Why Educate Our Kids? Part Four, Act Two: Power of Story

14 06 2010

See Act One here.

Refreshed after intermission, are we? Good. Turn your electronics back off and re-suspend your disbelief [lights flick and go black.]

Political theatre is truth-telling of telling truths despite individual characters who seldom do the same. And even when it is terrible, it’s instructive to see what wins. We watched the Tonys last night; Zeta-Jones was appalling, literally painful to watch even though her voice was pleasant, because her (over)acting was so incongruous with the truth of the character and song she sang. Then she promptly won the “Best Actress in a Musical” Tony for it, and we swore (both that we’d never watch again, although we were lying even while telling our truth because we always watch, and also we just plain swore! 😉

I think electing a president is not political science but the storytelling of great theatre, done through financial risk, sweat and playacting, chaos and corruption and broken hearts, broken dreams, a broken leg now and then, with a few magical moments so much better than the script, all coming together like Shakespeare in Love: “I don’t know how, it’s a mystery!” That is how political story becomes hi-story.

So I figure theatre criticism is the kind of education that should be universal, if anything is.

Three-and-a-half years ago when Barack Obama’s story hadn’t become a blockbuster yet — never mind Sarah Palin’s! — and Snook was still a playground experiment, JJ was critiquing non-partisan story and theatre for real:

********

28 January 2007 –

The original post got me thinking about hiring school superintendents and casting musicals (also ranking standardized test scores, American Idol, etc). Individuals are not interchangeable, sometimes not comparable — nor are their talents and style, contributions, their looks, personalities, etc, nor the times and challenges through which they must pass. One thing I saw with school superintendents is that any qualified candidate is either right or wrong for any given job, depending on everything else (most of which will be unknown and uncontrollable.)

And leadership success is perception seen in a rear view mirror.

Read anything of Howard Gardner’s on leadership, for example:
“Whether direct or indirect, leaders fashion stories: principally stories of identity. It is important that a leader be a good storyteller, but equally crucial that the leader embody that story in his or her life.”

On that single score, it seems to me (as a yahoo just watching) that Barack Obama and John Edwards hold a distinct advantage over Hillary Clinton and John Kerry for president in ’08, and that Al Gore is roaring back in contention with a better integrated story of who he really is and why we should care.

What’s interesting…is that the storyline approach (which has a good deal of validity IMHO) only works when the storytellers, that is the mainstream media, like and spread the story. I find it odd how someone like Bill Richardson or Wesley Clark doesn’t seem to even register, despite their respective heavy resumes. Kerry, meanwhile, has one of the oldest; the young warrior who comes home, repents and tries to make things right.

Except it doesn’t “fit” with how he comes across — that storyline works much better for John McCain or even Jim Webb. Not Kerry, who has a Jane Fonda storyline going. Regular folk just watching tv don’t buy that story coming from Kerry — he’s got too much money, too much hair and affectation, too much accent, the whole French thing, the Swiss boarding school, that story-ripping dig at [Mary] Cheney on national tv for his own advantage (what chivalrous officer and gentleman would EVER use a woman like that??) —

. . . in fairness, what you’re recounting is a media narrative that’s substantially baseless . . . the right managed to smear Al Gore, and they did much the same to Kerry. I’m not saying that Kerry is blameless in how his story was spun, because he most certainly gave them material to work with, but the fact remains that Dems often have a hostile meta-narrative to counteract, and Kerry was affected by that.

The Media are the publishers or producers of the story, and yes, they manage to mess things up for most individuals trying to be the blockbuster, I agree. Most Great American Stories never see media daylight and the few that make it into the gristmill become, well, grist.

But it really isn’t about the individual. For the public it’s all about the Right Story first. The best stories have always been theatre rather than textbook, and the winner’s trick is to callously choose one potentially transcendent star from the hordes who audition, not to take your wife’s cousin or some schlep off the street and try to make his life story and ordinary skills into great theatre.

With absolutely everything going for a candidate — a great storyline, a receptive public, plenty of media love and money, etc — that perfect candidate still needs to connect with his (or her) own storyline in such a way that it strikes the public as real, and as real art.

Even THAT doesn’t guarantee success at the very top, though, because there are SO few chances and so many contenders; it just makes it somewhat possible that you’ll get that rare shot, to take a number and be judged against all the other lawyers in the nation with a personal cheering section who think they can dance. Emmitt Smith is the best celebrity dancer ever? Sure, why not . . . great story, and as it happened people bought it. (Emmitt probably has a better chance of being elected president now than John Kerry!)

When one person is finally cast in the plum role, crowned and billed at the top, dissecting the course of events to explain how it happened is like sifting through the mountain hoping to find the eighth dimension. It’s sure not because they objectively deserve it more than the other guy and maybe the voting was screwed up too (see American Idol.) That part isn’t science or statistics; it’s not about policy or wonky factoids.

