April 18, 2008

Why Memoir? Part 3.1

I posted the question as to why personal memoir was so popular to the Storytell Discussion list. Several folks replied, and I asked for and received permission from several of the responders to post their thoughts here.

Gregory Leifel, from Illinois, http://www.thrivingmoss.com and very very soon, www.AhhhFinally.com, wrote:
does anyone think the reason could also partly be society's obsession with the previously private side of others?

Now I'm sure everyone here is going to deny wanting to know anything about any celebrity, yet something is driving this celebrity/private side obsession. Is it transferring over to storytellers and the audience preferences? No, seriously. Are we more open to stories that approach how another person personally looks at life or life's challenges because we've been inundated with the private lives of many celebrities? Has it made it okay? Do we expect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in all its ugliness and glory?

After all, fairy tales and literary stories make you reflect in an anonymous way. You don't know the characters personally, because they aren't real, but you learn lessons from their challenges. Now, similar messages within personal stories are perhaps more identifiable because the real live storyteller on the stage is just like you, real with tough challenges. (celebrities are real people living in an unreal setting). Non-fiction books outsell fiction, but they didn't used to. Is this a result of the information society? We just gotta know details? We expect to know, so tell tell tell?

My feeling, at least with the popularity of personal stories in the U. S., is that our youth over quite a number of decades is no longer exposed to fairy tales. Maybe the Britney Spears' and Paris Hiltons of our pop-culture are so characterized that they are the fairytale stories now. And somehow it's transfered over to how we all tell stories.

My response:
Interesting to compare the rise and fall of teen pop stars with the fortunes and misfortunes of princesses and youngest sons... but I don't think an obsession with celebrity is pushing the hunger for memoir.

(And what about this? We'll clamor for more details for TV memoirs, tell all biographies... there are no taboos in the publishing world. But onstage... plenty of topics are kept out. The whole truth? No way. Not at storytelling events. Just the nice stuff. The humorous stuff. The stuff that honors the bonds of family and love and wisdom and apple pie.)

I think you're closer to the mark, Gregory, with the ability to identify with the protagonists. Adults, particularly, may more easily relate to a personal story than an anonymous folktale character. Perhaps the audience member has reached certain age at which they recognize that they themselves are not as smart as you thought they were and so maybe just maybe this guy onstage knows something (or is sharing that the story of that self-same epiphany).
the audience member has an atrophied imagination, and path of least resistance is to follow the story that requires only the image of the very storyteller in front of you and the carefully described landmarks familiar from nostalgia.

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