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Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Stories Can Change Our Lives and the Lives of Those Around Us

By Ian Bertram of Panchromatica

I think the two great arts of the 20th century are film and jazz. While jazz, unfortunately, seems to be declining into a minority interest, film shows no sign of flagging. It still has the capacity to stimulate, to touch us deep in our hearts, to excite us and to reflect our world back to us.

Sweet Home Alabama is a romantic comedy. Certainly the reviews on Internet Movie Database seem to treat it as no more than that, so probably one shouldn’t read too much into it. Nevertheless in one important scene, Josh Lucas and Patrick Dempsey as the husband and fiancé (don’t ask!) of Reese Witherspoon, talk about life in the small town in which Lucas and Witherspoon grew up.

The details of the story don’t matter here and would be a nasty spoiler if you haven’t seen the film. That story however says more in a few minutes about community and identity than any politician on the stump or any academic treatise.

Think about any family gathering and almost certainly it will involve the sharing of stories, not just about the people there but also about people long gone. These may not be told chronologically or even completely, they may not even be true, but the act of sharing allows everyone in the group to pick up and draw meaning and strength from them – reinforcing a sense of identification. I suppose wakes and weddings are the prime examples.

Translating this to the geographical communities of villages and neighbourhoods in which we all live makes the importance of continuity in keeping those stories alive apparent. Villages drowning in seas of commuter housing, neighbourhoods facing a massive influx of people of other cultures and religions both face the same problem. Maintenance of shared stories becomes impossible and perhaps more importantly the old stories are lost.

We need to recognise that these strains apply as much to the ‘incomers’ as to the ‘locals’. In the late 1960s, I lived in Wolverhampton. At that time one could see at the weekend in the local park, large groups of men sitting in circles. I was told, and I believe it to be true, that these gatherings were based on links back to the local village in Pakistan or Bangladesh. For at least some of these immigrants, therefore, continuity was maintained but only it seems by discussion of the ‘old days’.

For children born away from the 'old country', those old days are at best unknown and perhaps even literally meaningless. A combination of religion, language and myth generate separation and isolation on both sides of the generational divide, just as much as between emigrant and 'local'.

Stories though have an intrinsic value and sharing them in the new context could be a source of a new understanding. Stories from an isolated village in Bangladesh could be as illuminating to English neighbours as they were to those to whom they were originally directed.

Another insight may come from the phenomenon of so-called ‘world’ music where musicians from wildly different musical heritages often combine to generate new and exciting ‘stories’ in the studio. If we can get that openness out of the studio and into the community, who knows where we might end up.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: As of this writing (Sunday 24 June), there are two stories in the queue for next week. If you would like to see this blog continue, please consider sending in a story contribution.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


You've said exactly what I've been thinking. Sharing of stories from different cultures would be so very interesting; could go a long way in helping us appreciate our sameness and our differences.

In a class I'm taking, I've had the good fortune to read just such stories in English and yet with a language flavor of the writer's birth country in Pakistan. I wish these, or others like them might be shared here.

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