Digital storytelling is an international movement for self-representation and advocacy, especially in educational, arts, and therapeutic communities. It has begun to attract a significant body of scholarship including publications and conferences. Australia has been an important player in all of these developments. In this presentation I explore some of the issues that have emerged for activists and scholars, including the problem of how to ‘scale up’ from self-expression to communication (i.e. self-marketing), and the question of the role that stories play in constituting ‘we’-communities (or ‘demes’).
The paper pursues the relationship between storytelling and political narrative over the extreme long term (
The paper is in five parts: (1) Gevinson; (2) Gallipoli; (3) Granddad; (4) Göbekli Tepe; (5) Gotcha? It seeks to place digital storytelling within a larger framework that links storytelling with the evolution of the polity. The analysis ultimately points to a looming problem for the digital storytelling movement – and possibly for human socio-cultural evolution too. In the crisis of ‘we’ communities that arises with the possibility of a globally networked polity, we need new guides to storytelling action, not the old (Trojan) warhorses of mainstream media. Events such as the centenary of World War I present unexpected opportunities for this kind of exploration.
This paper was written in the shadow of what is known in Australia as Armistice Day (Remembrance Day in the UK; Veterans Day in the USA – November 11), and in the lead-up to the centenary of World War I (2014-18). It is about the celebration of war as the test of national character, or more exactly the use of political narrative to establish that idea. Its focus is on storytelling rather than warfare as such. It pivots about the international digital storytelling movement, which uses facilitated workshops to enable ordinary people to tell their own stories using digital means of production, editing, archiving and distribution (Lambert 2006; Meadows et al 2006; Hartley & McWilliam 2009; Lundby 2009). Digital storytelling has taken hold in various educational, therapeutic and screen-culture contexts, although early experiments designed to integrate it with broadcasting have not continued (Meadows & Kidd 2009).
In this paper, my concern is with the use of
This leverages a much broader discussion around the role of stories in creating human polities. Like any pivot, this one allows the paper to swing around in quite a wide arc … from 12,000 years ago up to Rupert Murdoch in 2015. The paper calls for digital storytelling to
There is a growing body of scholarship on digital storytelling and self-representation (Thumim 2012; Chouliaraki 2012; Couldry et al), and a long-running international conference series that has been held in Wales, Australia, Norway and Turkey. This paper draws on that scholarship, seeking in particular to honour the occasion that first sparked its own narrative arc – the 5th International Digital Storytelling Conference (‘Create, Act, Change’) at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, convened by Dr Burcu Şimşek in 2013. See:
My presentation to the Ankara conference was inevitably bound up with Turkey. My paper was designed to raise pressing questions for the digital storytelling movement, about how workshop-facilitated digital stories can win attention within the competitive context of digital media more generally, and how self-mediation can contribute to wider aims than simple self-expression – for instance, activism among ‘minority’ identities, citizen science or ‘citizen documentary’ (e.g. see Salazar 2013) and ‘do-it-yourself citizenship’. Burcu Şimşek herself introduced digital storytelling into Turkey as a part of her work with women’s groups, seeking to link private life with public action via storytelling that may have its own origins ‘on the kitchen table’ (Simsek 2012: 46; 69).
In order to think through these issues of how the polity is constituted in stories, and how these are communicated within groups, so creating distinct ‘demes’, this paper too returns more than once to Turkey: from the early pre-pottery Neolithic past at Göbekli Tepe, via the Iron Age at Troy, to the modern agonistics of World War I at Gallipoli.
Digital storytelling promotes ‘Storytelling’ is loosely defined – the term may incorporate elements of ‘show’ as well as ‘tell’ – ceremony, dance and song as well as character, plot and action; it is social as well as semiotic, and visual as well as aural/textual.
‘Storytelling’ is loosely defined – the term may incorporate elements of ‘show’ as well as ‘tell’ – ceremony, dance and song as well as character, plot and action; it is social as well as semiotic, and visual as well as aural/textual.
Stories create meaningful identities for a given ‘we’-community by setting the social world into a diegetic story-world, rendering social values into character, action and plot. ‘We’ and ‘they’ identities are personified into heroes and adversaries. These are tested in action, and at the end are either confirmed (comedy/marriage) or modified (tragedy/death). Semiotic and social structures are mutually constituted, which means that stories are necessarily about society as well as self; the two linked together are a ‘polity’, a social group with a semiotic identity, organised for action and survival under conditions of uncertainty or adversity. The ‘we’-community or ‘deme’ may be as small as a family, ‘hunting party’ or ‘danwei’ (单位: ‘work unit’ in Mao’s China), or it may be of societal or global scale – it is, in the mathematical jargon, scale free.
