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Curriculum Studies

Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson

The Story So Far

Let me return once more to The New York Times for one extended quote on the importance of storying in the news:

That is why reading the news is just like watching a series of movies: a hostage crisis is a thriller, the Milwaukee serial murders a morbidly fascinating real-life Silence of the Lambs, the Kennedy Palm Beach case a soap opera, a fire or hurricane a disaster picture.
One even suspects that Americans were riveted by the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings last week not because of any sense of civic duty but because it was a spellbinding show -- part Rashomon, part Thelma and Louise, part Witness for the Prosecution.
But as with movies, if ‘formularizing’ reality is a way of domesticating it, it is also a means of escaping it. Michael Wood in his book America in the Movies, described our films as a "rearrangement of our problems into shapes which tame them, which disperse them to the margins of our attention" where we can forget about them. By extending this function to life itself, we convert everything from the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby to the marital misadventures of Elizabeth Taylor into distractions, cheap entertainments that transport us from our problems.
But before disapproving too quickly, one is almost compelled to admit that turning life into escapist entertainment has both a perverse logic and a peculiar genius. Why worry about the seemingly intractable problems of society when you can simply declare, "It's morning in America" and have yourself a long-running Frank Capra movie right down to an aw-shucks President? Why fret over America's declining economic might when you can have an honest-to-goodness war movie that proves your superiority? Movies have always been a form of wish fulfilment. Why not life?
When life is a movie, it poses serious questions for those things that were not traditionally entertainment and now must accommodate themselves. Politics, for instance. Much has already been made of the fact that Ronald Reagan came to the White House after a lifetime as a professional actor. Lou Cannon, in his biography of Mr. Reagan, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, details just how central this was to Mr. Reagan's concept of the Presidency and what it suggests about the political landscape (The New York Times 1991, p. 32).

The important point to grasp about this quote and other quotes is that the storying genre is far from socially and politically neutral. As we saw in an earlier quotation, the savings and loan scandal was somehow not a valid storyline. Likewise, the great exploiters of storylines, the John Waynes, the Ronald Reagans, tend to be of a particular political persuasion and of a particular sensitivity to the dominant interest groups within American society. Storying, therefore, rapidly becomes a form of social and political prioritizing, a particular way of telling stories which in its way privileges some storylines and silences others. Once the focus shifts not to real events but ‘what makes a good story’, it is a short distance to making an argument that certain political realities ‘would not make a good story’, whilst others would. By displacing its focus from real life events into storying potential, it is possible also to displace some unwanted social and political realities. Even when unwanted realities do intrude in deafening ways, such as the LA riots, it is possible to story them in ways that create a distance of sorts. In Umberto Eco's words, it is possible to move from a situation where realities are scrutinized and analysed to the world of American life where ‘hyper realities’ are constructed.

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  • Date of publication: 15/09/2005
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Co-author: NAN
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies, Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
    English
  • Appears in:
    Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £27.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-35220-8
  • Purchase this book:
    Routledge
  • Buy used and new from: amazon