If I had to use songs to teach a lesson, I would use Kendrick Lamar’s new album “To Pimp A Butterfly.” This album can probably be compared to the influence of Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” without much criticism or hate. To be honest, I am still breaking down this album so I’m not quite sure what my lesson plan would entail beyond the current socioeconomic and political condition of the black community from the perspective of a young black man. Lets be honest, the perspective alone is enough reason to teach. Kendrick is from Compton, CA and has a very interesting way of criticizing the governments role in the oppression of black people and black people role “in their own demise.” I’m not saying I completely agree with all of his opinions and his stance, but I think the complexities of his songs and viewpoints would call for very intriguing conversations. This album would also be a great tool to compare “hip hop then and now.” A lot of people criticized hip hop for “dying off” but there are a particular group of rappers of this “younger generation” (maybe 4 to 5 tops) who argue that hip hop is very much alive. I will not list these artists because I am not interested in debating anyone about who belongs and who doesn’t. 🙂 It is however, interesting that Kendrick is often listed in this top 5 rappers and he does not consider himself a rapper. Kendrick is a complex artist and he creates impeccable and intriguing music and I think this 16 track album would be great to use as a text book.
Walter Fisher is a professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina and author of Human Communication as Narration. Within this text, Fisher explains that “narration” means the words used and actions taken by individuals that are symbols that are given meaning by those who interpret them. He believes that everyone, by nature, is a story teller, and their individual stories all contribute to the larger story of mankind. Fisher created the “Narrative Paradigm,” which is a theory that utilizes his belief that everyone is a storyteller and claims that all significant communication is a form of storytelling. The Narrative Paradigm has five main components: nature, belief and behavior, culture, rationality, and choice. Through these five factors of the Narrative Paradigm, Fisher concludes that people communicate for good reason, and that all people communicate in narrative. The Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm is applicable to individuals and is evident in different aspects of our history that utilizes social communication for social change. The remainder of this blog will explain how Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm is related to slavery, the civil rights movement, hip hop, and social media.
According to Fisher, everyone is a storyteller by nature, so therefore stories were being told since the first person walked the planes of Africa (considering that is where the oldest human remains were found). Learning early African history, I learned of griots, or historians that educated people and kept traditions by telling elaborate stories. The griots would tell tales of cultural traditions, moral lessons, historical figures and more. Often times these stories would be embellished for entertainment purposes and left up to the listener to discern the lessons. Dance, song and cultural artifacts were also used as methods to tell stories of a people prior to, during and after enslavement. Enslaved African women would wear shells or beaded jewelry that would trace their journey back to their homeland. Enslaved people would use drum cadence to communicate with each other in the presence of plantation owners and would utilize a style of fighting disguised as dance to teach each other self-defense. Simply surviving the horrid conditions of slavery and consistently asserting their humanity and redefining their identity, enslaved people embodied the nature aspect of the Narrative Paradigm.
The second component to the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm is beliefs and behaviors. The Civil Rights movement is probably the best sector of our history that perpetuates this aspect of Fisher’s theory. This portion of Fisher’s theory is a little ambiguous because he says that beliefs and behaviors are based on good reason, and his definition of good reason is circular. What is “good” or not is subjective. Even though now people can look back on the Civil Rights Movement and see that it was a “good” thing, during the moment there were many who would disagree. It was illegal for the people that we now consider to be heroes, to stand against their government and demand that they be recognized as citizens.
Fisher says that culture and rationality, two other components of the Narrative Paradigm, are the basis for “good reason.” He recognizes that culture and rationality varies by individual and therefore “good reason” is subjective. Culture is a collective of art, beliefs, history, morals, knowledge and much more that is a major aspect of what it means to be human. Considering the knowledge that black people during the 1950s knew about their history, it can be said that although illegal, they acted in “good reason” to fight for their civil liberties. These actions not only created a story during that time period, but has contributed to the story of this nation.
Culture combined with rationality are very evident in hip hop. Hip hop is a black art form that is based on storytelling. Graffiti, break dancing, DJing, and emceeing are the four performance aspects of hip hop and are definitely all forms of narration. Hip Hop was birthed out of the struggle for civil rights. It provided a voice and platform for an oppressed people to tell their stories and share their experiences. The rationality aspect of Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm means that the narratives, or stories, must “ring true.” Because Hip Hop was born as a way for black people to discuss their current life conditions. Hip hop is sad to be one of the only politically conscious genres of music. Unfortunately, in recent history some Hip Hop artists have received criticism because their narratives have not be “ringing true.” Some people are guilty of perpetuating and image and narrative that is not their reality as a means of being accepted by and profiting from the culture.