Mediatised or storytelling demes and polities are not coterminous with political governments. The ‘institution’ of storytelling can place protagonists and their deme into much smaller units than that of city, province or nation, or much larger ones, right up to species, planet or cosmos. Digital storytelling activities to date seem to be clustered around the small-scale end of this gradient. Broadcast media compete in the middle- to large-scale, typically at the level of the nation, now expanding to global networks. The ‘outer limits’ are explored by sci-fi, fantasy, and utopian/dystopian imagination. Like stories themselves, ‘new media’ (Hartley, Burgess & Bruns 2013) and their ‘story circle’ communities range from one extreme (the bedroom) to the other (the cosmos), such that polities or demes can form around many kinds of affiliation other than traditional ethno-territorial co-presence. This kind of ‘long-tail’ informal or user-created polity is the semiotic space where digital storytelling thrives.
In the field of evolutionary bioscience, ‘costly signalling’ is a hot topic. The theory goes that for the purposes of sexual reproduction, competing males can assure sceptical females of the underlying quality of their genes if they are able to sustain some outward sign – antlers, showy plumage, a Rolex – that clearly costs them dearly in energy and risk, without possibility of deceit.
Among humans, some evolutionary social scientists think a prime function of language (i.e. an explanation for its evolution) is for monitoring the
Like Smith, Herbert Gintis emphasises the importance of punishment to guarantee large-scale group cooperation (Bowles & Gintis 2011).
But language is itself a duplicitous medium. Anything that can be used to tell the truth can also be used to lie (Eco 1976).
One such institution is storytelling.
But note that this kind of ‘thinking machine’ is ‘external’ and social, not a feature of ‘the’ brain but of
To the extent that a good story, well told, may reveal the underlying qualities of protagonists (personifications of groups) as well as the teller, storytelling itself is a form of costly signalling, and may be evolutionarily advantageous:
As Gintis and his colleagues assert, not everyone is ‘high quality’ (some signals are lying);and not every story is trustworthy. To sort the wheat from the chaff, stories carry
Since scars are hard-to-fake evidence of honesty, the more scarred (mentally or physically) the eyewitness is, in the effort of bringing you the story, the better. Many fictional characters are visibly damaged by the time they achieve the goal of their story – think of Coleridge’s
Because both tellers and the told can attend only to one narrative at a time, individual stories are also mutually competitive. This too results in an evolutionary arms race to improve storytelling as a form, to attract attention to specific tales, and to codify tried and tested fomulae. A chief test of truth is authenticity (but authenticity is signalled using conventional signs and codes). The authenticity of the observing and narrating self is crucial, unless this is a Trickster’s tale (Hyde 2008), in which case the story itself, through generic, poetic and meta-discursive signs, will signal that it is to be ‘read’ differently. Hearers can discern what it cost a teller, and a protagonist, to bring a particular story to their attention, and humans seem well attuned to the difference between glib assertion and hard-won (‘costly’) authentic experience.
This means that all stories are also ‘about’ Shakespeare, Hamlet II, ii, 273-4:
Shakespeare, Hamlet II, ii, 273-4:
As far as a story’s reach and impact go, storytelling production is distributed along a power law curve, from a ‘winner-takes-all’ head to the ‘long tail’ (Anderson 2008). There are a few stories that catch everyone’s attention; and many stories that catch a few. Clustered around the head are stories about the polity (how our group came to be and why it matters), and stories about religion (outsourcing group-identity to the supernatural, to punish deceivers and free-riders). Clustered at this extreme too are high-investment social institutions and corporations, especially the media, schooling, and the law, all of which legitimate themselves with foundation stories that seem to coincide with those of the nation, polity or deme. They produce the small number of stories that
At the other extreme of the ‘long tail’, stories tend to be about the self (identity in conflict), about locality (our place; peasants’ tales), or travel (the world; sailors’ tales) (Buonanno 2005). And here too is where we usually find digital storytelling.
This power law distribution is worthy of mention because stories told by global media corporations are not opposed, adversarially, to stories told by persons; they are on a gradient in which the players can change places. The difference between ‘mainstream’ and ‘marginal’ is not antagonistic, because different types of story serve different functions for different scales of group. In short, digital storytelling is not
Thus, it is important not to dismiss storytelling emanating from global corporations, even if it seems to outcompete local or individual efforts in terms of investment, airtime and popular attention. It is true that commercial media production is competition for digital storytelling, but that doesn’t make it an adversary or ‘they’ identity. The digital storytelling movement can compete, by mastering not only the trick of authenticity (‘costly signalling’), but also the requirements of inductive reasoning and social learning, for the solution of a significant group action problem, among a specific ‘we’-group or story circle.
Inevitably, even in advocacy or educational work that may reject commercial or marketing values,
This is not necessarily welcome news for activist agencies, because the strong asymmetry between high-investment commercial media and community-based self-expression is exactly why such agencies are active in the first place – they want to take mediation ‘back’ from industry and relocate it in the community.
