The Right’s Advantage Over its Opponents: Storytelling.

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpg Michael Atkinson in In These Times:

Not so long ago, in a typical conniption fit, Glenn Beck blubbered to his TV audience about the loss of America’s greatness. No one faklempts like Beck, and on this October evening he was very moist. He was mourning the America best represented, he thought, by several 1970s network TV ads, including one for Kodak (children, butterflies) and one for Coke (game-losing Mean Joe Green accepting a conciliatory cola from a grade-school boy). Beck whined and moaned and waxed reactionary, choking back saline, pleading with us to remember “what life used to be like!” and “how it felt!”

It was not an unusual performance. Watching the clip is like watching a clinical video of a beleaguered schizophrenic.

Beck seems aware that his constituency has lost the capacity to discern TV fantasy from what’s real. And we can overlook, for now, the fact that if America “used to be united!” as he cried, it was united over unchallenged racism, women’s subjugation and the presumption of a white president.

The substance of Beck & Co.’s discourse is odious trash, of course. But the question remains why it has gained such audience share. Theories abound, most of them unkind to a big chunk of American voters. But watch Beck spin a fable about the glory days of America by way of something as transparently disingenuous as a TV commercial, and you begin to see the structural trump card—story.

The right has long been adept at spinning yarns, at limning fictions. Storytelling is as old in human culture as parts of our frontal lobe. Scores of psychological studies have suggested that we have an innate capacity to understand life via stories, to use storytelling as an evolutionary advantage (learning decision-making skills, avoiding danger), and to adapt socially using empathy.

Novelist Michael Chabon writes in Manhood for Amateurs about how, although he is a Jew and a pretty irreligious one at that, he’s never felt slighted by the social predominance of the Jesus-birth story at Christmas—not even in the form of the school Nativity plays in which his kids take part. In fact, he loves it. What he loves is the story itself, which tells the truth “about the hope and the promise that ought to attend to the birth of every child, however mean or difficult the conditions of that birth,” and “about the dangerous and woefully unredeemed state of the world and the potential that all children have to redeem it.”