement after Will’s indictment, “I’m a footnote in that story Dad – the context for your great adventure.  Which never happened, incidentally.  You were selling novelty products in Wichita the day I was born.”

Because Will can neither reconcile his father’s fishing story with historical facts, nor find metaphoric value in it, he reduces it to a covert lie.  He appears to have systematically broken down all of his father’s stories in the same way, and to have bitterly concluded that all of it is a lie that is “covering up” the person that his father really is, rendering him unknowable.  He seems unable to fathom Sidney's 3rd category of poets: those who tell stories as they "should" be.  Ed certainly has mastered how a story "should" go in order to maximize delight. 

As the film proceeds to conclude, this series of assumptions by Will (summed up by the line, “Dad, I have no idea who you are because you have never told me a single fact.”) is both erroneous and ironic.  Not only is there a fair amount of historic fact in Ed’s stories, but the stories themselves actually are an embodiment of the spirit and essence of the man telling them.  They are also a gift and a heritage that can outlast his mortality.
Similar to Renaissance theorists, the film is left wrestling with issues of the nature of imitation, the problem of defining reality or nature, and contending (against Will’s assumptions) that embellished, engaging stories [poetry] can serve moral ends. John Dryden[3] adamantly defended the role of imagination in creating story (poetry.)  He defended the value of the ability of art to express vividly and creatively, rather than to necessarily represent reality mimetically.

Ed’s stories are consistent with the format of mythical hero-epics that have been defended against critics claiming that poetry is guilty of lying.  William Doty, PhD[4] noted, “There are any number of happenings or circumstances or actions here that typically appear in mythological hero stories: the frequent absence of the father; Edward … exhibits unusually fast physical growth; he is a careful student of wisdom he follows a call to leave home –an odyssey-like wandering… He saves others from danger, [he] domesticates a giant man, [and] like Herakles, Edward performs assigned labors. [He] fights for the hand of his beloved Sandra.  He breathes underwater, and is finally transformed into a large fish in the river.  [The novel’s author, Daniel Wallace] states in an interview that “Edward bloom is mythologized while he is still alive.””

But is the value in Ed’s self-mythologizing storytelling didactic?  Especially from Will’s perspective, when it is impossible to know how much of each story is fabricated it is easy to see how he would conclude that the stories held no didactic or moral value.  However Renaissance theorists also purported that there is an imaginative function that poetry can serve: that producing delight and engaging the audience’s appetite for elements of story is a virtue in itself, and that it can make story more effective in teaching further principles of morality.  Ed’s stories clearly do this very well.  If knowledge can be factual or also be about luminescence and character, then there is a type of knowledge to be attained through Ed’s stories.  You get to know Ed, even if you don’t necessarily get to know what actually happened to Ed, or how it actually looked.  This is what Ed seems to mean with his response to Will’s accusations when he says, “I’ve been nothin’ but myself since the day I was born, and if you can’t see that it’s your failin’, not mine.”

Doty described this “other” type of knowledge, with it’s root in delight, in describing the novel from which the film was created, “The last sentence of the book is “No one believes a word (p. 180), and yet we have believed the story, in that manner that fiction can be truer than reality, fantasy more important than arithmetic, and a myth as big as a universe.”

Ed’s stories were “truer than reality” because they revealed his personality better than any unembellished account ever could.  His stories were not intended to be informative, but rather enlightening.  His gift for storytelling was consistently inviting his audience to fully invest in his tale, and ultimately to get involved in the creation of the text.  This was definitively illustrated by a change in the screenplay[5].  Originally Will’s constructed version of his father’s death was to be told at the funeral, but the script was changed to have Will telling that story to Ed himself, as he was dying, and among the other ways it resolved their relationship, it allowed Will to “gain a new insight into the man who raised him, as well as the importance of storytelling in all our lives.”

There is an interesting deviation from Sir Philip Sidney’s original argument that poets make no truth claims and that because, “the poet nothing affirms, [he] therefore never lieth.”  Ed Bloom is, in fact, making truth claims.  He even says, “I’ve told you a thousand facts, Will.  That’s what I do.  I tell stories.”  To which Will replies, “You tell lies, Dad.”   Yet the film never portrays Ed as a liar.  Film Journalist John Kenneth Muir[6] said “Instead, as his funeral reveals, he is just a serial exaggerator: one with a foot in fact, and another in colorful fiction.  By Ed’s reckoning, Will tells stories with “all the facts, none of the flavor,” and that’s just not his way.”   In the end we love Ed Bloom the way Dryden loves Shakespeare.

