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      Randy Olson

      RANDY OLSON: SESSION 2.2: “But” – Overall Thoughts

      Stacy Levy had this awesome comment near the end of the session, “Like therapy, the chat gets most intersting in the last few minutes of the session. ”

      That is a combination of true, hilarious and profound! The best questions come at the end. Here’s a few replies.

      Julie Claussen: Randy – it would be good to spend a bit of time talking about DHY

      Julie, you’re in the Platinum Club, so I know you’ve got a pretty good feel for DHY. Which means I guess you’re asking about it for the benefit of the new folks, which is nice. But for starters, everyone should already have some rough idea from the AAAS video. If you haven’t viewed it, it’s time to right now:

      In the simplest (and borderline disparaging) terms, DHY means basically “pretzel brained.” It means you have multiple narratives going at once which, if done skillfully, is the essence of lots of great art. Some of the best murder mysteries have several narrative threads going at once. And if they are done well, all the threads eventually resolves themselves and it becomes a satisfying experience.

      BUT … when it’s done in conversation and the person speaking heads off in five directions and never resolves any of them … it’s just plain confusing. Which is what you get from academics sometimes. And thus this silly figure in the AAAS video …

      ABT Evolution

      Oops. Ed Lozano — thanks for doing your best to explain the Christmas tree to Barbara in the chat. You made me realize this could be a recurring problem — my forgetting I presented it in Round 1, but not yet in Round 2.

      What Ed was referring to is this great bit in this great article by longtime Democratic party strategist Dave Gold (who spoke to us in the last session of the 1st Round). This is a really, really helpful thought to have in your head in working towards the single narrative (which we will discuss on Wednesday).

      Years ago, my political mentor taught me the problem with this approach, using a memorable metaphor: issues are to a campaign message what ornaments are to a Christmas tree, he said. Ornaments make the tree more festive, but without the tree, you don’t have a Christmas tree, no matter how many ornaments you have or how beautiful they are. Issues can advance the campaign’s story, but without a narrative frame, your campaign doesn’t have a message, no matter how many issue ads or position papers it puts forward.


      Here’s the article I talked about.

      Yui Takeshita had this great question: To write a concise ABT, you need to omit details by definition. So by telling a compelling story, you will always be criticized for being ‘dishonest’, or not telling the whole story. so how do you navigate this dilemma?

      Let me start by talking about this issue for scientists. They are the ones who routinely and mistakenly see themselves as the arbiters of “the truth.” But they, along with all other humans, face this endless dilemma of basically having to use the ABT to communicate the AAA because it’s more effective.

      In 1964 Nobel Laureate P.B. Medawar delivered a talk titled, “Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud?” You can read it here: http://www.weizmann.ac.il/mcb/UriAlon/sites/mcb.UriAlon/files/uploads/medawar.pdf

      What he was agonizing over was the fact that you do a bunch of research, but no journal will allow you to publish all of it. Which means you face this same subjective process that Ronan Farrow is being dinged about. You have to choose what to include and what to leave out.

      I’ve been at scientific talks where someone asks the investigator whether they measured a specific element. The speaker says yes, and the whole audience groans, “Well why didn’t you tell us about it???” Meaning that the entire talk would have different significance if that bit were included. The group knew it, the single individual didn’t. THIS is a major part of why we do Story CIRCLES (not Story Solos).

      Seriously. It’s the eternal subjective element. There’s no getting around it. You just have to develop a good set of ethics, and then accept that sometimes if you tell the truth or paint an accurate picture of the world, you won’t reach as many people, but that’s no reason to not tell the truth and paint an accurate picture. The question is whether you can find the ABT form for it rather than just giving up and going with AAA.

      I know the pain of this all too well. In 2006 I premiered my feature documentary “Flock of Dodos” at the Tribeca Film Festival. Alongside us, in the next theater over, was the premiere of a movie titled, “Jesus Camp.”

      My movie was interesting, quirky, fun, crowd pleasing, but was not the shocking, anger-filled anti-right wing polemic that “Jesus Camp” was. Their movie was vastly dishonest, painting a portrait of supposed religious indoctrination of teens in Missouri that one critic referred to as “Bush’s Brown Shirt” (a reference to one of Hitler’s youth programs).

      I grew up in Kansas. I went to religious gatherings in junior high where I watched my friends cry for Jesus (afraid I never managed it myself). They all grew up to be healthy adults. It was just a phase. I watched their movie in disbelief. I was complete distortion.

      Their movie got theatrical distribution and was nominated for an Oscar. My movie ended up on Showtime but never made it to theaters, and thus didn’t earn nearly as much money.

