Trust Me, I’m the Future of Storytelling

Making a Murderer and the New Metanarrative

Making a Murderer. A documentary that explores the 2007 conviction of Steven Avery. A web series that took the Internet by storm. A quest for truth in 10 episodes. A philosophy that creates its own narrative.

At the heart of Postmodernism is an incredulity towards metanarratives. Truth is not found in large narratives, but rather in small narratives. On the surface, Making a Murderer seems to embrace this idea of the death of large narratives — through its belief in the falsehood of the judicial metanarrative to its reflection of truth in smaller narratives. But, once we dive deeper, we can see that Making a Murderer actually plays into our Postmodern sensibilities. It realizes our distrust of power, but capitalizes upon it. It causes us to trust another metanarrative.

Understanding the Metanarrative

French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard coined this phrase of the death of the metanarrative in 1979. According to Lyotard, a metanarrative is a “grand narrative” — it gives cultural practices legitimation, and claims to justify itself in human reason, instead of beliefs. Making a Murderer plays into Lyotard’s idea of smaller narratives, but ends up creating another metanarrative — a metanarrative it wants its audience to trust.

Even though Making a Murderer has the metanarrative of telling the true story, it achieves this end through the inclusion of smaller narratives. The same goes with Serial and its mission to tell “one story — a true story — over the course of an entire season.” Both Making a Murderer and Serial question the metanarrative of the judicial system, as they focus on the idea that the “system” is not perfect. They rely on smaller stories to achieve the truth of the case. The stories of Steven Avery, Dean Strang and Brendan Dassey. The stories of Bowe Bergdahl, Mark Boal and Lieutenant John Billings. The stories of Adnan Syed, Jay and the jury. Although these smaller narratives reveal different ideas of the case, there is still only one truth — there are those who committed the crime and there are those who did not.

Making a Murderer creates a skepticism of the metanarrative of the judicial system. It plays into our postmodern sensibilities, capitalizing upon our distrust of power. It causes us to trust another metanarrative — the metanarrative that outside, grassroots organizations are the ones that should be trusted to reveal truth. By questioning the “system,” Making a Murderer is helping in creating a new system.

Creating the New System

This idea of Making a Murderer creating a new system — a system as a product of our time — can be seen through Michel Foucault’s perspective of power and truth. Truth and power are intertwined. There are no institutions without power. Making a Murderer recreates the image of Steven Avery based on the storytellers, as Serial recreates the images of Bowe Bergdahl and Adnan Syed.

Its recreation of the main character and its creation of a new metanarrative illustrate a change in power — a shift in power from the judicial system, more broadly in large established institutions, to outsiders and grassroot organizations.

Foucault believed that history is a shift in one form of domination to another. Making a Murderer embodies the current form of domination — a web series that embraces technology, caters to Millennials, tells stories and questions the system. Among Millennials, there is an “operating system” that wants to create a better world, attack evils and fight for justice — all goals of Making a Murderer. A product shares the same goals as its consumers.

We find ourselves in a time when Making a Murderer is more of a dominant force than the judicial system. Making a Murderer finds its power in its technology, distrust of the judicial metanarrative, millennial ideals, authenticity, suspicion of the system and entertainment factor. Truth is constituted in networks of power. Making a Murderer is part of this network that now creates truth. We end up trusting the metanarrative that Making a Murderer creates. We believe that the court decision is not the final, nor the correct, decision. Rather, we find the truth for ourselves — a truth that Making a Murderer creates.

Shaping the Future of Organizational Storytelling and Branding

So, what does the future of metanarrative mean for the future of storytelling and branding?

1. Recognize that you are not telling the whole of your story every time you talk to your audience. And, this is okay.

As Jason Locy, Founder and CEO of FiveStone, says, “An organization’s story is strewn across any medium it finds relevant. Sometimes this means that the organization works seven days a week to tell a story in 140 characters. And, sometimes it means months of work creating a five-minute video. Regardless, all mediums work together to communicate the metanarrative of the organization.”

Making a Murderer realizes it is not telling the whole of its story every time it talks to its audience. It tells the majority of its story as a web series on Netflix, but it also uses social media to share different perspectives and dive deeper into stories. The content on social is shaped by engagement. The audience molds the story of Making a Murderer.

How can you use multiple mediums to make your story more robust?

2. Accept that you have no control and use it to your advantage.

Again, Locy offers some guidance: “Because stories unfold over time and in a variety of places, organizations have to rely on the listener to do some of the work. She might look at Yelp or Google to fill in the gaps. Or, she might check out your last 3 posts on social media. Regardless, the audience works to fill in bits and pieces to complete our story in a meaningful way. When this happens, you have no way to control the timing, sequence, or messaging of all of those inputs.”

Making a Murderer understands that most of its audience does not tune in as soon as the show goes up on Netflix. Rather, people are watching episodes as time comes up during the week. The audience may engage with the show throughout the week, but a large portion of the story’s unfolding comes from the audience itself. The story grows with each blog post, social media post and office discussion. The audience completes the story of Making a Murderer.

How can we use this to our advantage?

3. Build Relationships.

With relationships, we have time to let our story unfold. In a relationship, we are not driven by fear or even misinformation. As Locy explains, “A relationship allows you to tell your story in appropriate ways over time. In a relationship, you don’t operate out of the fear that ‘this is my only shot to tell my story, so I need to cram every aspect of what we do into this thing.’ Instead, each interaction with your audience is an opportunity to deepen the relationship with them, thus giving you more time to tell your story in full.”

Through its metanarrative, Making a Murderer builds a relationship with its audience. Its story unfolds as its audience gets to know the different storytellers — the longer they watch, the bonds become deeper and deeper. Each time the audience interacts with the story, the more they accept the metanarrative of Making a Murderer.

What does this new structure mean for the future of your brand and your storytelling?

With most of our free time spent discussing “Making a Murderer” and with Season 2 of “Serial” playing in the background of our FiveStone workdays, I remembered a paper I wrote back in a Postmodern class in college. This article is based on that paper.

Sources

  • Brown, Abbie, and Timothy D. Green. “Video Podcasting In Perspective: The History, Technology, Aesthetics, And Instructional Uses Of A New Medium.” Journal Of Educational Technology Systems 36.1 (2008).
  • Burstein, David D. Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World. Boston: Beacon, 2013.
  • Butler, Christopher. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002.
  • Cahoone, Lawrence E. From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996.
  • Crampton, Caroline. “Downloading A Parallel World.” New Statesman (2015): 18. Business Source Premier. Web. 4 May 2015.
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