In an article in Time Magazine, James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, wrote about the transformative power of stories and how exposure to these transformative stories can change opinions.
He quoted some examples: how the TV series 24 exposed Americans to the idea of a black president for instance (though movies have shown this as well, notably The Fifth Element (1997), Deep Impact (1998), and 2012 (2009) and White House Down (2013)). In another example, he credits series like Modern Family with challenging conceptions about same sex families. And moving away from fiction, ISIS certainly uses stories to ‘inspire’ atrocious acts, he argues.
His point is this: stories have transformative power.
I agree with him, though I don’t think he quoted the best examples (maybe because they weren’t produced by his company?). Stories certainly do have transforming power; they can change opinions—especially over time.
We see that at work in teen culture as well. Take Dawson’s Creek for instance, a TV series that ran from 1998 to 2003. It was purely aimed at teens and it was a trend setter in many ways. It featured one of the first regular gay characters on TV for instance (Jack Mc Phee). At that time, a gay teen character was a novelty. By the time Glee appeared (2009-2015) a gay character wasn’t that much of a shocker anymore (Kurt Hummel).
Stories like that, especially in series and movies popular with teens, do shape opinions over time. No wonder that a large majority of teens supports same sex marriage, even teens from a religious background (note that the word ‘even’ doesn’t constitute judgment here, merely a contrast, since you’d expect Christian teens to have a different opinion).
And of course, this applies to adults as well. Think of the transgender issue, brought to the attention by the transformation of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner. This has had a huge impact on how the public feels about transgender people. The current TV series Transparant focuses on that same issue completely and no one blinks an eye. The more you are confronted with something, the more ‘normal’ it becomes until you don’t even think about it anymore.
The same is true for real-life stories. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement was inspired by the heart-breaking stories of black people, young men especially, being gunned down by cops without justification. Stories can change opinions—and create awareness.
That implies stories are a powerful tool, as the example of ISIS suggested already. We can purposefully use stories to shape opinions over time, or to create awareness.
But: the transformative power of stories implies a responsibility. There’s a danger here of course, the danger of being selective in the stories we share, the risk of crossing the line into becoming manipulative, or the chance of distorting the truth through the details we include and exclude in telling the stories.
James Murdoch called this ‘the age of the narrative’—and I think he’s right. So let’s be aware of the stories we share and use and how they impact those we share them with. Let’s use the transformative power of stories responsibly, for the glory of the Kingdom and not for our own purposes. And let’s be vigilant of how we ourselves are shaped by the stories we let in, both fiction and real-life.
How have stories shaped your opinions over the years?
p.s. My book Storify focuses completely on the power of stories and how you can use these to craft your message. Check it out on Amazon!