But the very community they invoke is suffused with the model of commercial media narration, which is a kind of
The problem remains, whether competing takes the spontaneous form of informal and untutored popular culture, e.g. ‘selfies’ (Nelson 2013), where a few randomly lucky signals may ‘go viral’ while most don't, or the more elaborately facilitated and edited forms of digital storytelling. Both storytellers and their audiences live within a semiotic environment where stories must compete to gain attention. Hence, those who wish to use stories and digital media for self-expression and community advocacy must go beyond the identity and authenticity of the maker, to embrace communication and outreach (a.k.a. marketing).
Stories need some distinctive quality, which facilitated workshops are there to teach, because although everyone is familiar with a good story, technique has to be learned. In a competitive environment, ‘authenticity’ is another ploy, so stories have to outsmart scepticism. Daniel Meadows argues:
Michael Schulman (27 July 2012) ‘The Oracle of Girl World.’
An example of someone who took self-mediation from the blog-in-the-bedroom to global media presence, very much by using ‘
Tavi Gevinson commenced with a home-based fashion-fan blog at age 11 (
Gevinson went on to use her own story to develop a powerful voice for girls, At 14, she launched an online magazine ( ‘Still figuring it out’ (April 2012), had over half a million views at last count: Sources:
‘Still figuring it out’ (April 2012), had over half a million views at last count:
Tavi Gevinson is not much discussed in the digital storytelling movement, although she excels at ‘multimedia sonnets’ and is prominent in style magazines with extensive popular and commercial reach. But digital storytelling
I turn now from the
My starting point is that the most important political narrative is the one that
Interestingly (for our Turkish connection), an early foundation myth for Britain asserts that it was founded by Brutus of Troy, grandson of Aeneas, and that the British nation descends from Trojans. That story that was current throughout the medieval period (e.g. in Chaucer and See:
Despite their own ancient and mythological origins,
One prominent genre of etiological stories is associated with national day celebrations. These are staged by both media and public authorities, with high production values and showy symbolic content, especially in modern nation-states born out of popular revolutions (France; Russia; China) or settler-based social experiments (the USA; Australia). Settler nations don’t have mythical origins, except among their Indigenous populations, who were typically excluded from their modern constitutions. All the more reason, therefore, to provide themselves with modern myths and legends, and to make these the subject of exorbitant display.
In Australia’s case the official national day (January 26), commemorates the landing of the fleet that established the British penal colony at Botany Bay in 1788. As a foundation event, it is contested. It’s called ‘Invasion Day’ among Indigenous groups. See for instance:
See for instance:
Small wonder that Australians gain a rather confused and impoverished sense of national origin from Australia Day. In recent years, its significance in this respect is being eclipsed by Anzac Day (April 25). Here, a strong sense of a DIY (‘do-it-yourself’) myth of national origin has built up since the 1990s. One popular highlight is the annual ‘pilgrimage’ to Gallipoli. There was no such thing as an Australian citizen till 1949, only British subjects. Aboriginal people were not citizens until 1967.
There was no such thing as an Australian citizen till 1949, only British subjects. Aboriginal people were not citizens until 1967.
Their destination is a peninsula in Turkey that was unsuccessfully invaded by French and British Empire forces, including Australians, New Zealanders and Indians, as well as British troops, in April 1915. They withdrew eight months later with high casualties on all sides, defeated by Ottoman forces under the command of Mustafa Kemal, later Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish republic. See:
The trek to Gallipoli is especially popular among backpackers and other young travellers, for whom it seems to function as a place of passage in their own process of self-realisation. It attracts a music-festival sized crowd, who camp nearby and gather, many flag-clad, for dawn ceremonies. One historian has criticised the event for resembling a ‘Big Day Out’ (i.e. an annual summertime rock concert). See:
The only explanation for this popular behaviour is political narrative – the story, internalised by many, of how a distinctive national consciousness was forged in the crucible of war, despite the facts that the campaign was a failed sideshow, that more Australians died at the Western Front, The Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux lists 10,000 Australian dead with no known grave: Former Prime Minister Paul Keating, speaking in 2008, criticized this trend, saying: ‘we still go on as though the nation was born again or even, redeemed there. An utter and complete nonsense.’
The Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux lists 10,000 Australian dead with no known grave:
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating, speaking in 2008, criticized this trend, saying: ‘we still go on as though the nation was born again or even, redeemed there. An utter and complete nonsense.’
Naturally, the Australian news media are eagerly on hand each year, at Gallipoli and elsewhere, disseminating the story to a wider public and celebrating the purported national character through the apparently self-staged rituals of ordinary people at a widely distributed but simultaneous national corroboree.
This version of Gallipoli – Murdoch Senior as brave whistleblowing war correspondent circumventing censorship to tell the truth – is an essential part of its meaning. The other major influence on the creation of the legend was another Australian, Charles Bean (Seal 2004). It was he who first claimed – and through his later monumental histories established – that ‘the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born’ on Anzac day 1915.