I think electing a president is not political science but the storytelling of great theatre, done through financial risk, sweat and playacting, chaos and corruption and broken hearts, broken dreams, a broken leg now and then, with a few magical moments so much better than the script, all coming together like Shakespeare in Love: “I don’t know how, it’s a mystery!” That is how political story becomes hi-story.

Submitted by JJ Ross on 29 January 2007 – 10:14am.

Can’t buy that, about official fraud [Katherine Harris costing Gore Florida]– imo the most strategic redux likely would have been Gore immediately, legally insisting on a complete recount statewide, rather than picking and choosing only those districts in which he thought he was guaranteed to pick up enough votes. Power of story. And he should’ve insisted all the absentee military votes be included, etc. I think he lost it on the perception of his own gamesmanship, not official corruption. He was outplayed after the fact, when he could’ve had the high moral ground and either won or lost based on however all the chips fell. That is really putting the voters first rather than one’s own interests.

(I still would lay odds that he would’ve lost in 2000, but then there would’ve been no SoreLoserman, and Gore could’ve triumphed in 2004 as the long-suffering and clearly most deserving, which he may do anyway in ’08, presumably with a different running mate, although Lieberman does have some singular “unbeholden” ground staked out now . . .)

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8 responses

14 06 2010
Crimson Wife

She was good in the movie version of Chicago though. But I guess Velma Kelley is a role that’s hard to overact.

Wikipedia says that Bernadette Peters is going to be taking over the role of Desiree, she should be good in it.

14 06 2010
JJ

I did like her in Chicago, you’re right, and she can dance too. But as Favorite Daughter pointed out, she just wasn’t a believable Desiree old and wistful alone in her boudoir not acting for anyone (supposedly) and we thought it was in part because Zeta-Jones is too young-looking and also perhaps too young as a real person, to “get” Desiree at that poignant moment in the story.

Also Bernadette Peters is something of a Sondheim specialist so she should’ve been doing it in the first place imo. 🙂

But Broadway was apparently all about the big-money celebrity names this year, not the actual performances they delivered being the best in real competition. Points that fit with the distinction between different roles in the same genre that we were discussing back at Culture Kitchen, yes? — an individual such as John Kerry might be boffo as a senator but not as president or even prez candidate . . .and big money big names are starting to dominate in politics too, as billionaires just buy their own theatres and shows to star in. [spitting derisively in the general direction of California, sorry CW! We have one down here too, hand-caught-in-our-cookie-jar Big Health Business exec and tea party rhetoritician Rick Scott.]

Scott resigned from the Columbia/HCA’s board of directors in 1997 in the midst of the nation’s biggest health care fraud scandal. The company ultimately settled the Medicaid and Medicare fraud allegations and paid out a total of $1.7 billion dollars in fines and civil claims.[2][3] After his departure from Columbia/HCA, Scott established Richard L. Scott Investments, a private investment firm based in Naples, Florida that owns stakes in health care, manufacturing and technology companies.

14 06 2010
Crimson Wife

I didn’t vote for either Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman in last week’s primary. Neither are pro-Life enough for me. I will support them over Barbara Boxer and Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown but it’s a “lesser of two evils” kind of thing.

14 06 2010
JJ

Seems to me if the scripts are bad and the business corrupted, it doesn’t matter who wins its plum roles and claims the trophies. We the people won’t have enough of anything left to satisfy their egos and appetites and delusions.

14 06 2010
JJ

Here’s the transcendent versus terrible in political theatre, something different from the usual destructive and downright stupid snark( like Maureen Dowd’s self-aggrandizing misapplication of her own talents comparing Obama to Nixon, as if that could possibly be truthful power of story for the historic mess we’re in):

From day one, the principled critique of Obama has come from the left. . . for failing to fulfill its overarching purpose of being the anti-Bush, to reverse America’s near-fatal, turn-of-the-millennium mistake, to restore sanity to a nation that temporarily lost it, to reinstate fealty and respect for its greatest values.

Unfortunately, the president and his advisers have been far more solicitous of opponents on the right, treating progressives like a familial annoyance, a needless irritant.

. . . Stepping up and speaking out immediately and forcefully changes perceptions. Perception generates action. As Democrats and progressives, our elected leaders speak on our behalf – their urgency is our urgency, their leadership is our leadership, their guidance is our guidance, their vision is our vision.

Those who care most about your success, who are most invested in you, whose dreams and hopes you represent, are your best sounding board, your truest mirror.

14 06 2010
JJ

Which I guess proves the media is *not* vested in this president and is not acting as a true mirror for him or any of us, but are mesmerized by their own reflections and panicked only by the fight for audience share, whatever it takes. Seems to me my children need to learn to understand this, and yours do too. Or else.

20 08 2010
We Need to Sing Our Epics or Lose Them « Cocking A Snook!

[…] to millions: health care, financial reform, the environment and more. We need to sing our epics. Why We Educate Our Kids […]

14 06 2011
JJ

Fast forward one year: the Tonys were completely awesome Sunday night. Maybe the best ever. And not only because of the Book of Mormon.
Glad we were still watching. 😀

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