Monday 3 September 2012

The Myth of Story: Response

Just read a fascinating article from 2006 on The Myth of Story from the Reimagineering Blog. The basic hypothesis of this article is that the attitude of "It's all about story" hasn't had the great affect on Disney theme parks that the wider community thinks it has. It is an interesting theory, which I am very much sympathetic too. I definitely agree that story is not the be all and end all of theme park rides and can be used badly. However, I must admit that most of my favourite theme park rides, contain a story or at least story elements.

There is a lot made in the article about the difference between rides with story elements, and rides with a conventional linear story. My view is slightly different to the authors of The Myth of Story article. They maintain that the first generation of imagineers didn't frame everything as being part of a story. This may be true. My reading tends to suggest that they used the phrases experience and show; which are undoubtedly looser terms than story. However, I find it hard to believe that they never used the word story. My view is that what we describe as a story has subtly changed over time, particularly in the American film and television industry, and by extension the American theme park industry.

When people use the word story, it is very normal to think of a conventional linear stories, with a begining, a middle and an end. There is no doubt that this is the dominant form of story in literature and film these days. But this hasn't always been the case. Indeed you only need to look to other international film industries, like the French industry for example. For me the last 15 years of the American film industry has been centred around more and more similar stories. Structures are similar, plot lines are similar, even the characterizations are similar. Even more frustrating for me is the rise of sequels and reboots. This combined with the increase of analysis and criticism of the entertainment industry, and the corporatisation of creative decision making has lead us to where we are now. We now have an extremely narrow definition of story.

For me, the focus should not be whether Walt used the word story, or whether story elements forming an experience are always better than conventional linear stories for theme park rides. The focus should be that there are many rich types and structures of stories that should be being used as the basis for theme park attractions. It shouldn't always about having to search for something. An attraction can be just about things you fear, or about the wonder of beuty, or the joys of other cultures, etc. I totally agree with The Myth of Story article, that we have plenty of major attractions with conventional linear stories. That doesn't mean it can't be done well, it just means people want a more varied experience. While I feel this is clear in the world of theme park attractions, where we constantly speak of story versus thrill, it is also true for the entire entertainment industry.

I don't always want a story. When I do want a story, I don't always want it spoon fed to me. Sometimes I want to marvel and not understand. Sometimes I want to be surprised or confused. Sometimes I want gags without structure. And sometimes, just sometimes I want the conventional linear story.

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