The importance of narratives

Among the last things I read last night before going to bed were several news feeds coming out of Ferguson, Missouri. Namely, reports that shots had been fired and a nice GIF of President Obama calling for calm split-screen with an image of a burning car. (Insert your own jokes about metaphors for Obama’s presidency here.)

This morning, I read celebratory threads on a lefty site about how the lack of deaths and full-scale race riots meant the minority community had proved that right-wingers are a bunch of evil racists who should never have doubted the calm and collected response.

The whole thing left me scratching my head.

Sarah Hoyt opines occasionally about the importance of storytellers, and by that perspective gave me a view on this I would have otherwise lacked.

In our society, we have more information readily available at our fingertips than ever before. We are not shackled by what the three or four biggest media outlets choose to cover and how they choose to cover it. Alternative viewpoints are easier to find than ever.

And in spite of all that, narrative is more important than truth.

Look at the facts of the situation. 18-year-old Michael Brown stood 6’4″ and weighed nearly 300 pounds. Just prior to the altercation that ended his life, he stole cigarillos from a convenience store and roughed up a store clerk who tried to stop him from leaving. Minutes later he encountered Darren Wilson (who was in his police cruiser). There was an apparent fight over his gun and the firearm discharged inside the officer’s vehicle. Brown immediately fled then, by eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence, had turned around and tried to rush the officer again. He was then fatally shot.

But narrative drove the aftermath. By the narrative Brown was a “gentle giant” and a “child”. The cops were, necessarily, racists who used disproportionate force in the shooting.

And now, after last night, certain people are out suggesting that the average American is racist as well for suggesting that rioting was going to happen last night.

I’ll be the first to admit I was fairly certain there’d be a body count this morning.

On the other hand, this was hardly a peaceful protest, either. A dozen businesses burned or destroyed, looting, and assaults on uniformed police officers. And this peaceful protest narrative also leaves out the presence of National Guard, FBI, and hundreds of additional police in an attempt to contain the violence before it broke out.

Ferguson’s hardly a shining star in civility.

But the narrative will go on. And that’s why it’s important to have writers, reporters, and authors of varying political and social views – to ensure inconvenient facts don’t get swept under the rug because they conflict with the narrative.

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