A heavy load

Being a service member is not easy — those men and women shoulder an incredible load.

But how do you tell that story in a compelling way that resonates with civilians? How do you make annual Remembrance Day stories real to those who will never see the realities of military service?  The Royal British Legion put together this brilliant video for #ArmedForcesDay. Such a simple concept, and beautifully executed.

Each civilian is introduced by name and profession, personalizing them and making the individual relatable. The viewer walks through the civilian experience of loading the bag and trying to lift it.

How telling stories makes us human

As this story by Jeffrey Kluger explains in Time Magazine, stories are part of who we are and the communities we live in. Sharing good stories can positively impact people’s perceptions and interactions with you.

Odds are, you’ve never heard the story of the wild pig and the seacow — but if you’d heard it, you’d be unlikely to forget it. The wild pig and seacow were best friends who enjoyed racing each other for sport. One day, however, the seacow hurt his legs and could run no more. So the wild pig carried him down to the sea, where they could race forever, side by side, one in the water, one on the land.You can learn a lot from a tale like that — about friendship, cooperation, empathy and an aversion to inequality. And if you were a child in the Agta community — a hunter-gatherer population in The Philippines’ Isabela Province — you’d have grown up on the story, and on many others that teach similar lessons. The Agta are hardly the only peoples who practice storytelling; the custom has been ubiquitous in all cultures over all eras in all parts of the world. Now, a new study in Nature Communications, helps explain why: storytelling is a powerful means of fostering social cooperation and teaching social norms, and it pays valuable dividends to the storytellers themselves, improving their chances of being chosen as social partners, receiving community support and even having healthy offspring. Read the full story: http://time.com/5043166/storytelling-evolution/

Stories have been part of human history since the beginning — and research has shown that storytellers can benefit from sharing tales.

The tale of fear

This being Halloween, I find myself pondering the tension between the value and ethical challenge of fear in stories. Fear comes first, before fight-or-flight. It prompts reaction. It can be entertainment that people crave, evidenced through the billion-dollar industry that produces films in horror genres like suspense, gore, slasher, thriller, psychological and possession. We line up outside of haunted houses to satisfy the rush. Fear is a strong emotion that can drive people’s decisions. This storytelling approach is valuable when it comes to inspiring people to consider the implications of their current behaviour. Public health campaigns are a great example of this. People often avoid, consciously or unconsciously, thinking about what health effects they could experience as a result of choices like drug use. The Visual Communication Guy showcased a few successful campaigns that successfully deploy graphic images designed to illicit the Fear Appeal. The gore and in-your-face approach forces people to face that fear, and consider changing to alternatives. (Side note: the teeth = ew.) But there are ethical challenges around this. The Poynter Institute identified that in a crowded media market, traditional and new media outlets are deploying fear tactics to build and keep audiences.
The more stimuli there are competing for your consideration, the more that attention seekers must fight to incentivize you to look their way. More often than not, this results in psychological warfare as attention-seekers leverage any and all emotions to draw people in.
That psychological warfare is an apt term for what can be seen in beauty campaigns, playing off women’s worst fears around their appearance. Or stories about men who do not exhibit the stereotypical physical strength, and this being an inherent character flaw to be avoided. And pretty much anything under the sun involving politics. It is powerful tool, and one to be used mindfully — making sure you are not afraid to face yourself the morning after.

Review: Shag Carpet Action

Go on, get dirty. Matthew Firth’s Shag Carpet Action is raw, raunchy and ready to make you blush.

This collection of short stories pushes readers into the kink of ennui, how idle hands make the devil’s work of base urges. The more disengaged the character, the more bawdy the fantasy.  These stories illustrate how a body at stasis inspires the mind to race. From midnight oily Greek wrestling, debating the merits of Brazilian waxing on public transit, undergoing a vasectomy to hairy nipples and masturbating with action figures, Shag Carpet Action chronicles urban legends of sexual debauchery and desire. The writing is stubborn – it forces the reader to put niceties aside and consider what a night out with a coked-up garbageman would entail.

The cornerstone of the collection is “Dog Fucker Blues,” a novella set during heated labour negotiations that are polarizing the workforce. It’s a glimpse into the desolate attitude within monotonous city operations, but also the “good-vs-evil” division in union ranks pulled between the more chaste pursuit of solidarity and hedonistic self-absorption.

Although the level of discord is hyperbolized, the politics and violence are noteworthy in a curious way, particularly as Firth is a trade unionist by day.  There is so much brash realism, you’ll swear some pages feel sticky. But with the title “Shag Carpet Action,” you can’t say you weren’t warned.  So go on, get dirty. You know you want to.

A line that stuck: “Although, looking at her, there was little chance anyone would confuse her for a hottie – an Estonian shot-putter, maybe.” 

Shag Carpet Action, Matthew Firth, Anvil Press, 2011. ISBN: 1897535848