Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Political storytelling and authenticity

In the business narrative/storytelling corner of the blogosphere, there's been some discussion of the role of stories in the recent Australian election. On the one hand, Shawn Callahan has discussed the value that stories had in presenting and communicating the virtues of Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd, and of Parliamentary candidate Maxine McKew. On the other hand, Dave Snowden dismissed most political storytelling, including Rudd's, as insincere propaganda.

My thoughts? Storytelling and narrative are powerful tools. Within them is the power to communicate deeply--and to manipulate. I view the narratives of politicians, especially those running for high office, with a great deal of cynicism. Why? Because a story of a politician deeply moved by an encounter with an ordinary citizen doesn't square with the counter-story of the politician's well-researched and market-tested "message," spin doctors, and the careful stage-managing of campaign events.

The most memorable story I recall of an American politician was President George H.W. Bush (I believe; it might have been Reagan) attending a baseball game, ordering a hot dog, and looking sheepishly to his Secret Service men to pay for it, since he never carried any money on him.

I remember another story about a Cabinet secretary whose biggest adjustment, after leaving office, was losing his chauffeur and having to drive himself around for the first time in six years.

These stories say a lot to me about how Presidents and Prime Ministers relate to the constituency. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, but the "My world is a lot different from your world" stories drown out the down-to-earth stories they tell about themselves.

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Anonymous said...

Not 100% right, and I didn't realise until I saw this that Shawn had also blogged on the subject (I am behind on my RSS feed). I challenged the ascription of victory to story telling, I think that is a dubious claim. I also questioned even if it was true, if it was a good thing. I made some more generic comments the process of getting elected which basically said that are at least two other techniques in play other than story telling, which probably had a bigger impact. Having read Shawn's post I am not clear what his position is, good or bad, I think he is just reporting but I could well be wrong there. Only he can tell! The one thing I do know is that I did not dismiss story telling as propaganda per se, my point was more subtle.

Dave Snowden