The final aspect of the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm is choice. By choice, Fisher means that it is up to people to determine whether or not they accept a story as trust worthy, so participates in the Hip Hop culture, which is in fact, black culture, have every right to reject “false prophets.” This aspect of choice also relates to social media because we are able to discern who we wish to be connected with and whose narratives we wish to be exposed to, believe and accept. With the horrible representation of black people via mainstream media, the black Twitter community has flourished as a platform for black people’s narratives to be told. This is probably my most active form of storytelling. Twitter and other social media networks allow individuals to immediately produce their narratives and interact easily with other people’s narratives simultaneously.
I relate to Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm for many reasons. I, for one, am a human capable of communication, therefore I am a story teller by nature. I am an aspiring scholar that learns the stories of those who have come before me and am actively replicating their stories. I interact with history, interpret history and take action in my present to evoke change in the future. What I believe and how I behave is linked to my love of my culture and the knowledge that I have of my ancestors. I discern the information that I am presented with, and decide for myself what I willing to accept as true. As I create my story via my own art or social media, I remain true to myself so that my story will “ring true” to those who interact with it. Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm is applicable to individuals and larger social movements that utilized social communication for change.
This has been quite the semester and moreover year here at The University of Virginia and within the nation and world at large. From “Bring Back Our Girls” to #BlackLivesMatter to #NotJustUVA we have been constantly reminded of the anti-blackness that permeates all aspects of life. However, I have witnessed beautiful things develop through these tragedies, the most significant of which being community. Facilitated through common struggle, empathy, and communication this burgeoning populace has been able to find solace and solidarity with another while also being able impart their messages and anecdotes to the realm of general discourse. A major – scratch that – the most prolific medium where I see this occurring is through social media.
Twitter is the new grapevine, the information hotspot, and is in fact where most people, and even “reputable institutions of news reporting” primarily hear of these breaking stories and gather information regarding these cases. Of course with this comes issues of misinformation and bias, ( as every individual’s personal experiences influences the ways in which they relate to and process information ), but I largely believe that Twitter is becoming entirely more reliable than most News Outlets when dealing with stories and issues pertinent to marginalized groups.
I mean, would we have known about Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley Jones, and now most recently Freddie Gray had it not been for social media?
Would people have known – wait let me rephrase this – would people have believed (even though this statement is still largely debatable) that police brutality and the militarization of police in the United States is a serious issues that threatens and undermines all of our civil liberties?
The idea that I’m pushing relates to the philosophical question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I am dealing with matters of perceived reality and the “unobserved world.” Basically, I am trying to say that visibility is crucial in addressing issues that are not of the dominant groups or classes. There needs to be tangible representation of such subjects coupled with theoretical explanation for them to be able to begin to comprehend the issues that others may face, because such information attacks the systems that have allowed their privileged complacency in the first place. But even with all of this knowledge, we know that people will still be in denial of the blatant racial stratification that exists within United States culture.
Nevertheless, I am not saying that it is the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the oppressors of their oppression. The very idea seems nonsensical does it not? But it often seems like that is what is needed, if you are trying to effect change in the “lawful” and “right” way.
Then again the systematic persecution and genocide of black bodies isn’t really right or lawful…..Oh Okay.
I personally think that while education is useful in eliminating ignorance in regards racism and the multifaceted ways in which black people are discriminated against I don’t think we will ever get to the point that we want (you know equality, the whole being recognized as human being and being afforded the same resources and access to resources as promised under the constitution etc. etc. ) through this method.
Anti-blackness is way too intertwined in the fibers of American society for “education” to be the only way in which we would choose to destroy it. We cannot be logical with an illogical system (shot out to Nilaja!). In my opinion, the “system”, as it currently stands is doing everything it supposed to do. So we need a new system and revolution is the only way (and is ironically the historical American way).
But how do we create a revolution that is effective, one that can get us somewhere, and achieve tangible change?
I feel like the first step would be convincing others that is necessary. But persuasion has never been my forte.
This is where something we learned about earlier in my African American studies class “Drinking Gourd to Black Twitter” comes in handy.
Meet Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm….
Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm at its core relates the idea that all forms of communication is a readapted means of storytelling; this theory relies upon the relatability, credibility, transmission, and interpretation of the story.
