Tag Archives: stories

When Stories Herald Reality

The stories we see and tell sometimes mirror the reality we live. It’s usually easy to shrug it off and call it a coincident, or maybe you’re reading too much into it, but there are times when the storyteller and the fortune teller seem to be one in the same.  Our stories often predict the future and tell us truths about the present even if we don’t want to see or admit it.

China Syndrome  Manchurian-Candidate mocking jay

On March 16th, 1970 The China Syndrome was released in the USA. You might remember the movie starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemon, and Michael Douglas about a cover-up and near disaster at a nuclear power plant.  12 days later radios and television stations across the country delivered dramatic reports about a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor located outside of Middletown, PA.  This was, (and still is), the most serious accident to occur in an American commercial nuclear power plant.  A malfunctioning valve caused the problem and the nation waited for days to learn if there were disastrous consequences.

I went to see The China Syndrome on March 27th,   just one day before Three Mile Island incident.  I went back two days later on March 29th in a state of disbelief and amazement.  I wonder what affect the movie had on the collective consciousness; a million people experienced the fear of a nuclear meltdown in a power plant by watching a movie and then it happened for real.

Here are the two taglines that promoted The China Syndrome:

“Today, only a handful of people know what it means…Soon you will know.”

“People who know the meaning of “The China Syndrome” are scared.  Soon-you-will-know.”

 

There were no fatalities or major injuries, but the event was the catalyst for major changes in regulations and standards for nuclear power plants.

 

Frank Sinatra starred in The Manchurian Candidate, a movie about a prisoner of war who is brainwashed and then becomes an assassin. The film was released in October 1962.  President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed November 1963, just a little over a year later.  Back in the sixties movies circulated for a year or two after their release so when The Manchurian Candidate naturally finished its run, the rumor spread that it was yanked because of the assassination. People saw the connection between the story and reality and jumped to their own conclusion.  We search for (and create) stories to help us make sense of life events that are often too difficult to embrace head-on.

 

Last night my 18-year-old daughter, Chaya, and I went out to see The Mocking Jay, Part One.  It’s the third movie in the Hunger Games series.  We both read the books and liked the first two movies, so we were excited to see the third. The Hunger Games is about a futuristic society.  The wealthy and powerful Capital controls and oppresses the poorer districts by forcing them to sacrifice a few young people each year to a televised fight with only one victor.  The third movie is about the rebellion.

About 15 or 20 minutes into the movies we see a few of the poorer districts (filled with people of color) forced to watch public executions. A few minutes later we see them fight back.  My daughter turned to me and said “Oh my gosh, it’s just like Ferguson.”  As the movie continued the connection became even clearer.

The Mocking Jay Part 1 came out November 21st and three days later on November 24th the Grand Jury Announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charge in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Riots and protests followed.

Once again story became the herald of our reality.

Infusing Story onto Products

STORY is the big new word in marketing & advertising. Stories are sticky-memorable-and people want to hear them. Stories are very old but it sounds like modern marketing gurus have just discovered the concept. Tell the story of your product and you’ll be a multi-millionaire overnight. It sounds simple, and it is…but first you have to understand how stories work and honor their structure. That’s sometimes tricky.
Let’s look at two companies that tried to infuse story into their message, one was more successful than the other.
cocacola

Example #1 – Coke-a-Cola and Santa Clause
Just about everyone in the Western Hemisphere has seen the picture of Jolly Old St. Nick with his snowy white beard and bright red suit holding a bottle of Coke. The image of the soda pop drinking Santa first appeared in 1931, long after Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem “The Night Before Christmas” in 1823. Images of the red clad gift giver were seen on magazines and books before 1931, but using Santa as product placement was new. Instead of eating a cookie set out by children, he took a moment to refresh. It all fit into the narrative and the branding sizzled. The soda pop just expanded the image of Chris Kringle and created a fresh chapter to a delightful story. Great illustrations and a sense of humor made this branding story a best seller for decades.

My beautiful picture

Example #2 – INOX Watch and the NYFD

August 2014 Vitorinox, a major fashion brand that originally created the Swiss Army Knife, rolled out a new watch. They joined forces with the New York Fire Department and created a flashy event at SIR Stage 37 on West 37th St in Manhattan. They’re hoping to create a branding story using images of the most famous fire fighters in the world to show off the durability of their watch. We heard bag piping firemen and saw dramatic demonstrations of the watch’s durability. The INOX watch kept ticking after a fire engine rolled over it and a washing machine washed it. The durable watch was boiled in a tea pot and froze in a mountain of ice. Lots of wow, but where’s the story?

Stories work because they create connections and give us a sense completion, that’s why they’re memorable. I walked around the party and asked how the FDNY and INOX are connected but got no real answer. “They thought it was a good idea.” “The FDNY wanted to try something new.” Yep that’s what I was told, but that doesn’t make a story. I asked if the firemen were going to be given these durable watches and the Vitorinox spokeswoman said maybe. Images alone are not enough. Don’t get me wrong. I love the image of the watch in the teapot, but it’s just an image. The marketers might be hoping that the watch buying public will create their own story from the images. Sometimes that works but it feels like they just missed creating a branding story that will last for generations.

Santa will always enjoy a Coke during his midnight ride because a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end was set up before the first 1931 image and is remembered every time we see it. The jury is still out about the firefighter’s timepiece.

Some Stories are Just Bullies

Some stories can be overwhelming and dominate everything else.

Some stories can be overwhelming and dominate everything else.

