How Stories Shape Our World

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 09:32 By Sarah van Gelder, YES! Magazine | Op-Ed
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If you want to understand people, ask for their stories. Listen long enough, and you learn not only the events of their lives, but their sources of meaning, what they value, what they most want. 

The late media scholar George Gerbner said, “We experience the world through stories. Whoever tells the stories of a culture defines the terms, the agenda, and the common issues we face.”

“It used to be the parent, the school, the church, the community,” he said. “Now it’s a handful of global conglomerates that have nothing to tell, but a great deal to sell.”

Just a half-dozen corporations control most of the media in the United States. Two giant Internet service providers, Comcast and Time Warner, recently announced plans to merge. And the FCC is signaling that it plans to abandon the principle of net neutrality, which has assured that all interests, large or small, have the same access to the Internet. The battle continues over how much of our media landscape will be accessible to we the people.

It’s impossible to keep good stories down, though. As has been the case throughout history, ordinary people find free spaces where they can tell their own stories.

This issue of YES! looks at the ways new voices are being heard, and at how their stories are transforming our culture.

"Whoever tells the stories of a culture defines the terms, the agenda, and the common issues we face."

Personal stories are a key starting point, says Kristin Moe in her article Change Starts With Your Own Story. When we share life-changing moments and surface our deepest motivations, we touch other people more profoundly than if we repeat a list of talking points, even well-researched ones. Drawing on the work of Harvard professor and former United Farm Workers Union staffer Marshall Ganz, Moe shows how these personal stories can become the heart of powerful social movements.

Cities, towns, and communities of all sorts also need their own stories. With radio and television stations and newspapers shut down or owned by out-of-state monopolies, residents and civic leaders are scrambling to find a way to get high-quality, local reporting. A new cooperatively owned model for journalism may be the answer, says journalism professor Dan Kennedy.

These free spaces are especially needed now, when so much we’ve taken for granted about our world is up for grabs.

The internet is, of course, the biggest open space for story tellers. But with so many clamoring for our clicks and eyeballs, how does anyone get an audience?

The Meatrix,” a quirky, animated video short, went viral, introducing millions to the cruel realities of factory farming. The video succeeded not so much by playing off the popular Matrix films, producer Jonah Sachs says, but by casting you, the viewer, as the hero.

In a world saturated with violence, partisan bickering, and so many “isms,” where are the spaces to imagine alternatives—to open up to the possibilities for a future we want? YES! Contributing Editor Adrienne Maree Brown uses the speculative sci-fi of Octavia Butler to break out of a stuck mindset and look at the fictional roles played by young women of color, like herself.

The media spaces where the imaginative, contrarian, investigative, and visionary stories can be told are precious resources. They allow us to question the status quo, try out new ideas, and make change. These free spaces are especially needed now, when so much we’ve taken for granted about our world is up for grabs.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

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