This seems like something of a loose interpretation of Sidney’s meaning.  While Sidney enthusiastically defended that value of a well-told story, he also based that defense on the story never claiming to be a historic fact.  But, despite that incongruence, Muir goes on to say, “Big Fish is filled with incredible whimsy and magic.  And yet, at the same time, the film seems to truly capture something essential about our mortality, and the mortality of those we love.  We can view tall tales as merely, “amusing lies” from someone we love, or as the seeds of immortality itself, a renewable source of energy that we can share with our children and our grandchildren.  [Because] as it turns out, Ed’s strange stories become important to Will… Ed wanted Will to listen to his stories for a reason, and not merely to entertain him.  Someday, the boy would need to know the details so he could take ownership of Ed’s story and continue it for the next generation.”

The story become immortal, and tremendously valuable to Will. He appears to have become converted, and not in need of Sir Sidney's ink after all. 

[1] Sir Philip Sidney, The Defence of Poesy
[2] Giacopo Mazzoni, Introduction and Summary – On the Defense of the Comedy of Dante
[3] John Dryden, An Essay of Dramatic Poesy
[4] Myths and Tales in Big Fish by William Doty, Ph. D.,
[5] Breaking Down Big Fish, by John August (screenwriter)

Theory Into Practice Reading Response #4 - Pop Culture in Literacy Pedagogy and Family Home Media

           Nothing that we've read thus far has evoked so much note-taking from me as Beach and O’Brien’s chapter on Teaching Popular Culture Texts[1].  It was so full of specific examples of application, and precisely defined proscriptions that there were a lot of concrete ideas that could be gleaned and immediately transferred into practice.  I felt this entire article interplayed interestingly with last week’s interview with Robert McKee[2] about the power of making and creativity.  Nearly every suggestion in this Pop-Culture-Text article focused on empowering students as creators of their own texts and as makers of meaning.  I appreciated the idea of bringing the process of learning how to read a text critically to the texts that students are already engaging in with earnestness and delight.  I do, however, see the potential for resistance.  For many people, and especially for vulnerable teens and adolescents, private media habits are intensely personal.  Reflecting upon them critically and publicly requires a willingness for vulnerability that I would anticipate most insecure teens to resist.  (Not unlike Drew’s reticence in About Home Movies.[3])
            I had read Dean Duncan’s article, Family Home Media[4] before.  It came up in context when I took a Children’s Media class from him, long before the rubber hit the road for application in my own family life.  Reading it again from my current perspective was interesting.  I still agree with the concepts in it, but for myself I have a much clearer idea of the work and resistance involved in putting those concepts into practice.  I don’t think the resistance was addressed in either article.
            My 7-year-old son, my oldest, has had a peculiar relationship with media from the beginning.  He has a tenuous, anxious relationship with videos and film, and he refused on pain of panic attack to watch anything with a plot until he was 4 and a half years old.  We still have to introduce new texts to him very carefully and often with bribes. He’s also revealed an unusual propensity for fixation, even for children at ages naturally prone to fixation.  This severely complicated my idealized vision of my own “family home media,” and I’ve never actually managed to steer it back to where I’d originally hoped it to be.  But I have learned to work with what I have.    I was interested to see how my willingness to work with my son and the media he was willing to engage with often paralleled the pop-culture-texts teaching described by Beach and O’Brien.
            Along with a host of other long-suffering parents, I have become well-versed in children’s media characters and constructed realities that my younger self would have scoffed at.  I have learned to engage with my son in creative play and discussion revolving around Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Lego Star Wars.   Certainly a part of me resists this because I perceive it as “low” art.  And certainly I’m still trying to compensate with more “high art” in areas he’s less resistant to, like bedtime reading.  But as much as I’d perhaps prefer his creative play to not revolve around licensed characters, that doesn’t mean that there is no creative value or potential for critical analysis in that play. 
            I felt that both Duncan and Beach/O’Brien addressed the need to help adults, parents, and children reflect upon their own relationship with media and how it could be refined and enriched.  They both encouraged adult/teacher figures to model critical thinking with casually encountered texts for the children in their care.  I think they even both encouraged blurring the distinction between the teacher and the learner in these conversations.  The biggest difference I felt between these two conversations was that the end goal of one was literacy skills while the end goal of the other seemed to reach further – to the becoming enlightened and improved by the sort of critical encounters with texts that literacy can facilitate.  Certainly Beach and O’Brien were less discriminatory about what texts are deserving of our deepest focus.
            My biggest question coming away from Beach and O’Brien’s article was whether allowing for more focus on pop-culture literacy will ultimately leave some students unacquainted with “high culture” texts that might have otherwise stretched them.  I can easily see the value in helping kids engage more thoughtfully with the texts they are already immersing themselves in.  But I think I’d personally resist doing that at the expense of exposing them to perhaps more meritorious material.  Or rather, while I’m willing to find ways to work with Lightning McQueen and the Wonderpets, I’m still looking forward to the possibility of sharing some delight in meaty polysemic cinema with my son.