The answer was already clear to Bean: ‘fitness to exist’ was bestowed by ‘
Bean went on to found the Australian War Memorial, and is himself remembered as the first Australian War Correspondent at Gallipoli and later on at the Western Front. But it was not Bean who established the meaning of Gallipoli. That honour went to Ellis Ashmead Bartlett, the Bartlett’s story, as published in the
Bartlett’s story, as published in the
Charles Bean, personal records, ‘Ashmead Bartlett and a crisis’, item 892, 3DRL/6673, Australian War Memorial 38, cited in:
Charles Bean, personal records, ‘Ashmead Bartlett and a crisis’, item 892, 3DRL/6673, Australian War Memorial 38, cited in:
Bartlett, who worked for the London
Contemporary Australians gathering at Gallipoli have likely never heard of Bartlett, but it is his story they come to honour, unwittingly fulfilling a prophecy about his ‘bardic’ role (Hartley 2009) that came from an authentic eyewitness – one of the diggers who contributed to 1st edn, edited by C.E.W. Bean, published by Cassell, London, 1916; 2nd edn, published by Sun Books, Melbourne, 1975; 3rd edn, edited and published by the Australian War Memorial:
1st edn, edited by C.E.W. Bean, published by Cassell, London, 1916; 2nd edn, published by Sun Books, Melbourne, 1975; 3rd edn, edited and published by the Australian War Memorial:
‘The Raid on London,’ by Private Pat Riot, 9th Battalion.
‘The Raid on London,’ by Private Pat Riot, 9th Battalion.
Australian national character may have been tested for fitness in 1915, and this may or may not have revealed its authentic character; but no-one would have known anything about it without a narrator. It’s the story that carried the knowledge, not the deed; and the communicator who ‘creates the polity’, not the acts of members of the deme, however authentic or courageous.
It took me many decades to realise that I had a personal relationship with Gallipoli, not least because in my part of the world, and in my early years, it was known as ‘the Dardanelles’. In the UK popular imagination it was connected less with the Anzacs than with the name of Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915), whose bold conjecture it had been, and who therefore took the political blame for its eventual failure.
My grandfather was there. Of course he wasn’t an Anzac – he fought for the ‘other side’, as it were, i.e. the British. He wasn’t the type of ‘British’ that so upset the likes of Bartlett and Murdoch, i.e. an incompetent upper-class officer. He was strictly ‘other ranks’ (a Quartermaster Sergeant, although later promoted, in the tradition of the Army Service Corps, to Captain). He must have had some connection with the Anzacs, because he kept a 1916 copy of
Josiah Arthur Barnes came from ‘the Borough’ (Southwark, where Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was situated and has been reconstructed). He worked at Mount Pleasant, the biggest postal sorting office in the Empire. Before the war he’d been in the Post Office Rifles (Territorial Army), and afterwards he returned to the Post Office, eventually to become Secretary of the E.C. [East Central] Sorters Branch of the Union of Postal Workers, which was founded in 1919. He was, and remained, solidly working class, but of the aspirational type. When I became aware of him, in his seventies, he played lawn bowls (I have the cups he won), still drank his tea out of the saucer not the cup (‘to cool it’), and blew his nose on a military-looking khaki handkerchief.
To say he ‘fought’ may give the wrong impression of this latter-day scion of Brutus of Troy, because he served in the Army Service Corps, which was responsible for transport, food supplies, logistics – and the mail. According to a
The Long, Long Trail:
The Long, Long Trail:
It seems there is no ‘nation-forming’ story attached to the coordination of armies; neither the military itself nor its historians remember the contribution of a third of a million of its soldiers.
Although armies can’t fight without organisation, transport, logistics, food and communications, those who provide them are available to take the blame for what goes wrong. My grandfather kept a copy of the
Doubtless there are some amazing stories here, but the heroes who managed to deliver over 30 million items to troops so far from their various homes in Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt and India, not to mention those serving the Turkish army, have remained unsung from that day to this, at least officially: apparently, ‘There is no memorial to the Army Service Corps’. The Long, Long Trail:
The Long, Long Trail:
‘Glimpses of Anzac’, by Hector Dinning, Aust. ASC.
‘Glimpses of Anzac’, by Hector Dinning, Aust. ASC.
The writer singles out letters first, ‘they put a man at home for an hour.’ But then he mentions local newspapers, sent from home: ‘Intimate associations hang about the reading of the local sheet – domestic and parochial associations almost as powerful as are brought by letters’ (p. 22). Finally, there are parcels, objects of an ‘intensity of gloating expectation.’ Most prized were tobacco and food, but clothes, toiletries, and writing paper were also mentioned.
Of course, not all the parcels got through, and many that did were damaged. A ‘digger’s alphabet’ gives us some idea of what the troops thought of quartermasters: ‘Q is for … the Quarter-bloke, dodging the line’; ‘R is for … the Rum that the Quarter-bloke pinched’ (quoted in Seal 2013: 250-1). They were shirkers and looters.
