The stories we tell ourselves

I’ve been watching a lot of old movies lately, and yesterday I put on The Full Monty, one of my all time faves. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour; it’s a joy.

Hands up who wants to see The Full Monty again

I saw it first in a packed cinema at its Australian Premiere at the Opening Night of the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF). It hadn’t been released overseas yet either, so there was no hype, no expectation. It brought the house down. That was one of the best after parties: everyone was giddy with optimism and good cheer.

It was a shock to realise it was 20 years ago. The film holds up very well. Apart from the absence of smartphones and internet, it’s not dated at all. It occurred to me that’s a bad thing: after 20 years, surely we should have made more progress? I’ve expanded on that thought in Opinion: 20 years after The Full Monty.

Back in the BIFF days. I did some ghostwriting for George Miller (director of Mad Max and Babe etc), who was the patron of the Festival. He’d recently done a lecture where he spoke about storytelling in a similar way to the way Aboriginal Australians do, saying that stories are the way we dream ourselves into being. That idea has stuck with me, and I often reflect on it both as a writer/producer, and as a reader/consumer of stories. As I allude to in the longer piece, it bothers me that our popular storytelling is dominated by rescue stories where a super-human individual (or groups of) is needed to save humanity. It bothers me that most religions are based on a narrative that some people are less important than others—it was when I twigged that Christianity was telling me that woman are secondary to men (just a bit of old rib bone! an after-thought!) and we created all sin that I lost interest.

Those big, public narratives that we absorb unconsciously shape so much of our lives. When you see poor people angrily remonstrating against the rich being taxed more, that’s evidence they’ve internalised a story that says the rich deserve to have more than they do. When you see women denigrating other women for the clothes they wear, that’s evidence of they’ve internalised a story that says women’s worth is tied to their virtue, which is signalled by their dress.

One of the stories I will keep telling, over and over, is that the people who control the story, control the people. It matters who owns the media, it matters that six corporations dominate most media production in the world. It is no coincidence that the same toxic narratives are dominating public discourse in the UK, Australia and the US: the common denominator is Rupert Murdoch’s dominant ownership of the media.

The Full Monty was a little film—it cost just £3.5 million to make, which was a tiny budget, even then. Stories don’t need to be grand, or expensive to make an impact, but they do need to get made. We can each do our little bit to make sure the little voices get heard, by ourselves, and by others. We can turn off Fox and Sky and get our news without the shouting and hatred. We can ditch the Top 40 and seek out independent artists. We can support Patreons, and fund Kickstarters…and we can tell our own stories.

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