[1] Beach R. and D. O’Brien. (2008). Teaching popular-culture texts in the classroom in Handbook of research on new literacies. Eds Coiro, J., M. Knoble, C Lankshear, and D. Leu. Lawrence Earlbaum. NY.
[3] Best example, see:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Medieval Symbolism and Beasts of the Southern Wild

Medieval Theorists endeavored to justify the use of allegorical language in the Bible and sacred texts.  They drew a number of conclusions about the value of metaphor in communicating unknowable Truths via written texts.  These theories and methods of analyzing metaphor are fascinating to apply to Behn Zeitlin’s 2012 film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The film follows a 6 year old protagonist, Hushpuppy, through her experience living with her Dad in a community called “The Bathtub.” They are located outside of a protective levy, and are isolated from much of what might be termed “civilization.” Hushpuppy’s relationship with her terminally ill father, Wink, is complicated, but sincere.  She never knew her mother, and whether her mother died or left them is never concretely set forth.  The pair survive a hurricane-scale storm and the subsequent flooding, and work to protect their community and its culture from outside threats, including dehumanizing rescue efforts and mythical beasts.  Ultimately Wink passes away, and Hushpuppy earns her place as the leader of her community

Augustine[1] referred to literal and figurative conventional signs.  All conventional signs must be literal first, in order to allow for the creation and connection of figurative meaning.   Any word, image, or constructed representational art is first a literal sign, and can secondarily be a figurative sign if additional meaning is assigned to it by the creator or viewer.  There were a number of literal signs in Beasts of the Southern Wild that grew to take on figurative meanings.  The choice of the filmmakers to present the auroch as being a porcine animal, rather than the historically accurate bovine classification, was originally one made of necessity.[2] They needed an animal smart enough to train. The aurochs were played by baby potbellied pigs, with a costume made of nutria skins (a rodent native to the Deep South, fittingly enough.)  And by including an adult potbellied pig in the earlier sequences of the film, the permeating presence of the pigs, and the contrast between adult and juvenile physiology created a galaxy of signifiers.[3]

Augustine’s explanation that words themselves are signs, and simultaneously things is exemplified beautifully when Hushpuppy says “I wanna be cohesive.” to the boatman. It is clear that the word itself is only a sign in relation to the defined meaning of cohesive, because Hushpuppy is clearly not familiar with the word or its meaning.  But the word has some meaning to her all the same, despite it probably not being the assigned meaning.  She and the boatman assign different, possibly congruent meaning to the same sign.

Boccaccio[4] praised poets who take truths and hide them behind a veil of fiction.  The presence of this ambiguity of symbolic meaning surfaces largely through the use of tropes, or recurring themes or elements within the narrative.  There was clearly some meaning behind the way Wink, Hushpuppy’s dad, proved so sensitive to Hushpuppy’s touch.  On at least 3 separate occasions she hit or pushed him and he collapsed. That there is meaning in this is easily deduced, but the possibilities for that meaning are polysemous.  