We are each filled with 10,000 stories.  We begin collecting stories when we are very young.  Some are tales that we’ve lived, some have been passed down, and some we read, hear, or see.  This constellation of stories becomes our personal tapestry which both guides and defines us. It is colorful, textured, detailed, and complex, but sometimes one or two stories will dominate a story tapestry.  When this happens the rich and exciting tales that help us put our lives in context become obscure and navigating through life can become a painful journey.

These gluttonous stories that try to take over come in different forms. Let’s take a look at where these domineering tales come from and what we can do about them.

A trauma may be a catalyst.   Since traumas are often dramatic and all consuming, it’s no surprise that powerful or loud stories often emerge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself, but as time goes by these bright spots on our story tapestry should merge into the pattern of our life.  Unfortunately the effects of some traumas linger and dominate everything we do.  A death of a child, sexual abuse, bankruptcy, or a terrible accident are examples of life changing events.  Although they will change us, if they redefine us and affect all things, all of the stories that came before and all of the stories that will come after may be distorted.

Both positive and negative labels can also take over. For example a person with a disability is often defined by that disability in all things and it is easy for the individual to see him or herself only as the disability.  A positive label can be just as bad.  The prettiest girl in high school is often discounted, chased, and hated all at the same time.  If the beauty label sticks, all of her stories and memories may be tarnished as time goes by.

Sometimes an event redefines a person.  For example October 14, 2003 Steve Bartman sat in the first row of seats in Wrigley Field for Game 6 of the National League Championship series; Chicago Cubs faced the Florida Marlins.  He reached out to catch a foul ball and deflected it from left fielder Mosises Alou.  It cost them the game and the series.  He has been called the most hated fan in baseball.  That happened a decade ago.  It’s the sort of label that can overwhelm, but Bartman took action to play down the event, avoid interviews and move forward.

One or two stories should not dominate our lives.  That fact might seem obvious, but dealing with the gluttonous story can feel overwhelming.  Here are a few suggestions for cutting those stories down to the right size.

  • Don’t go it alone: Seek out a story coach or friends to help you.
  • Give your other stories time to be seen and heard. Work with a storyteller to reclaime them.
  • Small stories are valuable gems, don’t overlook them.
  • If your domineering story sneaks into most or all of your stories, try to retell them, removing that story element.

Learn more about story coaching or schedule a session with me at Rivka@SimplyExtraordinaryTales.com.  

Mention this blog and receive $50 off a 3 session package.

 

Finding the Story

An Incident is not a story.  Something happens and you talk about it, that’s an anecdote.  If you simply restate it, it might be a plot or a news report, but it’s not a story.  It’s a bit like saying a skeleton is a person when in reality there is no life in the skeleton without muscle, flesh, and blood.

An incident or event is a launch pad for a story; it’s actually a launch pad for many stories, and your intentions, feelings, and characters will determine just which story will emerge.  Individuals infuse meaning, events do not determine story.

Let me give you an example:

A 20 year old goes to a party, decides not to drink, drives home, then he gets into an accident and calls his dad.  That’s the event, but it can inspire many stories.  Here are a few.

Story #1 – A 20 year old goes to a party and decides not to drink.  There’s a lot of peer pressure and he’s called a slew of names but laughs them off. He’s offered a couple mixed drinks, but refuses them.  He’s tempted and almost gives in, but doesn’t.  He leaves the party a little early and heads home.  When he’s half way home he hits a patch of black ice, loses control of the car, and hits a tree.  He calls his dad and gets the car towed to their mechanic.  Now he keeps a picture of the dented front end of the car in his wallet.  It reminds him that sometimes doing the right thing has its own rewards.

Story #2 – A 20 year old goes to a party and decides not to drink.  He was hoping to meet up with some friends but they never show.  The party just seems to drag on and on so he leaves a little early.  The weather is nasty and he just wants to get home and crawl into bed. When  he’s about half way home he spots a patch of black ice up a head.  His first thought is to swerve around it, but instead he hits the breaks, and regrets his action the second his foot depresses the pedal as the car begins to spin totally out of control.  Suddenly things seem to slow down and move in slow motion.  He wants to do something, but all he can do is watch the scenery through his window until the front end of his car collides with an oak tree.  He sits still for a minute, until he realizes he’s holding his breath.  He takes a deep inhalation and begins to shake. It takes him a few minutes before he reaches into his pocket and takes out his cell. Then it takes him a few more minutes before he calls his dad. He sat staring straight ahead; it was as if time just stopped until he heard a wrapping on the window.  He turned towards the noise and heard his dad’s voice which seemed to reset the clock.  Time began again.

 Story #3 – A 20 year old goes to a party and decides not to drink. The weather is nasty so he decides to head home early.  When he’s half way home he hits a patch of black ice and spins out of control and collides with a tree.  He sits in the car for a few minutes before he pulls out his cell to call his dad. His dad had always been there for him as a kid, but things changed when he started high school.  He didn’t have much time for his dad and his dad didn’t seem to have much time for him.  College took even more time, but as he sat staring at the trunk of an old oak tree, he couldn’t think of calling anybody but his dad.  His voice quivered a little when he said hello and his dad knew something happened right away, but he waited and just listened.  He closes his cell phone and suddenly his dad appears.  He helps his son get out of the car and they go through some logistics. It isn’t until their home that he realizes that his dad never asked about the party.  He just trusted him.

 

That’s three very different stories.  One is about courage, the second is about trauma, and third is character driven about relationships.  All three stories came from the same event are unique. Infusing story into an event can heal, brand, or inspire. Work with a story coach to plant and harvest your stories.