Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Story Minus Zombies

"When you take away the zombies, what's the story about?" Mark introduced me to this question awhile back. It's a pretty good one. And it isn't just about zombies. It can be vampires, pirates, ninjas, aliens, dragons, wizards, prancing ponies, singing vegetables, pocket lint come to life, or whatever. The question is still the same -- what does a particular story portray about the human experience?

Consider the crime show CSI: Miami, which has survived a number of years despite the cheesy dialogue and acting. It's also pretty much the same plot told over and over again; all that changes is the details. Surely this show's popularity is not about creative storytelling.

How, then, does it manage to continue? I think it actually might be because it is pretty much the same plot told over and over again.

Spoiler Alert! I'm about to reveal what happens in pretty much every CSI episode ever produced! Here it is:  People are going about the usual business of life when somebody is found murdered, which is unexpected and horrifying, seriously interrupting the usual-business-of-life stuff. A group of experts with diverse skills and a thirst for justice is called in, with leadership from a caring and capable boss. The team works together to solve the crime, the criminal is revealed, the team goes home, and the business of life can resume again in some way.

It happens every week, and people keep coming back for more because there is something in the storyline that matters to people.

In this ultra-connected age, we are constantly bombarded by stories of tragedy -- disasters which may be natural or manmade -- which significantly disrupt business-as-usual. At such times, it is natural to seek assurance that someone is in control. We want to know that troubles -- and especially evil -- will not be left unchecked. Especially in such times, we crave relationships in which each person is recognized and has a place not in spite of his or her uniqueness, but because of it. There is confidence, too, in following someone whose leadership and character are competent and caring. There is hope for justice, for the world to be set back upright again, for return to a safer, more predictable situation.

Like a bizarrely morphed version of Mister Roger's Neighborhood, CSI speaks to fears and brings a measure of reassurance that good will in some way triumph.

"Take away the zombies," and I see some deeper truth reflected in CSI: Miami. There is comfortable security in the apparent predictability of everyday life, and that is threatened when evil rears its ugly head. In the midst of such times, it is hard to see how the pieces all fit together, and may be difficult to even imagine how life will continue, how a "new normal" will be found. But, when we look beyond ourselves for the answers, and stick together, evil will not triumph in the end. Ultimately, good wins.

It's no Narnia story, but there's still something of God reflected here.

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed." (G.K. Chesterton)

1 comment:

Kathleen Allison said...

GREAT post Debi!!! I love it...and I think you have it spot on. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And, just so you know, I love CSI and Vampire stories...zombies not so much, but still.