Slightly Off Center: Stories Are Telling
What’s in a story? Is it truth, entertainment, fiction, lies or bits of each?
We live in the golden age of self-indulgent story telling where everyone has a blog or a podcast. A few are labeled as fantasy but most are in the competitive realm of “interesting truth.” Moth Radio, This American Life, Vice News and especially TED Talks have captured our ears. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to listen to stories than to read them. Maybe the real news is just too brutal.
The desire to have people listen to your story is likely leading to a lot of “truthiness” that was once reserved for comedians. I find myself often yelling at the radio saying “THERE IS NO WAY THAT REALLY HAPPENED!” Maybe people are just blurring the lines between reality, news and entertainment.
Don’t get me wrong, I support the idea of people listening to other people talk about smart things as spectacle. It’s better than spending all our time on professional sports. You just need to know that TED is now an industry and the producers cull and coach their speakers long before they take the stage. Moth selects its storytellers through a competitive process similar to the laugh-offs I used to compete in (winner Best in Utah 1989 – woot! I was really hot before the Internet).
If you watch even a few TED Talks you will recognize “the TED walk” that looks much like William Shatner as Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek reciting a soliloquy. Sincere gesticulation performed while wearing the requisite wireless headset microphone makes one look like something between a tent revival preacher and a game show host.
One I remember in particular was a woman talking about walking as if she had discovered the upright position. “Did you know that you could walk and talk at the same time?” she asks while doing the TED Talk walk and pointing to a giant projected PowerPoint slide. “I call it a ‘walking meeting.’”
If you are thinking, “that is so dumb, I could do that,” you are right. Here’s a template based on my personal experience today.
The plain truth version: I had a turkey and avocado sandwich for lunch today; it is one of my favorites.
TED Talk version: Did you ever have a day when you just really needed a sandwich? (pace, pace, pace the stage) I had such a day today and I thought, “What would really make me a better person for the rest of the day?” I looked at the menu and it was $8.50 but I thought, “you know, you really deserve it and your colleagues really deserve for you to be in a better mood. So I got it and I even left a 15 percent tip and the rest of my day went so well. That’s what makes us human; knowing when you really need a turkey and avocado sandwich.” (Wild applause)
This American Life version: (nasally voice) “Today on This American Life, we are going to look at people and their sandwiches because no radio show has ever done this before. First up Dennis Hinkamp who says turkey and avocado really makes him feel better. Is it the tryptophan, the antioxidants or something deeper? We’ll be right back after this segment about people who collect garden stakes.”
The Moth version: “Turkey and av-o-ca-do!” Can I get an Amen! It sounds like a good thing but it makes me remember the day my parents both died in a waterslide accident when I was five years old. The last words I heard from my mother were, “do we have any guacamole to go with the chips?” I said “no.” If I had made her go to the grocery store for that, she might have still been alive today.” (Wild standing ovation).
Vice News version: “Avocados and turkey brought to you by enslaved migrant workers. People like Dennis Hinkamp are contributing to their suffering.”
Everything I have written here may be fabricated, but it makes a good story.
Dennis Hinkamp asks, “Did you know that if it were not for water, we would never learn to swim and we would all drown? Think about it.”