In fact, the only memorabilia I have of my Grandfather are ‘spoils of war’. He kept – over the fireplace – a set of murderous looking shells (which I now have), allegedly captured from the Turks and ‘proving’ that the enemy used ‘dum-dum’ rounds (lead-tipped, designed to flatten on impact). He also sported a collection of ‘trench art’, including shell-cases converted into cigarette boxes, powder-puff boxes etc., some with British silver sixpences (the king’s head) let into the base, overlaying the German or Turkish script that indicated whence the shells originated. One such is dated ‘APR 15’). There’s also a Turkish artillery shell fuse, and, had he not handed it in to the British Government in the 1950s during an amnesty, there would have been a captured Turkish revolver too. Instead, I have the amnesty receipt for it.
These bizarre objects are all I have of my grandfather; a clutter of memorabilia-without-memories. He died while I was away at the orphanage. My mother wrote and told me to pray for him – a tricky task, for he was C of E and a Freemason, my mother was Catholic convert, and I was at a Protestant orphanage 250 miles away. Would praying for him in the wrong religion be OK? Evidently my mother didn’t think it mattered, for she buried him in the same grave as my non-religious father, both of them in the Catholic bit of Margate cemetery.
As the only surviving male in the family I was always going to inherit the memorabilia of war … and his masonic apron. I don’t like them much but can’t chuck them out, so there they stay, souvenirs of an unknown life, transmitted through time without any story attached to them, and almost completely meaningless, certainly to my daughters, who will no doubt have to decide what to do with them one day.
I barely knew him as a person. I can’t remember much affection on either side; only rules.The only present I remember having from him was a parcel that mysteriously but excitingly arrived at the orphanage one year when I was about 10. It proved to contain a pair of boxing gloves. I immediately read the ‘present’ as a rebuke. He was encouraging me to make a man of myself (a sure sign that I had already failed in that endeavour).
Neither my mother nor my grandmother told stories about him after he died. We discovered decades later that he had two sisters. Who knew? What did he do in the war? No-one knew, despite the pictures of him on a camel by the Great Pyramid and wearing his officer’s uniform so proudly. Was he brave? Did he perform herculean service? Was he on the take? Was his a war of ‘negligence and stupidity’?
We’ll never know, although I don’t think so, because he called every house he lived in to the end of his life ‘Rafa’, referring to the city of that name in Palestine, where his war took him after the Dardanelles and Egypt. I don’t know if he was at the Battle of Rafa in January 1917, which prominently featured the Anzacs and Chauvel’s Light Horsemen. It was a difficult battle, plagued by ammunition shortages, but it marked the entry of the Empire Expeditionary Forces into Palestine. Maybe that was the time of his life. But none of his family knows, because there’s no story. Stories Within the next few days they [the Anzacs] attacked the Turks at Maghdaba and Rafa—each thirty miles from el Arish—inflicting heavy defeats and capturing many prisoners in each case. The story of all this has been well told by Mr. Massy in
Within the next few days they [the Anzacs] attacked the Turks at Maghdaba and Rafa—each thirty miles from el Arish—inflicting heavy defeats and capturing many prisoners in each case. The story of all this has been well told by Mr. Massy in
I could make this into a digital story (that’s it’s structural place in this paper), but such an indeterminate tale would go against the grain of the genre. The story would be telling you that there is no story. My grandfather’s tale may have expressed the
There are many digital stories about Anzacs, and they generally do follow the script. Some are made by school students doing oral history projects about veterans from their local area. Others are made by veterans themselves, or their widows or descendants. None that I can find has been made by the backpacking pilgrims to Gallipoli’s Dawn Service.
It does seem from my research that when it comes to digital storytelling about Gallipoli, there is a See, for instance:
See, for instance:
Original stories, on the other hand, seem to require a higher level of narrative investment than digital storytelling typically commands, and so it is at the national and corporate end of the spectrum where new stories about Gallipoli are still actively created. This may intensify in the run-up to the forthcoming centenary (April 2015). What will the new story be? It’s a pretty safe bet that it won’t include my Granddad; but there are indications, to which I’ll return later on, that a very particular ancestor will feature prominently.
