When you can’t see the road clearly ahead, sometimes it is best to connect the dots and see where they bring you.
A fascinating opportunity for comparison and distinction regarding the media’s framing of narrative has unfolded this week on the national stage. One speaks to the power of a myth which continues to raise our national conscience, while the other exposes the pitfalls of story making that stretched the truth so adamantly that even to those who recorded the tale are incredulous to learn they too were duped in the telling.
President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, which eloquently coincided this year with the national holiday held in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights legacy, represents a heady convergence of vision and fruition at a time when we the people could use a little magical thinking.
We, the people, who increasingly divide our energies into blue and red camps with growing vitriol every four years, witness the storytelling of our national pride with a fractured skepticism. Yet, reluctantly that pride mysteriously and, some might say, miraculously rises up as the first family parades down Pennsylvania Avenue. From low about our collective boot heals, despite the debilitating and infuriating gridlock of congress, the unfathomable despair of all-too-recent and utterly indefensible gun violence, and the advancing numbing effects of a beleaguered economy, we hunger for a better story.
That hunger explains a great deal about the American psyche, which, from the very start, cut its teeth on unfathomable personal sacrifice made in the name of collective freedoms. As flawed and fallible as we, the people, continue to be, a hunger for reinforcement and advancement of the national narrative as it navigates unforeseen challenges that arise on the national frontier overrides our permissive doubt. For we are all complicit, deep in our personal affirmations, in the writing of an American Story that advances a mythology that affords national achievement in the name of the common good. In short, that is the eternal hope.
We, in the media, in our varied roles, play a willing and integral part in the framing of such mythic proportions, threading story lines that connect a wanting yesterday to a better tomorrow. Co-penning a narrative that is sufficiently buoyant and indelible to navigate turbulent seas, we carry the torch forward in our regard for a national rhetoric that inspires and sustains. For a day of agreed upon national pride, the divisive discourse which marks our otherwise messy and imperfect democracy is held at bay long enough to congratulate each other for continuing to steer a course that remains within the bounds of our better intentions. That is a pact we make every four years as Americans.
As serendipitous timing would have it, this past week the national media also had the dubious opportunity to correct the record by addressing a personal narrative which differentiates myth-making of fairytale proportions from, well, an ugly truth. For those of you who have followed Lance Armstrong’s stratospheric fall from grace and monitored the media’s discourse on the fallout as it searches for a moral high ground to reframe a story it was somewhat complicit in advancing, you have to ask some obvious questions. Doesn’t our national appetite for winning, which has propelled many a storied rise to national acclaim that over time has proven to be lacking, have more to do with us wanting to believe the sketchy narrative in question than widespread faulty reporting? A reporter can only vet the reality they are presented to a plausible depth.
Gratefully, over time the truth bubbles up and with it more questions than answers. When a story is too good to be true, shouldn’t we question our own willingness to make it credible?
As sports fans and teachers and parents of future journalists it may be high time to instill the same healthy skepticism that tempers our reception of political leaders into the far reaches of our celebrity crazed culture which exalts our athletes to mythic heights. Now that the lie is the story, not the athletic prowess that saw him achieve greatness, let the lesson of Lance Armstrong’s Achilles’ heel be his belief that truth is malleable and of one’s own making.
A former news editor, essay writer Christine Bellini is an editorial consultant who spends a good deal of her time pondering the cultural curiosities of The Hamptons from her Sag Harbor tree house.