History, is a clear illustration of such a concept. Who is telling the story will greatly affect how it is framed and consequently how it is remembered.
See: Representations of African and black history within the United States educational system…
But back to solving the issue of creating effectual revolution…
Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm is useful because it details the aspects of communication that influences one’s reception of information.
And is additionally helpful because it is signaling to me that my story-telling skills are probably a little off.
Which brings me back to the social media point, the new grapevine, the information hotspot.
Social media would probably be my best friend in this regard. But I just can’t seem to shake my anti- social media feeling (I am regularly against social media because I find it to be pervasive, as it in my opinion promotes invasion of privacy and kind of encourages superficiality). Social media is not the perfect platform, but it is the most profound platform that exists in this day and age. It reaches the widest scope of people and allows for continuous discourse.
So I think I may need to step my social media game up…maybe.
Ah, the final blog post. It has been fun and challenging experience at times, but I appreciate having been given the opportunity to be able portray my true voice about a number of issues that I hold dear to my heart. Thank you professor Teresa Dowell-Vest for the opportunity. I have never really thought about blogging as a thing that I would ,do or would even be good at, but look at me now. *Flips hair*
Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm offers a way for us to think about storytelling and communication through five different elements that are applicable to all stories that are told. The elements of nature, beliefs and behaviors, culture, rationality, and choice all speak to different aspects of the nature of communication and story telling.
“Nature” refers to the ways in which humans are inherently story tellers, and use symbols as a means of communication.
The premise of “Beliefs & Behaviors” explains how people’s beliefs and behavior are always based on good reason. What qualifies as good reason is subjective, because it is individual to each person. However, it is based on two main factors which are also in the paradigm; cultre and rationality.
Culture influences what we think is “good reason”, and the ways in which we communicate. There are two forms in which we can communicate “recounting” and “accounting for”. Recounting can be in the form of history or biographies, while “accounting for” can be an argument or explanation for something.
Rationality refers to whether or not something is consistent with other stories or if it “rings true”. Can you believe this story? Is the person telling the story believable?
Lastly, choice refers to how we decide which stories offer us good reasons and which stories ring true.
Keeping this in mind, it is easy to see how the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm relates to each of our four units. From slavery, to the civil rights era, to hip-hop, and now the development of social media, each element of the paradigm is easily applicable to each of these time periods.
The narrative that we are given for what happened during slavery in our education system is one way in which this paradigm appears. Our history is told in a very deliberate way. The ways in which slavery is framed in ‘US history” class is distinctly different than other tragedies throughout history. More specifically, while slavery is framed as a mistake that happened a long time ago and does not affect people living today, tragedies that happened to mostly white people (the holocaust, 9/11) are framed as attacks on humanity that we should never forget about. I think this mostly speaks to the “rationality” aspect of the paradigm. Since we are learning these things in school, we tend to think that these narratives are coming from a trustworthy source, and do not think to critique them but rather just accept how they told to us. It is important to always be critical of things that are taught by systems which perpetuate inequality (school system, media, justice system, etc)
In terms of the civil rights era, the same thinking can be applied. For example, the ways in which Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr are framed are highly problematic. What has frustrated me a lot during this semester and all the racially-based things which occurred was the use of MLK’s legacy to police Black people. A lot of white people (and some Black people with questionable politics) revert to the question of “what would MLK do?” or the statement “MLK wouldn’t do that”, (as if they knew him) when they want to police the behaviors of Black people. I think this stems from the story of MLK which we have been fed through schooling, the media, etc. MLK is framed as a peaceful, non-violent activist, which on the surface is not problematic, but also ignores a large part of his politics and does not tell the whole story. I think this is one example of how story telling can be problematic when used in the wrong ways. MLK is not the Father of All Black People. Saying “MLK wouldn’t do something like that” isn’t a magical card you can pull that will immediately stop a Black person in their tracks and make them behave how YOU want. #StopIt5.
Hip hop is obviously my favorite unit because hip hop is what I love. Hip hop in and of itself is the art of storytelling. Basically all hip hop music tells some type of story. Whether it is literally telling a story, like “Children’s Story” by Slick Rick, or just offering some information about what the rapper is about/what they are doing in the club that night, it is still inherently a story-based genre of music. Furthermore, it was born out of the need for an outlet for oppressed Black people, and the affects of said oppression can still be seen throughout different songs today. This is why I’m so pro-trap music. The need for anybody to “trap” is born out of the same oppression which forces the need for “conscious” rap music. If everybody could just see this connection, we wouldn’t have to argue about “no real music” being on the radio anymore. Tuh.