Unbeknownst to the thousands gathering annually at Gallipoli’s Lone Pine memorial, there is another lonely hill in Turkey where a much deeper myth of human political origin is beginning to be undermined and reordered. The place is Göbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill), site of impressive ancient stone monuments that were erected before human settlement and before farming, predating Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids by
The deeper ‘myth’ that its discovery challenges is the accepted story of the ‘Neolithic Revolution.’ That theory was first synthesised by an Australian archaeologist, V. Gordon Childe (1925; 1936). His theory states that human civilisation ‘dawned’ with the invention of farming, which required hunter-gatherers to settle and thus enabled the development of cities. In other words, after a rapid domesticating ‘revolution,’ the economy (agriculture) and politics (cities) determined culture (civilisation). But, for a contrary view, see: The Wikipedia entry on Childe is a good place to get a flavor of the man, his times, his work and its impact:
But, for a contrary view, see:
The Wikipedia entry on Childe is a good place to get a flavor of the man, his times, his work and its impact:
Vere Gordon Childe is widely forgotten in his native Australia, except by ‘Rampaging Roy Slaven’, whose new play Story at:
But Childe ranks as one of the most important archaeologists of the 20th century: if not Indiana Jones then certainly his teacher.
Childe’s story – that ‘material prosperity … brought social and artistic progress in its wake’ (as Romer summarises it) – exerted its own powerful influence on scientific thought. The science may be ‘tricked out with fashionable neo-evolutionary economics’, but as Romer points out, ‘the very language of the inquiry’ determines what will be found: the story precedes and determines the evidence, which is largely a work of the imagination, ascribing causal sequence to ‘the relics of the past’.
Thus, for many decades there has been no need to argue that economics was primary and culture was dragged along ‘in its wake’ … until the discoveries at Göbekli Tepe. Now, it seems, we may need to reverse the flow of causation, because the monument-builders there were hunter-gathers, who neither farmed nor settled. It turns out that symbolic ritual, including gathering, dancing, feasting and possibly worship, was staged in massive, elaborate stone-built circles that have no economic or residential function. They may resemble ancestors, who may be gathered in a ceremonial (story) circle, perhaps linking the living and the dead. ‘Pillars at the temple of Göbekli Tepe—11,600 years old and up to 18 feet tall—may represent priestly dancers at a gathering.’
‘Pillars at the temple of Göbekli Tepe—11,600 years old and up to 18 feet tall—may represent priestly dancers at a gathering.’
These feats of construction both organised and represented what can be described as the earliest known political narrative. They predated and likely precipitated both farming and settlement. Klaus Schmidt, lead excavator of the Göbekli Tepe site, has concluded:
What Schmidt calls ‘shared identity’ was
I’m not following
Culture and technology (shared desire, purpose and capacity to build)
Politics (organisation of a complex cooperative community)
Economy (intensive organisation of food supplies, materials and logistics).
That Göbekli Tepe represents a cultural (rather than economic or civic) story doesn’t seem to be in doubt. It externalises and performs the identity and knowledge of a ‘deme’ at an unprecedented level of ambition and complexity, and it does seem reasonable to assume that the builders told each other a motivating story as to their intentions when they built it: they were working to a purposeful ‘script’.
The monument itself may be regarded as a ‘media platform’ or ‘institution of language’ – the first ever ‘mass medium’ if you like – for storytelling on the grand scale. So my proposition is that Göbekli Tepe is a relic of
What Schmidt calls ‘the human mind’ that produces civilisation is of course a network of externally linked minds, which connect with one another and interact with circumstances, natural and political (demic), via storytelling. The oldest recorded story in the world is
As a political narrative the
Applying this model to political communication, we can readily see the basic plots reiterated on the nightly news. A telling example was George W Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech, delivered aboard USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 2003, immediately after the initial open combat phase of the Iraq invasion. Instantly controversial, as victory in the so-called War on Terror was far from ‘accomplished,’ the speech was also notable for the biblical rhetoric that Bush invoked to celebrate how US forces had ‘overcome the monster’ unleashed at 9/11. The President concluded:
Something along the lines of a story that brings a ‘deme’ together to overcome unknown adversaries, uncertainty and death, may explain the findings at Göbekli Tepe. Gilgamesh, Ashurbanipal, Isaiah and Bush indicate that stories like that survive more or less unchanged in form and function over millennia, with successive political leaders using the same words for the same purposes. This
Here, recent work of evolutionary scientist Mark Pagel (2012a; 2012b) is instructive. See also a useful review of Pagel 2012a here:
See also a useful review of Pagel 2012a here:
Culture is the group-making mechanism that humans evolved for survival
When it comes to telling stories, that ‘aggressive parochialism’ is what I have called a ‘universal-adversarial’ stance in journalism (Hartley 1992a; 1992b). The ‘we’ group is taken to be universal (it includes everyone in the deme); ‘they’ groups are taken to be adversarial (enemy, threat, deviant, dissident, deranged). Note that the names of many pre-modern nations, e.g. Nyungar (Western Australia) or Cymru (Wales), simply mean ‘human being’ or ‘compatriot’. Conversely, many languages use pejorative terms for outsiders – all non-Ancient Greeks were ‘barbarians’; the Hebrew for ‘opposite,’ adversary, accuser is ‘satan’; Wales is derived from the Norman-French word for ‘foreigner’. The Apaches evidently have a bet each way: ‘The word “apache” comes from the Yuma word for “fighting-men” and from the Zuni word meaning “enemy”’ (
