Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The danger of a single story”
Though I’d heard the argument a few years back, I found Adichie’s TED talk far more compelling this time. The story the media tells about a topic is often, at least and especially at the beginning of its cultural relevance, is more culturally important the reality. It can have extreme, sometimes debilitating effects on those implicated by these single stories.
I’m trans non-binary, and came out just over two years ago. For a long time, even when first exploring my sexual orientation & identity, I told myself there was no chance whatsoever I was trans. Looking back, this was absolutely due to the single story I was told about being trans: if my birth gender didn’t feel right, I’d have felt since I was tiny I was actually a girl, and now I should put on heels and makeup and dresses and go on hormones and get surgery and celebrate my newfound feminity.
This was, and is, not at all my reality. I’m not medically transitioning, I am non-binary, not a girl, I don’t feel trapped in my body, I am happy the way I am. This story does not fit in the single-story narrative I was told about being transgender. But it is my story.
Our time in humanity will be significantly judged as a turn point on the issue of climate collapse. One of our most ambitious plans to combat climate collapse, at least in the United States, is the relatively-new Green New Deal. Many surveys have been done, there are many opinions on the Green New Deal. But ask a group of people what GND actually does, and most Americans don’t know.
How does one have an opinion on something they do not know about? The media!
Carlos Maza on Vox Strikethrough unpacks this really well. His analysis reveals that essentially all mainstream media coverage of the Green New Deal focuses on how electable politicians who support it are, if it will cost Democrats the next election, who likes it, who hates it. They do not cover what is actually in the proposal, because though that is obviously more important information, it is less sensational. The end result is a single story about the proposal, that it is entirely a political game, instead of varied stories from scientists, renewable energy companies, activists, economists, etc focusing on what it actually does.
As artists, designers, journalists, and makers, we are storytellers. We are part of that media. We bear the burden to tell rich, inclusive stories that celebrate those whose stories we tell, and have the responsibility to make work that does not disregard the depth and nuance of every topic. We will fall short sometimes, through a lack of knowledge or cultural understanding, but we must be constantly striving to do better, and showing those results. Sometimes, the future depends on it.