      My movie had strong ABT dynamics, which helped it reach a national audience on Showtime, but overall didn’t have as strong of a singular narrative. My story was, “Who is the flock of dodos — the creationists or the scientists?” It criticized both sides equally (which angered A LOT of scientists — the Smithsonian canceled an entire screening due to the protests of their scientists who hated being criticized). The message of “Jesus Camp,” was, “The right wing is evil.”

      Remember that Frank Daniel quote I mentioned, “Your story is only as good as your villain is evil.” They went with that. This recent article about “Jesus Camp” shows what a piece of junk it was. I really hate dishonesty, especially from my side of the political spectrum. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jul/06/jesus-camp-christian-documentary-kids-10-years-later

      Ed Lozano : @Anu, If/Then, as I understand it, is using If/Then in the A section to put the argeement into context… When”And” is not enough…

      Ed Lozano, thank you again. This was Ed, a second time, trying to fill everyone in on what I thought I’d already mentioned to this group but had not.

      What he’s talking about is the use of “IF/THEN” logic for ideas you’re proposing. We want to know, “Why is this important?” This is one way to approach that question — to say, “IF we do this, THEN we’ll be able to …”

      Or you can use it in the negative direction, “IF we don’t do this, THEN the following is going to happen …”

      We’ve only recently stumbled upon the power of using it at times in an ABT. You’ll hear me bring it up some more.

      Evelyn Wight said: in the real world, almost nothing is really black or white/good or evil and boiling it down to that is problematic.

      This is true, but what you have to add on to it is, “… BUT the mass audience wants things to be simple and singular — they don’t want nuance (intellectuals do).”

      This then selects for stereotypes. Which is what our current president knows at a very deep level, and why he uses his single label insult names for his opponents like Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted, and Low Energy Jeb. And it’s not just a handful of these labels. Look at this entire Wikipedia page for it — just scroll down it and take in the enormity of it:


      This is yet another disappointment of the Democratic party — that they aren’t able to make the connection between this behavior and flat out racism. There are racial stereotypes that are not tolerated at all, yet he is allowed to do this same sort of denigration, most of which is just laughed at. It’s the same thing.

      Albertha Joseph-Alexander asked: Can AAA evoke an emotion that is sustained and engaging?

      Yes. AAA is central to great art. I think boredom plays a key role in the pathway to deep emotion. By the way, you do all know that people don’t experience emotion nearly as deeply today as they once did, right? Our short attention span, brought on by the Information Age, combined with our brains slowly figure out ways to avoid pain. One prime example is mourning.

      People used to grieve and mourn and suffer the pain of the loss of loved ones for weeks, months, years, entire lifetimes. Today funerals are mostly designed to be celebrations of life where everyone is happy and gets over things as quickly as possible to “move on.” Which is fine, but it comes with a side effect which is simply not feeling things as deeply. Next!

      Try reading some of the greatest novels ever written — Tolstoy, Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Dostoyevsky, Cervantes, Melville — they all have loooooong stretches of AAA, but there’s something going on where it’s digging deeper and deeper into your psyche so that when it finally does get to the ABT parts, the impact is deeper.

      I think. But then what do I know, I’m a former scientist.

      Ilsa said: Yes our polarized culture right now is hugely disturbing to me. Interesting idea, that the glut of information resutling from so many media platforms is selecting for polarized stories.

      This was a pattern that emerged in the 1990’s as the Information Explosion of the 1980’s began to really settle in. Almost every city that previously had two or more competing newspapers that previously were just several options for the impartial news suddenly underwent polarization. One or more newspaper moved to the right, the others moved left and we ended up with situations like MSNBC versus FOX for television news.

      There is so much about society today that was easy to predict if you were able to view things in terms of information overload. A great book early on that had a big impact on me was this:


      It was a brilliant book and (like so many other authors) I stalked the author and ended up having lunch with him. I was under the impression that his book had a big impact, but nope. He explained that he was an English Literature professor. The book was about communication. Nobody in the world of communication viewed him as a voice worth listening to. Such is the role of social dynamics in forming our overall knowledge. Often the information itself doesn’t matter. It’s how you’re perceived.

      And finally, in typical form, the funniest comments of the session go to Evelyn and Dean …

      Evelyn Wight:
      For some reason the lumberjacks made me think of golf – how can anyone watch golf on TV? Those who do are in the “in” crowd. To make it, or the lumberjacks, interesting I would need at least a character to follow.

      Dean Pentcheff:
      You don’t personally identify with the little white ball, always being struck away from its friends?

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