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Have We Lost the Ability to Follow Narrative?

I’m somewhat surprised that the HBO series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic “A Song of Ice and Fire” is so successful. Everybody I know is watching it, and its fan base is spread across all age groups, from attention-deficit teens to people who confess to senior moments.

I’m surprised that it’s become such a cultural force, too.

Not because it’s badly written.

It’s not: the writing is excellent.

Not because it’s badly acted.

It’s not: in general, the actors are topnotch and riveting.

It’s not because it’s a fantasy epic.

It is: but it’s also about power struggles and politics and a lot of things that strike a contemporary chord.

No, I’m surprised that “Game of Thrones” is such a success because it’s a complicated narrative that demands that viewers catch up, figure out the interconnections and back stories of a lot of characters and many families.

It’s an old-fashioned kind of drama (albeit one whose episodes are made up of short scenes), that doesn’t treat the audience like a gaggle of idiots.

And I say I’m surprised because, as I’ve been reading a terrific new book, “Present Shock,” by the media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, I find myself agreeing with his premise that our current information overload has upended a lot of how we communicate, and that we have, as a society, lost the ability to follow narrative.

You know yourself – you see the world. You see how parents look at their children’s recitals through a smart phone camera rather than see the actual event. You know how people take pictures of paintings at museums rather than look at the paintings themselves. You know how people prefer texting to email, and Twitter to blogs, as Rushkoff says in his book. You know how you’re always being prompted to “click through” rather than linger. You know how you are always assaulted by information coming at you in undigested masses – and sometimes predigested snippets.

And yet a grand story of warring families seeking power in a fantasy world has won millions of fans, legal or otherwise (apparently “Game of Thrones” is the most-pirated series out there).

That says something. We may be losing our ability to concentrate on something. But we haven’t completely lost it. That means there’s hope for you, as you craft your own narrative and hone your own message.

The point is, how do you do it?

Ah, there’s the rub. I’ll revisit this in my next blog.

Tags: Game of Thrones, Narrative

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  • Anonymous

    Click through rather than linger…very true. A bit sad as well. Looking forward to hearing your spin on narratives.