Lastly, social media allows us to create and tell our own stories in a way we never have been allowed to before. Without social media, what happened in Ferguson, and more recently Baltimore, would have largely been reported by mainstream media. I always knew that media twisted stuff, but the differences between what the media is saying happened in Ferguson and what people who are there say happened is truly frightening. Social media gives us a voice, and allows us to connect in a way we have never been able to before.
Overall, the narrative relates to all of our units, and also to me. I see elements of it everyday in my life. I am constantly hearing or telling stories, critiquing stories, and engaging in different forms of communication. I think it is a unique way to think about story teling and communication. One of my major takeaway from this class will be the ways in which I can pay attention to different stories’ rationality and why that might have a widespread affect on how we continue to think about the subject of that story in the future. This was definitely a crazy semester, and I’ll have a lot of stories to tell from this experience for years to come.
All throughout this semester you assigned us different blog post about current events. We covered things from a Lauryn Hill album to things about a text book made specifically about hip hop. Everything thing we talked about revolved around the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm. and for our last assignment you asked us to cover this question “What is the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm and how does it relate to you AND the 4 units (slavery, civil rights movement, hip hop, and social media) we have discussed this semester?” so for the next nine hundred words I am going to give you my unique insight on the subject.
The way I see it the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm is broken down into five short points. The first being the fact that we are all story tellers by nature. At first this didn’t seem right to me because I felt like the only people who told stories were people who wrote books and got paid to make things up, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. After you explained that the stories we tell don’t have to be formal it all made sense to me. I immediately realized that we are storytellers, I tell a story everyday. Just before I started writing this paper I sat down with my boys BJ, Jack, Marial, and Quin and laughed about some of the adventures we had together this year. Story telling is a way of relaying a message, but it is also a form of entertainment. In our first section of the class we talked a lot about slavery and the only way that I could picture storytelling from that time was if the slaves were to all get together and share stories of their past. but I was being naïve. The songs they sang were stories, the coded language they used was a story too. We as people cling to things that we can relate to so storytelling is much more effective than an argument. Our lives are our own path. We create the story we write the book. It’s my life.
The second step in the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm is the thought that we tell stories for good reason. Personally i think to think about each step of the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm literally. I think about this step as a time when i was younger and my mom sat me down and told me about a time where she got into some trouble. She would tell me what she did and why is it was bad, she even laughed and told me how dumb she felt. The point is that she did not tell me the story for her health she told me her narrative with good reason, she told me so i could learn from her wrong doings. The lessons that we are supposed to learn from these narratives do not kick in immediately, it took a long time for these narratives to be validated, therefore it only makes sense that it would take time for us to completely comprehend the message, For example we can talk about the things that are going on in Baltimore right now. People are angry, we have heard stories about African Americans being abused by police for ages now and it feels like nothing is being done to solve this problem. We have had great historic leaders who have came in and gave us their narratives and showed us the path but we are still struggling to figure things out. We are acting off of Raw emotion and not seeing things clearly.
The third set in the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm may just be the most controversial. The third steps continues to talk about storytelling, but it refers to culture. Culture is used to validate what we see as good reason. Culture involves customs, beliefs, stereotypes, and history. The biggest reason we as humans have a problem with this step is because we do not genuinely accept all cultures. We like being around people that we can relate, people that look like us and have been through some of the things that we have been through, so when we are asked to learn about another culture we immediately get to place where we shut out the world We can’t continue to stay in a place we don’t expand our horizons, we have to learn because at the end of the day you can isolate yourself forever. These are people that we are living with, working with, we have to learn to get along. it is essential for our survival we cant judge anymore. It hasn’t gotten us anywhere, It is a process. During my previous rant i also incorporated the fourth step of the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm. it is rationality, we all have our own agendas in life therefore we can twist our narratives to make it look better for us and thus convince people that our way is right.
The final step in the Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm is for sure the most beautiful part of life. The last part is the fact that at the end of the day we have a choice. We can chose to listen to whatever we want. We can deicide to follow someone’s narrative, then hear something that we don’t agree with and completely switch narratives. During this course we talked a lot about social media and how to get a point across, social media is great because you get to decide what your going to follow and promote to those that follow you, it is the easiest way to write a narrative because you can tweet your thought and rationalize then or you can retweet someone else’s work and use them as a rational factor. At the end of the day it is your story and you can do whatever you want with it, Even if you decide that you want no part of it you will be involved because you have your thoughts and opinions that go back to your culture.
