Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Story tellers

I like stories, and I admire story tellers. Story tellers have always been important to humanity. Lesson plans and class rooms are how we pass along facts and knowledge, but stories and myth are how we share truth and wisdom. Sadly, story telling has fallen on hard times in our society. Part of the reason I don't miss TV is that the story telling is so lame, its main purpose to be just titillating enough to have the viewer hang around for an evening's worth of commercials. Books still do a pretty good job, though with the loss of editing finding a good story that is also well written is getting more and more difficult. For my money, outside of a good book, the best story telling our society has to offer at the moment is the occasional movie. (Though many of them are now focused on selling toys and video games, rather than telling a good story.) Still, there was / is some good story telling in movies, and movies hang around for a long time. Parked as we are here at a dock, two of our best sources for movies have turned out to be the local library and the $3 bin at Dollar General.

Over the last week or so, two older movies in particular have shared far better than average stories. The first was “The Great Debaters” (2007), the second “Guilty By Suspicion” (1990). The first told a tale of being Black in America, circa 1938 in Texas. The second was about being the target of the House Un-American Activities Committee (now known as the House Judiciary Committee) in the mid to late 1940s. Somber tales, both, touching on times when America was not so great. Yet even when America was not being so great, there were normal Americans who helped make her a little greater. Some risked the hate and mob violence of the Jim Crow South sanctioned by a heartless and corrupted government. Others faced a life of oppression at the hands of an openly heartless and corrupted government, one that had abandoned any pretense of honoring the Constitution, or even simple human dignity.

In both cases, those on the wrong side of history loudly claimed to be righteous in the eyes of a god, and the True American Patriots. History, of course, has judged them to be some of the nation's most notable hypocrites. But here's the thing: most of them died without ever knowing that of themselves. We know, and can learn from their failings, because the stories have been passed along.

Which is why I am such a big fan of the true story teller.

Most of us are never going to know how we might fit into the stories told by future story tellers, even if we are just anonymous background characters. But I'm going to take a guess at the kind of stories the story tellers will tell of our time; see what kind of characters we really are.

The racists, the ones claiming a special understanding of what god wants, and those most loudly claiming to be the True Patriots, will be villains scorned. Those who ignored the need to cherish and protect the earth that supports us will be reviled as some of the worst of humanity who ever lived. The story tellers will make them out to be ogres and trolls. Ugly, twisted creatures who reeked of rot and death.

 At some point, those who love war may fight one that leaves much of the world devastated. Those who survive and rebuild what they can (assuming there are any left) are going to tell stories of demons and monsters who nearly destroyed the planet. The war fighters will have sunk so low that the story tellers will not regard them as members of the human tribe. (A truth maybe, even if it isn't a fact.)

And the heroes? I'm not sure who the heroes are going to be. Perhaps it will be those who lead a peaceful revolution. Perhaps it will be millions who stood before the tanks or the armed mobs unmoved by fear, demanding, and then building, a society that truly is just. Maybe it will simply be those who survived and managed to carry on. Or they may be people who chose to take care of the people around them, standing at the front door of their neighbors and friends when the new brown shirts came for them, because that is what good people do.

The heroes might even be those who were unafraid to meet violence with violence. You never know. We would be listening to much different stories now, if the first people who dressed in white robes and danced around burning crosses as a black man hung dying above the flames, had been seen as easy targets rather than protectors of the "American Way of Life". I'm not saying we would have better stories than the ones we have now. (After all, stories of the civil rights movement are, by and large, pretty good stories.) Then again, maybe we wouldn't be writing stories about the return of Jim Crow.

Mostly though, I suspect the stories of our time will be ones of opportunities squandered, of chances missed, of a people who – for reasons unknown and perhaps unknowable – turned their backs on compassion, reason, and wisdom. The most noticeable trait of the story the story tellers will tell about us is that there were no heroes, They will tell of a people who happily - and knowingly - danced with the trolls and the ogres, following them out into the darkness...

...and were never heard from again.

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