Humankind has an insatiable appetite for stories. Story is our most prolific art form, and each day we devour them in billions of pages of prose, the unending stream of television comedies and dramas, movies, 24-by-7 broadcast news, the internet, and even dinner-table bragging. We even experience stories when we sleep, through our dreams. And what compels us to experience stories? The need to know how to live.
Each and every day we humans seek an answer to the ageless question Aristoltle posed in Ethics: How should a man/woman lead his/her life. Strangely enough, even though we seem to spend most of our waking hours chasing after the answer, it seems to elude us. The harder we chase after it, the more it slips through our fingers.
Traditionally, mankind sought the answers to Aristotle’s question from philosophy, science, religion and art. But of these four wisdoms, religion held the most sway with the general population. It defined every aspect of how each man and woman was to live and relate to each other and to the environment. But religion, for many, has become an empty ritual that masks hypocrisy. As we are inundated with other forms of stories from movies, TV, books and media, our faith in traditional ideologies diminishes. We as a culture are turning to the source we now prefer to believe in: the art of story.
Film, novels, theatre, and television have become humanity’s prime source of inspiration as it seeks to gain order from chaos. As playwrite Jean Anouilh said, “Fiction gives life its form.”
So as we go forward into the void called future, fewer people are relying on religion to guide them, and more and more people depend on the writers – novelist, screenwriters, playwrights, journalists – to delve into the human condition and find meaning, then relay that meaning to the masses in the form of story.
Fiction then, is not a flight from reality, but the shiny new vehicle that carries us in search of reality, and the writers, or storytellers, are the new messiahs who lead the way. Some of them even seem to walk on water...
When you think about it, that puts a very weighty responsibility on the shoulders of writers, one that I don’t believe should be taken lightly.