Note that the names of many pre-modern nations, e.g. Nyungar (Western Australia) or Cymru (Wales), simply mean ‘human being’ or ‘compatriot’. Conversely, many languages use pejorative terms for outsiders – all non-Ancient Greeks were ‘barbarians’; the Hebrew for ‘opposite,’ adversary, accuser is ‘satan’; Wales is derived from the Norman-French word for ‘foreigner’. The Apaches evidently have a bet each way: ‘The word “apache” comes from the Yuma word for “fighting-men” and from the Zuni word meaning “enemy”’ (
There is, then, no better way to express who ‘we’ are than in what Charles Bean called ‘the supreme test for fitness to exist’:
Storytelling can be characterised as a carrier of information codes. As such they are designed for imitation, copying, sharing, emulation. They are a distribution mechanism for
Culture and stories are mechanisms for transmitting cooperation and social learning (Thomas & Seely Brown 2011), and for developing externalised forms of shared knowledge (e.g. language, customs, institutions, technologies, tools etc.) that help to promote the survival of the group across time and place, even against the interests of individuals within the group, who die for unrelated genes, as it were. Cooperation overcomes ‘selfish’ genes (Dawkins 2006) by casting members of the same tribe or deme as ‘honorary relatives’ (Pagel 2012), who look out for other members of the group, even though no genes are shared between them, and who, through acts of ‘costly signalling,’ seek to impress strangers, even though they’ll never meet them (Gintis & Bowles 2011; Miller 2009).
This is how cooperative trustworthiness is
Culture demands high levels of altruism towards the group and high levels of trust for insiders. Concomitantly, it instils distrust for outsiders or strangers. In contemporary news media, universal-adversarial journalism (Hartley 1992a) creates a ‘they’ identity, not only for direct enemies (monsters) but also for Tricksters (Hyde 2008), who may be masquerading as ‘honorary relatives’ to gain advantage of our deme’s knowledge systems and information codes – to steal our semiotic cattle. Evolved mechanisms to counteract this kind of theft may include
Storytelling seems to be universal among humans, but stories themselves have evolved only within specific ‘we’-communities, often quite small or tribal demes. It is only in the past century or so that communications media, economic development and social network markets have expanded sufficiently to reach global scale. With organised or coordinated global media and networks comes the possibility that the differentiation of ‘we’ from ‘they’ – friends, family and lovers from strangers and enemies – may not be so easy any more, as stories themselves become universal in scope. Movies, music, and publishing all aspire to global audiences and readerships; stories do well that appeal across previously impermeable demographic boundaries (viz. JK Rowling). ‘We’ identities become much more abstract and distributed across complex networks.
How has storytelling kept pace with these changes? The most important change is that informal ‘polities’ can now be self-created, using the long-tail characteristics of large-scale social networks, where like-minded affinity or identity groups gather from among otherwise heterogeneous populations and communities of interest co-create their own political narrative, inaugurating an era of user-created citizenship.
With the emergence of global communication networks with billions of users, the universal-adversarial formula that has been a primary feature of stories that ‘produce’ a polity for ‘we’-communities in national media and journalism, now gets in the way. How can an adversarial sense of ‘we,’ of trust for us but fear of ‘they’ identities, be shared across the community when that group begins to approximate to the entire species? In mainstream politics, narratives are emerging where humanity is both ‘we’ and ‘they’ at once – stories about climate change and environmental sustainability, for instance, or those about ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ in war, displacement and refugee migration. Humanity at large is seen as the causal agent of those problems, and thus ‘our’ own adversary. We have literally become our own worst enemies. The monster our heroes must overcome is … ourselves.
Human culture and technology seem to have evolved rather faster than human storytelling formats, so the universal-adversarial pattern no longer fits the facts. Demes are no longer ‘tribal’ or even nation-states. With contemporary digital media, we live in a semiosphere that is manifestly global and local at once. ‘Our’ deme may be organised around quite different rules of association among strangers than the ones that govern national citizenship.
Young Australasians camping out on the hills surrounding Anzac Cove are associating themselves with a political narrative of national origins, but they are also members of many other networks, complexly interconnected and of global extent, intensely meaningful for those involved but not necessarily shared by the people in the next tent, such that the distinction between ‘we’ and ‘they’ is as meaningless as a distinction between Australasian and Turkish graves on the peninsula, See Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s words about this when he visited Gallipoli in 1934 as President of Turkey:
See Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s words about this when he visited Gallipoli in 1934 as President of Turkey:
However, there seem to be no digital stories about this form of consciousness; only dutiful prayers to the ancestors, following a script written generations ago by War Correspondents. So maybe digital storytelling isn’t as radical and progressive as its commitment to self-expression for the ordinary person seems to suggest. Maybe it needs to copy more forward-facing models; Tavi Gevinson, perhaps. A further question for the digital storytelling movement is this: What kinds of storytelling organisations might take up a new, experimental agenda?
