Everything is not a story and why it would be better if it was: My intro to storytelling and the documentary “Farmland”

I have written briefly on my newly found interest in storytelling. A few weeks ago I delved into this interest further by taking a class with SpeakeasyDC, a one-day Storytelling Boot Camp.

The class was very interesting and taught me a lot. The biggest takeaway I got was that every story needs to have some type of problem, conflict or desire and some change in the protagonist. Even the most wacky event from your past is just an anecdote without that change. I believe that is where I have been struggling most in incorporating storytelling into my public speaking. I haven’t been able to best identify the changes that have occurred in my life. My other big takeaway is even if I believe I have made strides as a public speaker, I have a looong way to go before I can become an accomplished storyteller.

After the class I noticed a tweet by one of the classes instructors, Joseph Price, about how the obsession with storytelling in advertising circles has caused it to be misconstrued.

Malcontent: Against Storytelling
March 13, 2014

The main jab of the article is against Gatorade’s recent campaign for its G Series line where they are claiming they are telling the “Gatorade G Series story”. But it is not a story, it is just a series of three different drinks that doesn’t overcome anything.

Which brings me to Farmland.

Recently I found out that a documentary sponsored by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance titled “Farmland” was going to make its premier in Washington DC and I could secure tickets to the screening. I believe that the American agricultural industry has not done an adequate job in informing the general food buying public of its practices and products, so I was excited to see how this documentary would be better able to facilitate that conversation.

While the film did portray some interesting facts about six young farmers and some of the difficulties faced in the agricultural industry, I walked away disappointed. I believed the goal was to educate people who were not familiar with rural America on the origins of their food and I am not sure that this documentary is going to accomplish the goals that we want (and maybe even need) for it to accomplish.

It has taken me a few weeks to figure it out, but I think I have finally figured out the reason for my disappointment. I am not sure that the documentary ever successfully told the “story” of American agriculture. There were countless visually stunning pictures. The recount of the events surround the funeral of one of the main character’s fathers is sure to bring a tear to almost anyone’s eye. But we failed to see any real change, we failed to see any conflict and therefore we never were really ever heard the story that would have been effective in changing the hearts and minds of the American public.

In the end, I am not the target of this movie (I am strongly already in the camp of American agriculture) and perhaps I am completely underestimating the impact the film will have on those without a rural background. Unfortunately I don’t have any better ideas on the best way to educate the public about food and those who produce it. But the more I learn about this newest research facet of public speaking, I believe that storytelling is part of the answer.

Image credit: T. Dahlman, 2014

Question: What is the story you want to tell about your life?

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One comment on “Everything is not a story and why it would be better if it was: My intro to storytelling and the documentary “Farmland”
  1. […] over the past few days I have been re-thinking my criticisms. Perhaps my studies in what actually constitutes a story has led me to conclude that perhaps what I thought of as “formulaic” is really just the […]

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