Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Effectiveness Of Storytelling

The title of this post was between two choices, The Effectiveness Of Storytelling or The Power of Social Media and Press, both of which would still have the same following post. I went with the storytelling title because that is what I do, so it seemed more relevant and the storytelling involved disturbed me and made me think quite hard about my own actions which evidences the power of a well told story. What I'm about to discuss though, shows, in the most far fetched way, the power social media and press reporting have on some events occurring in the world.

I would advise before reading further, that this has an adult rated theme, so if you are below the age of 18, please don't read further. I am going to attempt to tell you about the story that prompted this post. It was a television drama I recorded in December and only watched this week. I will clip my language when it comes to telling of the difficult part in an attempt to not put anything too awful in your head, but it will show the power a story has. The programme was called Black Mirror. Here is a quick potted version with my thoughts.

The Prime Minister wakes to be informed that the princess has been kidnapped. A video recorded ransom demand was posted on You-Tube showing the princess talking, in tears, to the camera. It is acknowledged that this is genuine. The video was removed after 9 minutes but it was too late, people had downloaded it and kept uploading it and the cycle continued.  

It is here that the problem starts. Once something has gone out on the internet, it can not be retrieved. You can delete/remove your own version, but there is absolutely nothing to say who else now has it or what they will do with it. In this instance, the general public are aware of the princesses kidnap and are extending the story around the globe, specifically on Twitter. Control of a situation is already lost.

The kidnapper has one demand and a list of how this must be done and also what must not be done. (here's the difficult bit.) The kidnapper wants the Prime Minister to...erm... do a despicable act...erm.... on live television with set camera specifications, roaming camera and with no stand in doing it for him. Put the word...pig... into the above lines somewhere and you get the gist. 

Yes, this is somewhat ridiculous, but please keep following.

Prime Ministers staff gauge statistics from social media sites and assess that 80+% of people don't think he should do it. They set up a stand in and prepare for filming. A leak in the PM's office leaks it to the press, who film the preparations and the result is the kidnapper seemingly cuts off the princesses finger for disobeying him and posts this on You-Tube. Public sympathy leaves the PM.

It is at this point that the story comes into it's own and where I really squirmed and wondered at the place of social media. 

PM's staff tell him if he doesn't do it, not only will he be the most hated man in the world, but they could not guarantee his safety or that of his wife and baby. 

The climax came, the "hero" has to make an awful decision. I am barely breathing. The unthinkable versus saving someones life, not just anyone, but a royal princess whom the public adore. The information that the PM and family safety could not be guaranteed were the most intense couple of sentences spoken in the hour long programme.

PM does this act, the princes is released. His popularity rises, but his wife never speaks to him again. 

Sounds awful and vaguely heroic if you don't think about the awfulness. 

The twist in the story was that the princess was released into the streets, slightly sedated, half an hour before the television live film. The crazy kidnapper wanted to see if it could be done, and he took his own life. 

Really, I had already thought the story had taken me to the limit, but the twist just left me gobsmacked and in a very contemplative mood. 

This story has stuck with me for days. It was so powerful and well told. It showed that you can take the story out as far as you want, as long as there are points of such believability in it that people can connect on an emotional level.

The social media aspect was very clever and I will now always gauge what I tweet in such significant matters.

Is there a story that you have read or watched, that has gripped you and been so impactive it has made you look at your own actions in some small way?

Apologies if I have upset anyone. This story caught hold of something inside me that I just have to discuss it.


  1. I watched this too. But what struck me the most was that any situation - no matter how absurd - can drag you along with it if the writing is good, or in this case fantastic.

    I also watched the second one in that series, with the third still waiting.

  2. It sounds very disturbing... But then I think I have always (since the internet anyway) been aware of the power of social media but as you say, it comes home to you loud and strong in a story like this. Great post to make us all think...

  3. Very interesting. It sounds like a riveting program. The bind the prime minister was in the entire time is great, and the ultimate resolution shows that not everything has a happy ending. A lot of writing lessons there. :)

  4. Its one of those you'll never forget I'm sure. I don't know if I'd have the guts to watch though.

    I recently read a book that has left me in an equally contemplative mood as well. Its called Purple Hibuscus written by a Nigerian author. Its has made me question how evolved we, that live in very patriochal societies are. The kind of abuse, darkness and hypocracy that came through made me believe that all was not fiction as the story sounded very similar to those I had heard being told by the locals in Nigeria.

  5. I think I should take more notice of what's on TV, I hadn't even heard of this one. It sounds really interesting.

  6. You people in the UK have such good shows. *sigh* I can't say I've seen/read something that's made me question my actions. Or if it did, it was so brief that I don't remember it now.

    But yeah, that touches on two 'horrors' of the Internet. That things never go away and privacy is gone. And it doesn't even have to be this extreme, I recently read a blog post about someone getting fired because he posted his resume on LinkedIn and checked the box stating he was interested in career opportunities. And so many companies google potential employees.

    So make sure you watch what you say, or just use a fake name. I've heard those are rising in popularity.

  7. Annalisa - It was an excellent example of good storytelling. I haven't watched the following two yet. They're still recorded though.

    Pat - I have always been aware but it was a very strong reminder and a great example of strong storytelling.

    Tom - At some points I was really squirming, but yes, I was riveted.

    Wendy - I was thoroughly engrossed before I realised how strong it was going to be. As with books, I think some part of reality has to be there, to make it real. There is a lot of trouble in the world in which to tap into unfortunately.

    Sarah - I'm not sure why I noticed this. I think I was lucky to have been browsing the planner that night, but how it was written up didn't give you a real feel for what was to come.

    Gwen - Yes, we do make some good drama's, but like everywhere, we also have some duffs :)

    The internet does need to be treated with respect when you use it. People often thing there are no repercussions because they are sat in their own homes when they use it.