Aristotle was insistent on the binary between signs or things that are useful versus those that are pleasurable.  Based on his religious and cultural background he put forth that God intended some things to be enjoyed (things that bring one closer to God,) and other things to be used in the navigation and cultivation of a life seeking after those things intended to be pleasurable.  According to this religious binary, when things intended to be used are instead enjoyed, it is an abuse of the intended purpose.   This is an interesting concept to bring to the scene where the girls from the Bathtub voyage out to the brothel.  The contrast of women simultaneously filling the roles of whore and affectionate mother figure is stark, and consistent with the convolution of roles throughout the film.  In helping to fill the girls’ need for physical affection, these women are using their physicality for a pleasurable end, rather than abusing it toward enjoyment in what ought to have been a useful end.

A similar binary is presented with Wink’s vigorous insistence that neither he nor Hushpuppy are allowed to cry.  To indulge in crying, in his worldview, appears an Augustinian abuse.  It is to wallow in a vein that one ought to pass through as quickly as possible.  That there is mutual allowance for appropriate crying by both of them just before his death is somehow indicative that the appropriate time has finally arrived and crying is finally pleasurable, or transcendent.

Dante[5] might have celebrated how this film utilizes a common vernacular.  The meaning of some dialogue has to be interpreted by viewing the signifiers that appear to be represented.   In the scene where the Bathtubbers chant for Hushpuppy to “Beast it!” It is only possible to deduce what this term means by seeing her proceed to do it – to break into a crab with her bare hands.  Once we establish this literal interpretation of the term, we are able to begin to grapple with the figurative implications of the action, it’s place in her society, and the implications of the syntax.

Thomas Aquinas[6], and subsequently Dante purported that symbolic texts were to read in several ways, and could carry meaning in each of these ways simultaneously:
Historical/literal meaning, allegorical/tropological meaning, moral meaning, and anagogical meaning.  It would be easy to find an allegorical or anagogical meaning for the presence of water in this film, but that meaning has to be established first via the historical/literal meaning of the water.  The presence of the flood water is a key plot point before it is representative of cleansing, rebirth[7], punishment, or mortal life, or any other polysemous Noah-based signifier[8].

Augustine said that knowledge of tropes is necessary for resolution of ambiguities.  There is tremendous ambiguity surrounding the presence of the Aurochs in this story, but by noticing that the film consistently cuts from shots of the group of Aurochs to shots of Hushpuppy and the other girls in the Bathtub, creates a correlation that (along with the physical traits of the pigs used to represent Aurochs) makes them each seem like a group of infants, and makes their understanding of one another seem plausible, if not possible. (Which Aristotle[9] would like.)

Examples of moral interpretation of this film are easy to identify in some of the more didactic recurring themes and motifs. Hushpuppy repeatedly talks about “strong animals” while footage of the Aurochs is shown, but by using the term “strong animal” instead of “Auroch” she leaves the interpretation of her observations in ambiguity.  Based on the sequences that follow her observations it is easy to conclude that her words hold meaning in relation to interhuman behaviors as much as to the behavior of the Aurochs. 

Some of the moral meanings that can be found within this text were described by Silpa Kovvali: “A protagonist's origins, when humble, are almost exclusively presented as something to escape, an obstacle on her or his road to self-fulfillment. Zeitlin [the director] strongly resists this portrayal. The suggestion is that the city is motivated by self-interest—a desire to quell a threat rather than to care for the smaller or sweeter among them. It's no wonder that the residents of the Bathtub are distrustful of everyone and everything they associate with it, even the institutions that could improve their material condition. And so Hushpuppy struggles to escape from the hospital and return to, not run from, her humble origins, which she views as a crucial part of her identity. No sane person would react to Beasts by deciding that healthcare is unnecessary or evil. But an open-minded viewer should leave the film with a greater understanding of the way that complicated political histories can make people distrustful of institutions widely perceived as universal goods.[10]

The numerous anagogical meanings behind the metaphors in this film can be represented by the example of Hushpuppy’s repeated references to breaking and fixing things.  The power and emphasis that is placed on individuals actions and decisions – in relation to their entire environment and community, creates a lasting impression.  There is also much to suggest a theme of the inevitability of mortality and the ideal of a legacy.    

The film managed to validate the subculture of the Bathtub without glamorizing it.  The importance of a sense of heritage and community, as something worth preserving, was a consistent transcendental theme. It did tend toward painting a negative view of the more “civilized” world – it was too sterile and not alive enough. The literal presence of varied forms of life and awareness of heartbeats in Hushpuppy’s Bathtub existence seemed far more alive in contrast to the shelter/hospital in civilization. 

