According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “The people at M.I.T. … may figure out whether classic storytellers like Homer, Shakespeare and Spielberg have had their day” at the forthcoming Center for the Future of Storytelling.
This, children, is what we call academic overreaching.
To lump an oral poet, a scandalous playwright, and a wealthy filmmaker into some romanticized notion of “classic storytelling” is not only absurdly naive, but it belies a fundamental misapprehension of storytelling itself.
First of all, there is no such thing as “classic storytelling.” This template-minded concept is on par with tunnel vision-inclined mythologist Joseph Campbell, who asserted that all hero-based stories follow the same step-by-step formula — an argument that holds true if you only consider the stories that actually support his claim.
Apparently all these curmudgeonly Hollywood execs think film audiences have lost interest in “classic storytelling” because they’ve been brainwashed by spelling-challenged text messages, plot-lacking reality TV, and the incomprehensible infinity of the interwebs.
Someone needs to explain to them that The Iliad and Indiana Jones have no more in common than The Tempest shares with Twitter. Sure, we can read the works of Homer, but that in itself is a bastardization of the blind poet’s oral delivery. Similarly, a performance of Shakespeare that features women actors or Elizabethan costumes is the antithesis of the bard’s all-male, contemporary-garbed cast.
We simply do not have the cultural dialect to understand these idealized instances of “classic storytelling” in their original form. We can enjoy them, but we can only understand them through a modern lens. They are unique formats that rely on the cultural nuance and social subtleties of their historical context. And that’s OK.
If you really want to save “storytelling” and “keep meaning alive,” it can be done for way less than $25 million dollars you’re about to spend on your “labette” — just pay someone to knock off Brett Ratner.