Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cultural Narratives

I've brought up the concept of cultural narratives a few times, without ever explaining what exactly I mean, and I said here that I'd explain them eventually.

This is very nearly what I'm talking about, except that it doesn't go into depth on the kinds of narratives we expect when we are thinking fallaciously.

The whole concept of the 'friendzone' is one example of this. The gentleman* in question is usually operating along the assumption that his story goes along the lines of 'boy meets girl and is nice to her and she falls in love with him and they live happily ever after.' The object of his affection is usually a girl who is operating along whatever narrative she had assigned to herself before she met a new person - sometimes a love story in which she has already cast the other protagonist. When the two people are not experiencing the same narrative, both parties get frustrated - he sees her as a mean person who friendzoned him, she sees him as a creepy 'nice guy' who thinks women are vending machines into whom he can deposit 'niceness' in return for affection.

Romantic comedies, and most romance novels, enact the narrative the gentleman is acting from. We reinforce the expectation of reciprocity every day. Partly that is because rejection sucks, so we want narrative reassurance that we will not be rejected. But rejection doesn't suck as much as being a terrible person.

Another example of cultural narrative is that if you work hard and go to college, you can expect a good career when you are finished. All commentary about that narrative can be found by looking up a three-word phrase: Occupy Wall Street.

Cultural narratives provide a visual context for a lot of things, as well: tattooed people in leather on motorcycles are recognized as associated with Sons of Anarchy or the Hell's Angels, even if they're there for BACA. The expectation and association there help the members to do good things.

Similarly, in writing, cultural narratives can be a crutch and lazy awful writing that perpetuates stereotypes and the worst aspects of our culture, or they can be used deliberately and with purpose. Or both! But I will probably judge you if it's both.

*Gender assignations are made in line with the complaints I've seen from people on both ends of this narrative. Majority and opposite pronouns make stories easy to tell.

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