Controlling the Story…

It has been a long month.

Besides massive periods of time where I was editing and then grading around 900 pages of student prose, things happened in the world.

The populaces in Tunisia and then Egypt (and now many other countries) engaged in revolutions.  In Egypt, which has over 80 million people and is the heart of the Arab world, they overthrew a well-known dictator (and Ally!)–and the story there is not over.

Closer to home, not-so-fun-stuff also happened in Madison.  Our governor tried to rush through a very sneaky “Budget-Repair-Bill” that didn’t really solve budgetary issues, while also trying to do a bunch of nasty stuff–such as sell off power plants in no-bid behind closed doors contracts as well as canceling collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Although there are many interesting aspects about both of these situations, one particular theme that struck me about both was the overall idea of who was controlling the story in both of these cases…. and what was really fascinating was to watch how both instances fundamentally showed that despite attempts at top-down control of the story–these stories–and the people making them–refused to be controlled.

In Egypt, it was fascinating to watch as long-term politicians and media personnel seemed entirely flustered as to what to do and how to react to the situation.  Calls for the us “TO JUST DO SOMETHING!” as well as calls for us “TO STAY OUT OF IT!” were shooting back and forth on the hour.  In reality, all of these calls were non-sensical, because the situation was so entirely fluid, that previous models–the well-worn stories that we thought applied–were not applicable in any intelligent way.  Importantly, it was just hilarious for me to step back and watch as the Egyptians fought for their own story and they told it through their actions–and the higher ups/cultural-political elites (not just in Egypt, but here also…) did not get to dictate its terms.. and to see these elites entirely at a loss as to how to deal with it..

Similarly–the situation in Madison–although not nearly as revolutionary as what was going on in the Middle East–was also fascinating to watch.  As far as I can tell–our governor and his Republican colleagues were following a storyline where they just got to do stuff that they wanted and although a few people might complain–that this wouldn’t matter–because they could just proclaim them to be dirty Madison Hippies–and no one would really mind.

This storyline didn’t pan out, however.  Although there were certainly a large contingent of Madison Hippies involved in the protesting of the Budget Repair Bill–the move by the 14 Democratic Senators to flee the state took the storyline into relatively new territory.  From there, however, the story began to change as an ever growing circle of people were made aware of what was going on in the fine print of the story–the stuff that they usually don’t pay attention to–and they got angrier.  Smaller student/Madison based protests became larger state-wide actions that have created a political situation that–while not totally new–is obviously nothing like the story that was foreseen.

Interestingly enough–if you watched only Mainstream Media–during the first 2-3 weeks–it was clear that they were following the basic storyline that was originally portrayed–but that the longer it went on–and the more the reality refused to just fit the storyline of a few angry hippies–the more that people had to deal with a story that was not under their control.  They had to deal with it, practically, because the stories that they wanted to tell should have ended already, and the real storyline just wasn’t accommodating them in this aspect.  Now, it is true that I’ve still noticed continual attempts to try and repackage and corral this story back into the standard storyline that political/cultural elites are comfortable with–but it is fun to watch how such things are not thwarted by other opposing elites–but rather by the concrete actions of large groups of people on the ground who are not listening to a story being told by someone else–but are instead making up their own story and combining it with the stories of so many other people.

I could add that new social media technologies obviously are playing a role in this–and indeed, I do think they are–but they are not what is driving these stories–technology does not determine history–but it can play a role in shaping it as people choose to use forms of technology… and it is always through this use that technology plays a role…

That is tonight’s story–and it is partially mine–but it is also that of many millions of other people.

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About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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