The Magazine

Losing the Plot

Suffering the consequences of the Narrative bacillus.

Oct 13, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 05 • By SAM SCHULMAN
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Even now, in search of a narrative, the press constantly seeks to reveal the ending and name the hero before the story has reached its climax. Naturally, it finds itself dismayed, not excited, by new events in the actual world and changes in opinion among the real-life voters. In the campaign that takes place in real life, not narrative, new facts emerge constantly. New facts the press once upon a time called "news," which sold newspapers and grew audiences. Now, so invested are journalists in narratives that new facts and new personalities make them anxious and unhappy, instead of eager and interesting. And that anxiety they communicate to us--fewer and fewer of us--daily.

The news industry, which has thrived for centuries as a chorus reporting what it sees, now has seized the author's job and invents the plot. No wonder the audience for newspapers and television news has been dwindling so quickly. Reporters have developed an interest in producing outcomes that conform to a necessarily predictable plot. The modern audience, despite radical technological change, remains no different from any audience ever: It craves novelty, reversals of fortune, drama--it craves news.

As for me, it is not to flee the candidates that I'm striking for the Cretan isle, but to avoid even one more narrative. The excitement will be when I return. I wonder then if I will agree with Saint Paul? "Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss."

Sam Schulman, a writer in Virginia, is publishing director of the American.