I was pleasantly surprised to come across a WordPress blog titled Why Story Matters by Mike Dimartino, co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show I’ve written about previously on Ekostories. Discussing a video from the World Science Festival titled Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative in one of his posts, Dimartino teases out some fascinating insights explored during the involved panel discussion. As Ekostories is focused on exploring the potential of stories to generate connections and environmental understanding, I would like to share his key takeaways and comment briefly on them.
Last entry on The Botany of Desire explored the social and natural histories of common everyday plants, revealing how they have shaped our values even as we altered them for our own purposes. It serves as a reminder that our connection with the non-human world is not a one-sided affair; it is instead more akin to a partnership. Ignorance of this fact is a chief cause of ecological degradation and existential distress. As we wall ourselves off from the rest of the living world, we become detached from the consequences of our actions have on the surrounding community.
To see the world from a non-human perspective helps us reconnect with the world: It can generate awareness and appreciation for other life. It can also cultivate empathy and facilitate big picture thinking. But we as humans are prisoners of our own bodies and experiences. Barring becoming accomplished nature-whisperers, communication and communion with other life forms is difficult, if not impossible. How then can we cross over to view the world from the other side?
One way is through stories, with the use of myth, lore, fiction. I particularly enjoy speculative fiction, which as a genre can stretch minds and tone imaginations. One bizarre and delightful tale titled Direction of the Road comes to mind; it is a short story recently republished in the two-volume collection titled The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin.
Perhaps it is this invigoration of growth that compelled me to reread Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire. Pollan’s work has played a significant role in my personal perceptions of the connections between nature and culture. Although he does on occasion go overboard with his metaphors, he has an uncanny gift for transforming mundane observations into intriguing insights that are grounded in science, history, folk-lore, and philosophy. His knack for storytelling has pushed me, on more than one occasion, to make unforeseen connections and to come away from his works to view the world a little differently.
One of his earlier bonafide successes, Botany explores the relationship between humans and the natural world from a unique angle: It asks the reader to consider the world from the plant’s point of view. Through the exploration of a common fruit, flower, drug plant, and staple food, Botany stitches seemingly disparate ideas from social and natural history into absorbing tales about humanity’s eternal dance with the natural world.
More than a year of Ekostories and not a single mention of Wall-E? You must think I hold some sort of vindictive grudge against cute robots. The truth is that I love Wall-E. It is a lovingly crafted tale that hits all the right notes, a rare gem that effortlessly exudes charm to audiences young and old, and represents Pixar at the height of their craft as storytellers.
But Wall-E’s broad appeal makes an analysis tricky. It’s easy to see the film as simply “a kid’s movie” and to dismiss any merits its narrative may contain. It’s also easy to view it as just an “issues movie”, a pointed critique of the obesity epidemic or of consumerist culture. Such a superficial examination reduces the movie to bite-size messages: Don’t trash the world. Technology is bad. People are lazy.
If that was a fair assessment of Wall-E, there would be no point in exploring it. I am not interested in narratives with such shallow roots that they can be summarized into tidy little statements; these types of parables preach to the choir and are dismissed by others. I believe Wall-E is deeper and deserves better. In this entry, I’ll explain how for me, Wall-E is also about fulfilling one’s potential and of finding the middle ground in all things.
I really like TED talks. I not only enjoy being exposed to ideas worth spreading, but I am also rejuvenated by seeing the passion people have in their work. But it takes a lot of skill to do TED talks well. It doesn’t matter how exciting the ideas themselves are: One has to convey them in a way that captures the imagination of the audience. The story is not enough; one needs to also be a good storyteller.
I love soundtracks. To me, they play a crucial part in my enjoyment of stories in films, television, and games. Done properly, a soundtrack dynamically complements and enhances a narrative’s ability to resonate deeply with us. Good atmospheric music set the emotional tone of countless scenes, while pieces rich in memorable melodies and rousing leitmotifs can instantly transport us back to meaningful moments of the story, long after the tale itself has faded from our memories.
Today, I want to return to the world of Termina with Time’s End: Majora’s Mask Remixed, an album by Theophany that was appropriately released on the Mayan End of Days. Even if you haven’t read the Majora’s Mask Ekostory and know nothing about videogames, the music is worth a listen. Theophany’s tracks capture the rich and terrible world of Majora’s Mask and the elements of grief, apprehension, mystery, and wonder that colour it. Terrible Fate and Time’s End are my personal favourites. Have a listen while living life in the first exciting days of a “post-apocalyptic” world!