Getting to the Story
Listen to/Watch entire show:
Yesterday, I missed most of the Oscar telecast. Yes, it's true. I didn't tune in until they got to Best Actor. I tried hard, but I was delayed by traffic, and right around the time Mo'nique was giving her potent speech, I was transitioning anxiously from the 15 to the 10, caught up in a massive 3D experience of taillights and Taco Bells.
I admit there was little storyline to my drive. A little courage, maybe, in the face of chaos. Me as protagonist, co-starring two boys in the back seat, and exceeding the speed limit. Not sufficient for a screenplay or a reality TV show, but plenty for a Facebook post or a tweet.
I mean, like most people nowadays, I tell all my tales: "Here I am passing the 210, rushing to see the world's great celebration of storytelling. Now I'm passing the 605."
One of my favorite books is called, simply, Story. It's by the famous Hollywood screenwriting teacher, Robert McKee, and everyone should read it, even if you're one of the few people who never intend to write a script. It will help you understand your life in the Age of Hollywood.
Certainly, if my friends read this book it would improve their tweets and posts and YouTube videos. It would help them craft stories, not matter how short, that move toward meaning and redemption....and yes, like most audiences, I'm only interested in stories that move toward meaning and redemption.
Why is it, asks McKee, that people are now so obsessed by story? Why do we crave so much TV, films, news, and gossip — so much comedy and tragedy — every single day? "Story," he notes, "is not only our most prolific art form, but it rivals all activities — work, play, eating, exercise — for our waking hours."
He says it's because stories promise to answer the question of how a human should live. Even more, they promise to explain the otherwise random events of human life. Without story, he says, we're just "swept along on a risk-ridden shuttle through time."
Okay, people used to derive meaning from what he calls the "four wisdoms:" philosophy, religion, science, and art.
"But who," asks McKee, "now reads Hegel...if they're not preparing for an exam?" How many trust scientists, artists, or even preachers to tell them how to live? The only thing we all believe in is story. If Hollywood did not exist, we would have to invent it.
I try to explain all this to my boys, I mean why we're risking the shuttle of our lives to witness the Oscars, and I almost say, "I want to look at the people who tell me tales of redemption."
Indeed, as I race inside and turn on the TV, I see the face of Morgan Freeman, and like the presenter, I immediately relax. I mean, by now Freeman has played so many redemptive parts that just to see him is to witness, as it were, the hidden face of a moral universe, of G-d working behind the scenery—never mind if it's a god aided by a small army of writers, editors, gaffers, scene dressers and post-production personnel.
I read a blogger who pointed out that this year's big winners were all redemptive tales of simple people figuring out how to live. He noted how the big CGI stuff, and even Avatar, seemed to have little impact on our hearts.
And it's true. I mean, I enjoyed the hell out of Avatar, but as a redemptive tale, it left much to be desired. It's a story which assumes that the only answer to the problems created by the human race is to actually leave the human race and join another. I'm as eco as the next guy, but I'm not ready to go that far, not quite yet.
No, again this year, I'll be looking for stories that drive toward a more satisfying ending.
Copyright © 2010 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY