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November 18, 2008

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Our Academic Rival

MIT is starting a Center for Future Storytelling. But it doesn’t start ‘til 2010, which means we have time here at Snarkmarket to completely dominate this nascent field.

Pls suggest immediate research projects in the comments.

Funding is available.

Posted November 18, 2008 at 4:02 | Comments (7) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted


Speaking of MIT and forward thinking, can you believe today's announcement that Henry Jenkins is leaving Cambridge for new digs at USC? It's true!

That NYT article is all over the place -- half-futurist, half-technophobe, just like Hollywood. And this quote --

Ultimately, he blames the audience for the perceived breakdown in narrative quality: in the end, he argued, consumers get what they want. Bobby Farrelly, a prolific writer, and director with his brother Peter of comedies like “There’s Something About Mary” and “Shallow Hal,” concurred.

“If you go off the beaten path, say, give them something bittersweet, they’re going to tell you they’re disappointed,” Mr. Farrelly said. He spoke from his home in Massachusetts, where he is working on the script for a Three Stooges picture, and said he missed complex stories like that of “The Graduate.”

-- just seems like something out of The Onion.

The first rule of identifying the future of storytelling is that you can't act like the past was monolithic. Pinning together "classic storytellers like Homer, Shakespeare and Spielberg" just makes "classic storytellers" a meaningless phrase. Are we supposed to buy the idea that the social changes between Homeric Greece and E.T. didn't change narrative, but that text messages will?

Second rule: you must read Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, to have some sense of how fictional narrative has actually changed over the past three millenia.

I'm not sure that I buy the premise that narrative is the be-all, end-all of storytelling, at least insofar as the NYT article seems to use "narrative" in a way that's interchangable with "plot."

Narrative is much more than "X happened, and then Y happened." The future of narrative is about the limits of narrative, particularly given narrative, and film has pointed in this direction since its beginning. The interesting part of narrative to me, in film, exists in the way we make associations between shots that have been cut together. This process has become so much a part of our vocabulary that it has largely become invisible.

The future of film narrative will demand that viewers participate in the creation of the narrative by foregrounding the process of association involved in creating narrative through film. (And I'm using "film" to refer to all visual narrative media--TV, digital video, flash, etc.)

Tim will point out, quite rightly, that this has been done before.

I completely agree with Tim, and despite the NY Times article, it's why I'm excited to see this project ginning up. I went to USC's film school where, I kid you not, the first book we were assigned was Aristotle's Poetics. Because the world of storytelling never advanced beyond a three act structure. (Monolithic past, indeed).

I hope beyond the technology side of things - there's plenty of mention of mo-cap and online gaming in the article - that the good folks at Cambridge move beyond the tech and start looking at breaking down story-telling at its core. Penguin's We Tell Stories I thought was a great six steps in this direction.

I actually like the idea of smashing up A's Poetics with film, not as a how-to, but as a way to understand why so much drama looks/sounds the way it is. It also makes you think about tragedy as a technology, with a history and technical innovations (separation from the chorus, the third actor, etc). And one of my best teaching experiences ever was juggling the Poetics, the Trimalchio chapter from Mimesis, Antigone, and Do the Right Thing.

Storytelling always changes, and people are always worried about the new technology or some other social change ruining stories. The vernacular. Print. Women readers. Novels. Newspapers. Pulp. Movies. Televison. Music Videos. Storytelling is dead, long live storytelling.

And I love the fact that the shape and structure of stories affects the shape & structure of our own lives. They are templates -- we understand what's happening around us, fit it into some sensible context, using the stories we know.

Novels changed the way we think about ourselves & the minds of others.

Film introduced the third-person camera -- if you've ever been conscious of how you cool you must look right now to some imaginary outside observer... especially striding in slow-motion... it's b/c of a story you saw on film.

I love that stuff.

Tim, maybe we should do a blog-seminar on the Poetics, Antigone, and Do the Right Thing... coupla posts, and some assigned reading/viewing. I'm serious!

Maybe for the twentieth anniversary of DtRT next year... I'm teaching it again in the spring, so I'll have more material.

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