The more well known you are, the less control one has over the narrative. That’s why those who try to “leak” things to the media or try to manipulate the media narrative are playing with fire. Most situations situations are fairly boring. Boring doesn’t generate page views. As a result, there is a tendency to spice those headlines up.
Brad: The Narrative
To use myself as an example, here are some facts vs. narratives I’ve read.
|Issue ||Narrative ||Reality |
|Politics ||Brad Wardell is a right-wing nut. ||I’m fiscally conservative, socially liberal. Libertarian generally. |
|Glenn Beck ||Brad forced his company to support Glenn Beck against UPS. ||I’ve never watched Glenn Beck. I strongly object to corporations who try to use their advertising dollars to shut down political discourse. The answer to speech you don’t like is more speech. |
|Kookiness ||Brad is a kook ||I am a kook |
The realities are, naturally, far more nuanced than what is presented.
For example, I support gay marriage, I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-progressive taxation, I live in a net 0 emissions home (solar and geothermal), I drive a Chevy Volt that is powered via my Solar Array, the environment at Stardock is basically a nerd paradise with virtually no turn-over…
…And yet, I’m for small government, generally prefer local control, adamantly oppose attempts by others to force behavior changes (so I’m sympathetic to Chick-fil-A even though I oppose their views), dislike most welfare programs (I grew up poor so I knew plenty of people who were abusing the system), and am a AGW skeptic (even though I own a gold certified green home).
But complexity doesn’t fit narratives. Narratives are designed to build someone up and then tear them down and repeat.
There’s probably a formula for the amount of page views that would work similar to how voltage works: Page views = Awareness * (Existing Perception – New Perception). A villain doing something good or a saint doing something bad = dynamite. Would almost make a good game…
People: The Narrative
Sometimes the narrative can become so overwhelming that it’s hard to come back from. This is something that I think is pretty tragic. The Daikatana ads “John Romero is going to make you his bitch” was 15 years ago but created such a strong narrative that one can only imagine the impact that had on his career – unfairly I think.
Al Gore had to deal with the “I invented the Internet” which was a very unfair narrative but one that probably (almost certainly) cost him the election in 2000 (it wouldn’t take much).
These kinds of sound bites are easy to make and difficult to extinguish when they get off into the wild.
What we can do about it
The best thing we can do is try to amplify our own critical thinking. Be aware of the motivations of the media. The people who work there are usually very good people with a lot of integrity. But at the same time, it is a business that lives and dies on page views. Be wary of what you read, particularly the headline part. People are complex creatures, don’t try to pigeon hole someone into a stereo type.