Myspace began in 2003. Facebook began in 2004. Youtube began in 2005. Twitter began in 2006. Instagram began in 2010.
If we were to not have social media ever again, I do not think it would be that big of a deal. We didn’t have it in 2002 and I think we were all okay. Social media has allowed us to express what is on our mind with the world, keep in contact with people publicly, share pictures, and most importantly… show everyone what super extravagant meal we’re eating for dinner. If we were not able to do those things anymore, the world would still keep spinning. I also feel that if there wasn’t social media, then maybe our generation wouldn’t be so focused on our phones, and maybe be more focused on how to communicate effectively in person.
However, I do think social media, when used in certain ways, can be extremely beneficial to society. There have been many campaigns that have used social media to raise money and awareness for various situations. Social media is also very fun to use, and it gives people a place to casually vent and communicate to people from all over the world about trending topics.
All in all, social media is here to stay, but if it were no more, I believe society would be #justfine.
There have been many clever hashtag campaigns over the past several years, but one that easily caught my eye was the #ALSIceBucketChallenge. This campaign was used to help raise money and awareness for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or AKA Lou Gehrig’s Disease). At the time of the campaign, it seemed like everyone in the United States was participating. From average Joe’s like myself to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, everyone under the sun dumped ice water on their heads in order to raise awareness for the disease. It became such a big hit that some questioned the legitimacy of why some were participating. The “challenge” became extremely popular, and everyone wanted to post their own video showing them get drenched with ice water. Although many might have performed the stunt because it was just the popular thing to do at the time, the “ALSIceBucketChallenge” hashtag was still being used, therefore there was still significantly heightened awareness for the disease, thus making it a successful hashtag campaign.
When one thinks of hip-hop, women aren’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. However, women hip-hop artists have influenced the genre and culture of hip-hop on ground-breaking levels. Lauryn Hill is one of the most well known and influential female artists to have ever touched a microphone. Ben Brubaker, an African American feminist, speaks about her influences in great detail.
“Lauryn Hill is a complex individual manifestation of post-modernity, encompassing a wide range of beliefs and characteristics that often conflict and blend together. Lauryn Hill also represents the less narrowly defined 3rd wave of feminism because her post-modern complexity results in an incredibly empowering message for women, which often conflicts with her more traditional submission to certain patriarchal values. Lauryn Hill also embodies a post-modern approach to “Prophetic Christianity” (a term coined by Dr. Cornel West) in how her lyrics often break down the oppressive forces within the world on a spiritual level, including criticisms of the Catholic Church and expressions of liberation through personal testimony.”
All of this is expressed in her record selling album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” which was revolutionary in how it paved the way for women to have a legitimate role in hip-hop.
The Walter Fisher Narrative Paradigm (WFNP) is a theory of interpersonal communication and human instincts, which argues that we all naturally take on the role of storyteller and therefore approach our lives as narratives. Specific to this course, WFNP has taken on the role not only of a descriptive theory but also of an applicable tool for understanding episodes both from history and from our daily lives. The five elements of WFNP, Nature, Beliefs and Behavior, Culture, Rationality, and Choice, are echoed in four units of our course (slavery, civil rights movement and television, hip hop, and social media) as well as in the historical incidents that have been developing before our very eyes this year at UVA. Using WFNP as a lens for understanding these incidents and our lives has provided striking evidence in support of author Mark Twain’s seminal quote that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.
The first element of WFNP, Nature, creates its strong foundation. It says that we are all storytellers by nature, animals using symbols to create a narrative from our lives. This is certainly true of the process of creating the social changes we have examined. The basic question that humans always seem pushed to ask is “how will I be remembered? What will my story be? What is my legacy?”. For slaves, it was a struggle to be acknowledged and remembered at all. For those in the Civil Rights Movement, it was the struggle to put their story in front of a broader audience, culminating with Bloody Sunday being televised. For hip hop, it was the struggle to tell their story in an honest way, without corporate or political manipulation. And for social media, it has been the struggle to tell stories in real time, as they happen. These struggles are inherent to the process of being storytellers by nature. But the struggle of being storytellers by nature that I have come to understand through my experiences at UVA is that we often have little control over our own stories. Many times these narratives are forced upon us or reinterpreted long after we have control over them. In the same way that those on ground in Selma could not have known that 50 years later most people would know John Lewis but forget Diane Nash, Martese Johnson could not have known four months ago that his personal narrative would become embedded in the national conversation on police brutality with #JusticeForMartese. Because we are storytellers by nature, in each of these incidents of social change we are obligated to both create opportunities for ourselves to tell our stories and to take control of the aspects of our stories that are thrust upon us by circumstance.