All of the Medieval theorists we’ve discussed proposed that metaphor allows the sensuous to provide access to the spiritual.  Hushpuppies most sensuously presented experiences are all hugely metaphoric - her motif of listening for heartbeats, for example.   But remarkably Hushpuppy herself uses her father’s metaphors as a way to know the unknowable, which in her case is her mother.  She uses the jersey as a physical metaphor for her mother when she talks to it, and she visualizes all of her father’s metaphors about her mother literally.  Her mother is faceless, unknowable, like God. And she develops a relationship with her entirely through metaphor.

Augustine proposed that if something in a text doesn’t make sense literally, it must be a metaphor.  There are ample opportunities to exercise this logic in Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I struggled to make sense of Hushpuppy’s proclivity for hiding – bother herself and other objects – throughout the film.  As a behavior it didn’t make sense.  But when her illogical need to hide things is viewed symbolically, it becomes a representation of her interior emotions, vulnerability, and childlike rationale.  Hiding under a cardboard box in a house fire makes no sense literally, but it forms a lovely metaphor, especially as she talks about her charcoal drawings on the cardboard box lasting forever.

Boccaccio insisted that obscurity helps meaning be more valuable because it takes more work to obtain. Throughout the film, the reason these characters should stay in The Bathtub is obscure, yet even a 6 year old can understand it.  The film metaphorically constructs a sense of place and identity and culture, strong and “cohesive” enough that it’s value becomes understandable far more effectively than if it had been promoted via rhetoric.

[1] Augustine, On Christian Teaching[2][3] Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Barthes: On Plotting." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Jan. 31, 2011. Purdue U. Sept. 21, 2013. <>.[4] Boccacio, Giovanni, Geneaology of the Gentile Gods, Book 14
[5] Alighieri, Dante. Il Convivo  Book Two, and Letter to Can Grande
[6] Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica, Question 1.
[7]In A Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, the meaning of water “may be reduced to three main areas. It is a source of life, a vehicle of cleansing and a centre of regeneration.” [ii] [ii] Chevalier, Jean, and Alain Gheerbrant. Trans. John. Buchanan-Brown. A Dictionary of Symbols.Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994. Page 1081.
[8] Jung identifies Noah’s Ark as “an analogy of the womb, like the sea into which the sun sinks for rebirth.” - [i] Jung,C.G. Symbols of Transformation. Collected Works, Volume V. Edited and Translated by Gerhard Adler and R.F.C. Hull. Princeton University Press, 1977. Page 211, Paragraph 311.[9] Aristotle, Poetics.

Friday, September 20, 2013

TIPRR#3 - Media Literacy, Story, and Creation

According to Cmdr. David G. Smith[1], the U.S. military has begun changing gears in training recruits. In accordance with advances in behavioral science, instead of promoting cohesion by dehumanizing individuals, they are teaching recruits about the history of their service. Thus far it is a measurably more effective means of increasing their camaraderie and ability to attach and commit to their unit.[2]
That story would be more powerful than force in creating real, measurable change in the values and commitments of a people should not be surprising.  As Peter Forbes[3] said, “You cannot demand a different world, you have to inspire it.”[4]
Indeed, it is increasingly apparent that what constitutes the culture of any group or civilization is the story that they share and the values inherent therein.  Harold Goddard said, “The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.”[5]
Forbes seemed especially concerned about what happens when intentional and value based stories are replaced in our culture by “inauthentic” stories used in advertising.  He relayed a strong argument for valuing story more prominently as a culture, and using it to more virtuous ends.
Forbes quoted Ben Okri as saying, “Stories are the secret reservoir of our values.”  Okri has also said, “A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose it’s moorings or orientation….Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger.”

There needs to be a cultural revolution in recognizing that story is an inextricable part of the human experience. That humans require stories to function is evidenced by the effectiveness of narrative-based advertising.  “You’re not selling product x, you’re selling a story.”  That we keep buying these stories (by buying the products that promise those stories to us), is evidence for the role of story in human development. Unfortunately, as Forbes expressed, the consumption of such stories leads to disconnection, rather than the connection that we need from our stories. In Crow and Weasel, Barry Lopez[6] says, “If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. “

Forbes strongly promoted the use of story as an impetus for constructive social change.  He says that stories should be about relationships and communities, not about products or consumerist appetites. Leslie Marmon Silko[7] agrees, stating, “I will tell you something about stories …They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, All we have to fight off illness and death.” Forbes points out that in order to create positive social change, the culture has to be re-storied.  Legislative action is inadequate because “laws codify values – they don’t create them,” and the culture will not maintain a law that is not in-line with the collective story and values of its people.

