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Cultural Narratives

Stories–narratives–surround us in our everyday lives. They are about us, written for us. Yet, for most, they remain unseen, unknowingly absorbed, their contents informing and defining who we are, how we act, and what we believe to be true.

1. A narrative is …

… a story that describes, teaches, or reinforces a culture’s beliefs, traditions, cosmology (worldview and often religion), and contradictions.

2. Example

Maui catches the islands and pulls them up out of the ocean. However, his brother, who is paddling the canoe, looks back after Maui had warned him not to. The fishing line snaps and the islands are left separate, cut-off from one another.

3. Western example

Religion–predominately Christianity–weaves a narrative found pervasive throughout our culture: that if you conform to the practices and beliefs of Christianity, perform certain rituals (e.g. Communion), and “beg forgiveness”–a recurring Christian idiom–then you will go to this other world that exists beyond our own. The narrative teaches us how the universe was created (i.e. cosmology), how we should behave, and what we believe to be true.

4. Disney example

Cinderella: that if you work hard, you can go from rags (i.e. scrubbing floors for your step-sisters) to riches (i.e. royalty, a princess). Of course the contradiction in the narrative is that hard work alone will not make your dreams come true; you still need some bibity-bobity-boo bullshit.

5. Narrative compete for dominance

For instance, Christianity would consider the fairy godmother in “Cinderella” a witch. In 1692, Salem, MA, 20 people were executed for being suspected witches and wizards (totally not lying–people actually believed there were witches and wizards). When narratives compete, people often die.

6. And one narrative ALWAYS wins

7. Brainstorm

What are some narratives you see around you? Think of movies/shows you watch, commercials, books, magazines, your religion. What do these things teach us?

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