The second element of WFNP, beliefs and behaviors, is the most ambiguous, but is centered around how we use “good reason” based on our own collections of information and knowledge. No matter what story we are trying to tell, we will come into those stories with assumptions and pre-existing narratives that we are trying to support or deny. Thinking to the civil rights movement and hip hop, both of these social changes were dependent on deconstructing the white populations belief and ‘knowledge’ that black communities were inherently inferior, violent, etc. In the same way, the Columbia Journalism School Review of this year’s controversial and retracted Rolling Stone article showed how the journalist who wrote the piece came into UVA with a story in mind (knowledge) and just looked to fill in that pre-existing belief with available and fitting information. I have been able to understand this relatively abstract aspect of the WFNP through the cheesy but concise the lyrics of the song Wonderful song from the musical Wicked – “A man’s called a traitor…or liberator. A rich man’s a thief…or philanthropist. Is one a crusader or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label is able to persist.”
And which label persists is largely dependent on culture, which is the fourth element of WFNP. Again, this element is both ambiguous and essential to our understanding of the stories we tell. Culture is made up of the beliefs, customs, preferences, stereotypes, and prejudices specific to a certain community. Highlighting and contrasting these cultures often becomes an incredible effective tool for turning information into an appealing story. When people travel to different communities, they often come back and are excited to share the surprising cultural constructs and customs they witnessed. The spirituals and songs of the slave South were effective because they had specific cultural relevance to their community and mixed cultural concepts from both African tradition and southern Protestantism. Televising the Civil Rights Movement was effective because it brought southern life into northern living rooms, just like hip hop brought urban black poverty into white suburban bedrooms. These contrasts in culture and experience are what give the stories we tell life and shock value. The “fly on the wall” appeal of stories like the Rolling Stone piece and videos like the one of Martese on the Corner is dependent on those mediums ability to provide a window into someone’s cultural experience.
Particularly in the current context at UVA, the fourth element of WFNP, rationality, is directly tied to individual understandings and experiences with culture. Rationality asks whether a story rings true. The visual imagery of Bloody Sunday provided this rationality by rejecting any shadow of a doubt about southern stories of mistreatment at the hands of the government. I have personally seen students and alumni divided on whether the stories told by Rolling Stone and in the aftermath of Martese Johnson’s arrest this year “rang true”. While many argued that the assault depicted in the Rolling Stone article seemed plausible, others argued that details like the UVA fight song quoted as a ‘popular’ song when in fact few students are familiar with it gave the story a sense of fiction that they could not overcome to believe the story. In the Martese Johnson case, many white students highlighted their own sense of Charlottesville law enforcement as relatively “relaxed” in an effort to reject the story, while many other black students spoke to the similarity of Martese’s treatment to treatment they had seen or experienced them selves. Ultimately, this forces us as storytellers to make decisions about which audiences it is most important to ‘convince’ with our stories.
The last element of WFNP, choice, transitions the paradigm from the perspective of the storyteller to the perspective of the audience/listener. Just as people are naturally empowered and positioned to be storytellers, we are also all an autonomous audience, able to choose among the stories of others. Effective social movements put issues right in our face, so that we cannot ignore them. However, using our beliefs, culture, and rationality, we can resist certain stories while embedding others into our own personal narratives. Ask a student of history what caused the Civil War. Ask a civil rights leader whether voting rights or economic equality is more important. Ask a hip hop artist whether they want to effect political or social change. Ask a Twitter user whether #BlackLivesMatter or #YesAllWomen is more influential. Ask a UVA student which of this year’s controversies and tragedies they will remember most in 10 years. The answers to all of those questions will be different depending on whom you ask, because of this powerful element of choice.
Combined, the five elements of the WFNP should be seen both as a tool for empowering and understanding social communication and social change and also as a challenge. They show that the road to social change is complicated, but also that it is possible and important, and that history has much to teach us as we strive to continue making progress in our communities and beyond.