I was surprised, recently, at how intently a seven year old boy – an extended family member staying at my place – was listening to the radio news. I hadn’t expected a boy that age to take such interest in current affairs. Then I noticed what the news was about: boy racers taking on the police, youth gangs, and the abuse of a child …. When I saw this boy’s fascination with these stories of violence it worried me and I switched the radio off.
Earlier I had taken this same boy to the library and noted he was less interested in books and much more interested in the computer and Play-station games involving high-speed mayhem, destruction and violence.
I thought an hour on these games was more than enough time, but he complained he had only just got started. He would have played all day if I had let him.
To this young mind the violence in the news and violent computer games were similarly engaging. It reminded me of the way in which news of violence attracts and sells media advertising and news about local community narrative creation doesn’t.
So when I tell people I’m interested in forms of local narrative (and film) creation to bring people from all sorts of backgrounds together to envisage new possibilities for their futures, most think I am alluding to what many would see as boring narratives around the comparatively narrowly-focused set of concerns such as community safety or the future availability and price of oil. People wonder out loud if I am seeking to convince them of some particular point of view, or if I am putting up some range of specific scenarios for discussion and choice (what will happen if: a, b, c, or d…)?
It is not always easy to convey that my abiding concern, and the purpose of my narrative-based methodology, is not to produce narrative which is narrow, pre-prescribed, didactic or boring, but quite the reverse. The only prescription is that it be an open process where people from diverse communities create their own, authentic local development narratives, encompassing whatever those concerned really care about.
I find that while many, like the seven year old boy staying at my place, get a buzz out of hearing about violent conflict which is out there somewhere; the reality is there are many potentially interesting and engaging conflicting situations which are of personal concern and these concerns can be configured into narratives that appeal.
I found processes which focussed on care – what people really care about – drew out rich material for narrative creation, which, with the help of a script writer, was able to be integrated into a storyline or plot. This form of local narrative creation can be thought of as being like the writing of a soap opera, where local people, not script writers, create their own, authentic and meaningful, developmental narratives around what they care about, and what is to happen next in the narrative they are creating. The script writer’s job is to ensure the material is configured into plots which are entertaining and engaging.
Much has been made of the need for innovation and creativity. People are getting very concerned about disruptions to the global economy, its ecology and how this will impact on the quality of their lives. At the same time, much of this technological innovation helps to ensure citizens, like the seven year old boy, remain distracted and disengaged from much of what is happening or, most significantly, what they could possibly do about it.
I think true innovation would be to deploy the same technologies to attract the likes of the seven year old into being interested in matters closer to hand, closer to where we all live. By including diverse groups who live in the locality, (including and especially ethnic) this locally-based process not only results in a deeply rich creative and widely focused form of narrative creation, it can also assist in the building of the new levels of local-to-local and local-through-to-global communication and understanding needed to address complex problems and open up new possibilities.
What do you think? Is it worth putting energy into creating some of our own – exciting – local development narratives? Is it worth trying to create a more constructive and stimulating environment for the likes of the seven year old boy to imagine what can be done using communications technologies? Or do we simply keep ourselves in “terrible suspense” while decision-makers at central, and ultimately at global levels, create all the narratives about “what will happen next?”