As part of my investigations into Perceptive Media, myself and other colleagues are deconstructing storytelling down to its most logical parts. Part of this is understanding the history of storytelling and other aspects of storytelling which are outside the mainstream consciousness.
It was the other day I spent extra long in the shower listening to NPR’s TED radio hour, as it was all about stories.
In this hour, TED speakers explore the art of storytelling — and how good stories have the power to transform our perceptions of the world.
The one which struck a chord with me was Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk on the dangers of the single story. Chimamanda gives a great example to start.
So I grew up in a small university town in Nigeria, and started reading quite early. And I read a lot of British children’s books, which was not unusual. This was the norm for children like me. And so when I started to write, I was writing exactly those stories. All my characters were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather – how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now this, despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria, I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather because there was no need to. My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer, never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer.
In Chimamanda’s own words…
What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books, by their very nature, had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify.
The power of the story is that powerful. And I conclude listening to her talk and the other TED talks on the show. Mass publishing/broadcasting is partly to blame for this.
Of course in my usual way, I wonder could Perceptive Media could/would make this situation better? I believe so, but how?
In this case, personalisation could be a good thing. Yes the fears of echo chambers and filter bubbles, have to be wary of but on the other hand a well written story is adaptable to almost any culture. Its the inflexibility of the medium which is causing African women to grow up thinking white blue eyed ginger beer drinking kids are part and parcel of the medium. Yes you can point the finger at globalization but its deeper than that. Its inherent to the medium of publishing and broadcasting… in my honest opinion.
If Perceptive Media can remove or even dislodge the dangers of the single story, I would be very happy. As Chimamanda finishes her talk saying…
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.