I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I believe wholeheartedly in the power of storytelling to help us understand ourselves and each other, to make sense of the world we live in. And while I don’t believe that we have to be able to identify with characters or worlds for this to work – and in fact, it wouldn’t work if that were the case – I do think it’s interesting the way that some stories become so far reaching in spite of a highly specific and localized narrative structure.
This has been coming up a lot for me with Netflix shows. For example, Daredevil:
Watching Daredevil feels like a superhero show – this may seem obvious, but when you think about it, it is by far the most local of all the Marvel storylines. Daredevil is essentially fighting an extremely violent version of gentrification in his neighborhood, but it feels of a scale with the wormhole that opens up above the Empire State Building in the first Avengers movie. Jessica Jones, I’ve already talked about, but is still worth mentioning again. It’s a specific story, about a woman and her superpowers and the villain she’s fighting, but it too is of a much larger scale – a metaphorical one, a more universal female experience of the power that society gives men over women.
I like the big stories, the ones that are bigger than the world I can see. I like the ones that use superpowers and spaceships and magic to manipulate the world, to twist what I know into a new shape so that I can look at it from a different angle. And yeah, I like to escape. I like a world that is at least partly unrecognizable. Everyone has moments where they don’t want to be here wherever here is, and when that happens I like to read or watch something that I can disappear into.
Still, there has to be something recognizable, right? It’s hard to immerse yourself in a world where everything is unfamiliar. I’ve talked about Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand before, and while I love it a lot, it’s not the most immersive story. Pronouns don’t even work the same way. Still, there is something recognizable even in that too – a specificity about relationships and attraction that comments on and reflects a recognizable experience.
I was thinking about this a lot while watching Stranger Things which is such a weird, beautiful story about family and friendship and society and government conspiracies and monsters. These things are all entwined so carefully and so intricately that the alternate world becomes an obvious metaphor for the characters’ lived experiences. But it’s also a real place, imbued with weight and specificity so that you believe in it – you see the parallels, but you also fall head first into the story. The Upside down serves the story because it provides a mirror, but it’s also actually a mirror in which allows the characters to find answers/closure/judgement for actions in their own world.
IT’S SO COOL!
This blog post could have been an ode to Stranger Things honestly, because I loved it, but I need to watch it a few more times first. Mostly it’s an ode to Netflix shows, because their metaphors so unbearably elegant and I think that’s why they’ve had such success. They’ve found a way to tell a story that is so wonderfully specific and fleshed out that it can’t help but find some universality. The metaphors aren’t just metaphors – they are stories. And it’s beautiful.
Yes, I know this blog post is late, and mostly incoherent. I had a bit of a strange week with not a lot of sleep – part certain individuals having loud phone conversations at 11:30pm, part the weather, part having potato chips in my pantry for the first time in ages, part thinking about a Nano novel, which would bring my current projects total up to three. But in thinking about this stuff I’ve been learning a lot about storytelling and how it gives me the chills and what makes it awesome and I’m really excited about that. So enjoy!