The Co-Intelligence Institute has said, in The Story Paradigm[8], “Story can help us deal with causation, comparison, function, implications and context, as well. But it goes beyond understanding, description and control into the realm of mutual involvement, a realm where analytical reason becomes reductionist, inadequate to the task. The more nuanced, subjective, interactive and non-measurable a relationship is, the more story surpasses analysis in dealing with it.”  This is congruent with Forbes’ argument that story can be more potent than rhetoric.  “Stories help us imagine the future differently… a new story that helps people find their way out of the old story.”

Forbes indicated that authentic stories will define wealth as being about relationships, and not money.  Story itself is a powerful binder for catalyzing and maintaining healthy relationships.  In a 2013 New York Times article[9], Dr. Marshall Duke said that in studying children after 9/11, “[Those] who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could [better] moderate the effects of stress.”  He indicates that those who have a strong sense of the story of their family and community, beyond their own experience, had a stronger relationship with their families and a better resiliency toward life experience. Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he … call[s] a strong “intergenerational self.” “They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

Stories frame the way we see ourselves, our relationships, and the world we interact with. Robert McKee has said, “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”

Stories are valuable both on an individual level and collectively.  The experience of encountering and processing or internalizing a story is definitive.  But so is the experience of crafting a story.  The digitally connected age in which we live has the potential to give voice to many more stories, but it also alters the author/audience paradigm.  If more people view themselves as contributors to an overarching community of story, the authority and exclusivity of authorship may be diminished, but the invested community grows.

In his interview with Henry Jenkins[10], David Gauntlett said that “Through making things, you feel more of a participant in the world, and you feel more a part of it, more embedded because you are contributing, not just consuming, so you’re more actively engaged with the world, and so, more connected.”  He emphasized that the value of creativity is not necessarily the output or product of creation, but the unquantifiable “happiness” associated with the process of creating. 

This certainly applies to authorship and story, as well as to any facet of participating in a creative act. This unquantifiable happiness is described by Deiter F. Uchtdorf[11]: “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.  No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before
The process of participating in creation, even the broadly-defined “everyday creativity” described by Gauntlett, fulfills Joseph Campbell’s[12] experience of being alive: “People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life... I think that what we're really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.” 

By broadening the definition of “creativity” to include anyone joyfully making something they have not made before, Gauntlett creates a paradigm that allows for the voice, experience, and perspective of any willing storyteller to be valuable, when constructed into a narrative creation.  This democratic definition invites the statement by Karen von Blixen-Finecke (pen name Isak Dinesen), “To be a person is to have a story to tell.”

There was concern, however, coming from Amy Ogata’s interview with Jenkins[13] that promoting the creativity of everyone, especially children, has in the past become a commercial construction that aims to “overlook difference while simultaneously selling exclusivity.”  She said it is “hard to escape the rhetoric of creativity used to sell items for kids.”  Indeed, when creativity itself becomes a story used by advertisers to promote consumer culture, then the value of the individual voice becomes a double-edged sword.

It may be helpful to revisit Forbes’ insistence that story, and possibly creativity, should be about relationships and communities, rather than commodities. There is certainly rich potential for enriching use of creative story-building here.  The creation of narrative can serve as an exploration of one’s own experiences and identity.  The process can accomplish finding the meaning and clarity that Robert McKee mentioned.

There has been much made of the psychological and physiological benefits of composing one’s own story, and giving voice to one’s own perspective, even if the result is never shared with a separate audience.  Dr. James Pennebaker[14] has explored this concept extensively and his research shows that the process of organizing one’s thoughts and experiences into a story has manifold benefits for the creator, regardless of whether their creation is ever shared.  Even those who immediately burned their narratives saw benefits.  The creative process of organizing and constructing a story is universally beneficial, as Gauntlett may have suspected.

[14] Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions by James Pennebaker, PhD