“You just keep on going!”, said Emily Miller looking up at her best friend Henny standing in the bedroom door. Felled by a broken hip, Emily is bed ridden. Henny waves her off with the flick of a wrist and the loud jangle of her bracelets, “I’m running scared sweetie. I always have and I always will. What ya want, bourbon?” Such a juicy line, perfectly delivered, by Jean Stapleton to the fantastic Olympia Dukakis in a movie of the week, Fire in the Dark. For me, so much of this story rang true.
I have a lot of these moments running around in my head from long days in dark edit rooms producing trailers and promos for all sorts of entertainment properties. Not all of them rang true… some were just sticky, like a musical ear worm. When I take my last breath I imagine them all spilling out in a magnificent psychedelic torrent. “But what will our children be?” “They’ll be half you and half me.”, “Yeah, what ya got?”, “Tell me, exactly, what is it that you do?”, “Frank, Frank!”, “What is that noise?” “You!”, “I tawt I saw a puddy tat!”, “…if sex were fast food, there’d be an arch over your bed!”, “…I will do whatever it takes to change my body.”,“And I’m the only one who's not doin’ anything around here.”, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”, “I’ve never seen anything look so horrible in pink before.” (Go ahead guess who. Answers are below and they aren’t upside down.)
Story has always filled me up. When I was 4, maybe 6, my parents became season ticket holders of 4th row orchestra seats at San Francisco’s Curren Theater. I still get the chills hearing musicians warming up in the orchestra pit. I remember actually feeling the breeze created by the dancer’s skirts. And still today, I suspend all disbelief the minute I take my seat in a theatre.
I’ve built a business around the power of story because, over and over again, I’ve witnessed how a transformational charge is created when a narrative rings true to people. It can be an electric lasso pulling entire communities together who are willing to suspend their disbelief, even willing to put their lives on the line. Ringing true is a power source.
But wait, true is not necessarily fact. Ringing true is not necessarily logical or bound by equitable systems or rule of law, by ideology or cultural expectations. Ringing true excites because we feel it in our gut and our heart, unfortunately our thinking mind is left out in the cold. In the age of social trending, twittering this and that, we hit “like” because it rings true. I confess, I want some posts to be true so badly that I often skip the good old fashion fact checking part. How many times have we all seen “friends” sharing The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz’s articles thinking they were true. It is my observation that our desire to suspend disbelief about a narrative that “feels true” is now being amplified by a widespread dearth of critical thinking and journalistic standards. Brexit and the current political campaign has tested my idealism and recast the powerful responsibility of narratives. When they are disconnected from fact, from science, or a first person experience, peace and civility are at risk.
Guess Who Answers:
“But what will our children be?” “They’ll be half you and half me.”Marlon Brando and Miyoshi Umeki in Sayonara / “Yeah, what ya got?” Miss Piggy in the Muppet Babies / “Tell me, exactly, what is it that you do?” Jack Benny & Ed Sullivan on The Ed Sullivan Show / “Frank, Frank!” Daniel Travanti and Veronica Hamel on Hill Street Blues / “What is that noise?” “You!” Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry in Friends/ “I tawt I saw a puddy tat!” Tweety Bird in The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries / “…if sex were fast food, there’d be an arch over your bed!” Dixie Carter in Designing Women / “…I will do whatever it takes to change my body.” Oprah in her Make the Connection Weightloss Video / “And I’m the only one who’s not doin’ anything around here.” Jack Nicholson on the red carpet for Access Hollywood / “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” The Brain in Pinky & The Brain on the Animaniacs/ “I’ve never seen anything look so horrible in pink before.” / Julia Duffy about a pig on Newhart