While the large scale public service broadcasting (PSB) experiments such as the BBC’s ‘Capture Wales’ have not continued, there is still smaller scale experimentation going on, for example, in the context of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ABC Open. The processes and products of ABC Open are very different to those of orthodox digital storytelling advocates and practitioners, but we also get a hint here of how orthodox digital storytelling practices are also being very rapidly dispersed and evolved. The thing about ABC Open is that it also operates in the ‘long tail’ of storytelling. Nonetheless, it is an interesting question as to whether new scripts/ plots/ narratives/ polities could be enabled through an organisation such as ABC Open.
The lesson of Tavi Gevinson (for example) is that digital storytelling activists need to be open to any and all such possibilities too. Trying to avoid the pitfalls of mainstream and commercial media does not exempt any ‘alternative’ from the need to use scaled-up communicative systems. ‘We’ need new ways to organise, distribute and communicate new senses of virtual ‘we’ communities that are not founded on universal-adversarialism.
Perhaps the PSB organisations around the world can be recruited to this new social function?
The alternative is that it will end up copying commercial media unwittingly, again, because the ‘big guns’ are preparing, as we speak, for the 2015 centenary of Gallipoli. However, it may already be too late to invoke PSBs as a clear-cut radical storytelling alternative, because their strategy for gearing up for the Great War centenary is to
The most surprising one is between Rupert Murdoch and the BBC. That there is no love lost between these titans of storytelling is well known. However, the ‘star’ of ‘one of the most important programmes’ in the BBC’s coverage of the centenary of the Great War has been announced: Rupert Murdoch himself, who is being interviewed for a BBC film that will ‘tell the tragedy of Gallipoli.’
This and related quotations from here:
This and related quotations from here:
What was his father’s legacy? According to this story, ‘Keith Arthur Murdoch was a young Australian war correspondent who changed the direction of the war by exposing the 1915 Gallipoli campaign as a disaster.’ The BBC filmmaker, Denys Blakeway, told
Clearly, the narrative die is already cast. Rupert Murdoch’s father ‘changed the direction of the war’, and
Murdoch himself already has form in this respect. He bankrolled Peter Weir’s 1981 movie See:
Paul Byrnes, at:
Paul Byrnes, at:
Thus, through the heroics of Rupert Murdoch’s father, Australians ‘overcame the monster’ –
Warren Snowdon speaking on April 25 2013:
Warren Snowdon speaking on April 25 2013:
Australian mateship being what it is, Anzac day is now sponsored by VB beer (CUB). Their ‘Raise a Glass’ campaign is fronted by retired army general Peter Cosgrove, who says: ‘Wherever you are, whatever you’re drinking, raise a glass to those who serve’. VB will even arrange for General Cosgrove, AC, MC, to phone you with a wake-up call for the Dawn Service.
Finally we should return to digital storytelling. Can it do better than this? The
If a ‘new generation’ needs to be inspired to ‘understand what happened’, would it not be better to develop an alternative approach, based on the example of people from that generation, such as Tavi Gevinson, rather than relying on big-gun War Correspondents and mythmakers like the Murdochs, Weir, Bean, Bartlett and Cosgrove – even the BBC. If we truly want to honour our Granddads, and find new ways to constitute the globally networked polity, where foe-creation is self-destruction, we must find room for stories that do not go ‘over the top’, but, rather, understand how the very concept of ‘we’ is as much of a threat to ordinary people’s understanding, well-being and peace as any monster.
As a Greek user called ‘eleni b’ wisely noted, on the photo-sharing site Pinterest:
As the citizens of another legendary city in Turkey discovered long ago, it’s always wise to beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Is there a Trojan Horse in the citadel of stories? This paper has been driven by an interest in the potential for digital media and social networks to democratise storytelling, in the hope that non-professional people may learn to tell a wider range of stories than the few that dominate national politics, the movies, journalism and education. The hope is that ‘user-created citizenship’ will Quoted here:
The indications are not altogether positive. Digital storytelling in the context of Gallipoli seems to have been captured by institutional agencies that use it to disseminate existing meanings, while the generative journalistic story goes unchallenged (even when aspects are known not to be true).
If digital storytelling is to play a corrective role in the forthcoming centenary of World War I, it will face powerful competition from the pros, As well as allowing Keith Murdoch pride of place in the Gallipoli story, the BBC plans to do exactly what digital storytelling is good at: ‘we will tell well-known stories from fresh perspectives and original stories so far untold.’ (Adrian Van Klaveren, controller for the BBC's World War One Centenary):
As well as allowing Keith Murdoch pride of place in the Gallipoli story, the BBC plans to do exactly what digital storytelling is good at: ‘we will tell well-known stories from fresh perspectives and original stories so far untold.’ (Adrian Van Klaveren, controller for the BBC's World War One Centenary):