My Mazamet

Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho

The problem with narratives.

In the context of the recent troubles of race/religion/violence a couple of analysts doing the rounds on 24 hour news channels are going with the story that France stands apart from the rest of the world. Apparently it’s a place so divided and racist that there are simply no people of non-French origin in positions of power.


Hmmmm… Now let’s see. The name Sarkozy, as in former President Sarkozy, doesn’t sound terribly French. And how about prime minister Valls? I do believe he was born in Barcelona.

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Manuel Valls Galfetti

And then we have:

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Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, born in Morocco; Minister of Education, Higher Education, and Research


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Myriam El Khomri, born in Morocco; Minister of Labour

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Fleur Pellerin, born in South Korea, former minister of culture


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Anne Hidalgo, born in Cadiz, Mayor of Paris

That’s just off the top of my head; and only including the political world. The entertainment or sports industries, for example, are much more diverse. That’s not to say prejudice and divisions don’t exist, they do. But in a much more complex way than what Jon Snow described on Channel 4 News as wealthy French elites living in splendour while the rest live in misery in the banlieue…

This highlights the problem with “expert analysts” and how the news is currently produced. For the sake of ratings people are expected to sit in front of a camera and tell an interesting/juicy story even if it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.

We’re then left with the myth problem.  Just as in the case of religion it means people accept a narrative that has no basis in reality or evidence. And once people latch onto that explanation it means the search for real answers is over. If you believe the cure to cancer is in prayer and lighting candles to the virgin- then why study the disease? If you believe Mexican immigration to the USA (which stands at a net 0% at the moment) is the root of all problems in society, then why examine how to improve the living standards of the population? And if you believe the primordial cause of the recent terror attacks in France is social exclusion then we can’t have a real conversation about the factors that contribute to these tragedies.

25 comments on “The problem with narratives.

  1. dpmonahan
    August 2, 2016

    Diversity of melanin content is only skin deep. Do these cultural elites think differently, or do they act and think according to their class interests?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Charmaine Martin
    August 2, 2016

    “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
    Narratives are how we organize our history – but it’s the “instant analysis” that trips us up. Forming the narrative in sound bites for the evening news serves only to fragment.
    But it’s not necessarily new: William Randolph Hearst created the narrative that the USS Maine was blown up by the Spanish. “You provide the pictures.” he said, “I’ll provide the war.”
    It took years, and teams of underwater archeologist to establish what happened to the Maine. What will the future think of our era?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. kjennings952
    August 2, 2016

    Storytellers (journalists, politicians, historians, etc) have learned to use archetypal narratives to their advantage to get us to believe something. We believe based on emotion, not fact. As a former journalist, I’m disgusted by the lack of rational fact-based neutral storytelling in news today. Most is pure lazyness–it’s the same archetype over and over (victim-villain, unite us against the “bad” guy). Thankfully, forums like this allow the rational types to share data 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Clare Flourish
    August 2, 2016

    Mr Miliband’s grandfather was an immigrant, I think, and Mr Portillo’s; we have Sajjid Javid and Sadiq Khan, and Ugli Patel now eviscerating our benefits system. Hundreds or thousands of individuals, billions of actions, have to be made comprehensible somehow.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. acflory
    August 2, 2016

    I think that mental laziness is hardwired into the human brain. We actively search for shortcuts. That’s what our ability to generalise is all about – finding shortcuts. Even the way we use and re-use language is a shortcut. After all, what is a ‘sound bite’ but another shortcut?
    The only true wonder is that we managed to crawl out of the Dark Ages at all.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Cara
    August 2, 2016

    Yup, it’s the Moroccans in France and (in ’97 when I was there, anyway) the Algerians in Italy. Of course I don’t know how many Algerians are in Italian politics, just that there are a lot of them in Italy. All the dark, mysterious strangers I flirted with that summer were Algerians (do they just come in to make love to American-born girls?). The Asians in Florence, Italy all seemed to have jewelry stores (I have no clue why) and the tourists were keeping them in business.

    But I would imagine Italy today, and France, Spain, Portugal, must be very diverse. Going from country to country in Europe (with a European passport) is easier than going anywhere in Europe with an American passport. People move from country to country for work, for vacation, to visit friends. I’d say the difference between “elite” and the unwashed masses is more about wealth than country of origin. And you’re correct in that Nicolas Sarkozy sounds more like a Russian oligarch than someone of French origin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Precisely. Being part of the elite now is, as in America, a matter of fame and ca$h. All those old fashioned notions of an elite that has Pimm’s and cucumber sandwiches are entirely misguided (and misleading.)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hariod Brawn
    August 2, 2016

    I suppose the privately owned mainstream media finally killed investigative journalism. Then again, the BBC feels like an in-flight magazine – anodyne in the extreme, and neurotically obsessed with exhibiting what it calls ‘balance’. The Guardian is killing me these days with its relentless anti-Corbynist bullshit.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Helen Devries
    August 2, 2016

    My first reaction to these statements…’wealthy French elites living in splendour while the rest live in misery in the banlieue’… is to throw up my hands and think that if they expect me to accept that sort of generalisation then they can pull the other one: it has bells on.
    Unfortunately, people do accept this banality as, in general, education doesn’t aim at producing questioning beings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed. The very concept of a monolithic elite is ridiculous. There are many elites. Political, business, financial, social, cultural, academic. Each jockeying for position and profit…


  9. agrudzinsky
    August 2, 2016

    The media itself with all its stories is to blame for all the BS in people’s heads and all the BS they do to make more stories.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Absolutely. Much if not most of the “controversy” keeping their business alive is complete fabrication. Suddenly even something as straightforward as vaccination is a controversy?

      Liked by 2 people

      • agrudzinsky
        August 8, 2016

        Vaccination is controversial. Claiming that they are safe and harmless does not go well with a long list of adverse effects published with each vaccination. The idea of injecting young children with live viruses does not sound safe, does it? It’s a statistics game. I know, it “saves lives” for 99,9% people. But for remaining 0.01% it may cause serious damage or death. The government knows it. There is a government program to compensate people for vaccination damage. A parent does not have a million children to test and see which of them fall into the 99.9% and which fall into the 0.01%.


      • Clare Flourish
        August 8, 2016

        agrudzinsky, anti-vaxxers damage herd immunity and therefore cause disease with lasting effects, sometimes even death.


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This entry was posted on August 2, 2016 by in activism and tagged , , , , , , .
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