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The Narrative Illusion

*What is your “narrative?”  If I hear this word one more time I believe my head will explode!  Everyone and everything must have a “narrative” today. Education, politics, Celebrity, Sports, Movies, the list is exhausting.

An image based culture communicates through narratives, pictures,  and pseudo drama.  Scandalous affairs, hurricanes, untimely death, train wrecks…these events play well on the computer screen and television.  International diplomacy, labor union negotiations, and convoluted bailout packages do not yield exciting  personal narratives or stimulating images.  A governor who frequents call girls becomes a huge new story. A politician who proposes serious regulatory reform or advocates curbing wasteful spending is boring. Kings, queens, and emperors once used their court conspiracies to divert their subjects.  Today cinematic, political, and journalistic celebrities  distract us with their personal problems and sports have become, as they were in Nero;s time interchangeable.  In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we neither seek nor want honesty or reality.  Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion.  We ask to be indulged and comforted by clichés, stereotypes, and inspirational messages that tell us  we can be whatever we seek to be, that we live in the greatest country on earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities, and that our future will always be glorious  and prosperous, either because of our own attributes or our national character or because we are blessed by God.

In this world, all that matters is the consistency of our belief systems.  The ability to amplify lies, to repeat the and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives lies and mythical narratives the aura of uncontested truth.  We become trapped in the linguistic prison of incessant repetition.  We are fed words and phrases like war on terror or pro-life or change, and within these narrow parameters, all complex thought, ambiguity, and self-criticism vanish!

*Chris Hedges

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