What Our Media Tells Us

Hey there! Enjoying your Facebook scrolling? I hope so.

I've already learned a valuable lesson through this blog, which is that saying in advance what I will be writing about next is a good way to not be a good blogger. Thoughts change, time passes (it's been what, almost 3 months since I last posted?), and writers are (apparently) occasionally overly optimistic in how long they think it will take to gain clarity on their thoughts.

But, a deal's a deal. I said the next post would be "What Our Media Tells Us". So here's the scoop, and if it makes any sense, you know who to credit. (hint: not me)

What *Are* Media? A Quick Definition

Just so we're clear, media is plural for medium. You know, the whole story about a short clairvoyant who just escaped from prison? A small medium at large. Get two of them, and you have media.

But seriously. This is where the word comes from. In the above example, the person is the medium, or means, through which a supernatural being is communicating to someone. In general, a medium is what information travels through from its source in order to get to its intended destination. The painter's medium is a canvas. A musician's medium is music. Speech, writing, texting--all media.

In the popular sense of the word, media refers to video & film, music, visual art, news, television, social media, etc. But those all qualify as media in the "correct" definition too: information travels through them to us, the intended destination.

Note: I'll usually refer to media as a singular object, not plural, unless I'm trying to emphasize the word's roots. It sounds better.

Something? -> Mainstream Media -> Us

According to the internet's most popular free source of generally reliable facts, Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced 19 films in the last decade, with 13 on the way. Put together, those 19 films have grossed over $16.8 billion at the box office. In terms of dollars, MCU has created the most successful film franchise. Ever.

Evidently, Marvel got something right. Collectively, they've made approximately the equivalent of what a small Midwestern gas station would make if everyone in the world right now were to buy one of their $2 candy bars.

That's a lot of Right Twix (sorry Lefties...if it ain't Right, it's wrong). So why has Marvel had such great success? My suggestion and theory is that their success is closely tied to the information being conveyed through their medium: Marvel is in the hero business. They make stories about heroes, and we eat up those stories like so many Right Twix bars.

If you start looking at the media that sells today, especially things like old movies that are still just as good as they were when they were released, you'll start to see patterns. I know I'm not the first person to see this. Someone in my current field of work (marketing) has actually found a way to port the idea of patterns in stories to the business branding world. Donald Miller is the author of Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, where he basically says that pretty much every good story boils down to this:

A character who wants something has a problem. The character meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action. That plan either results in success or failure, and the character is transformed along the way. (paraphrase)

There are patterns in the stories we hear today. Patterns that humans are so inherently drawn to that we'll actually pay money to go watch them unfold from someone else's imagination. It's incredible. And one of those patterns is the hero-pattern. Marvel learned how to make great hero stories, and we all want to be heroes in some way, so we're willing to turn our attention to someone who's saying, "Hey! This is how hero works! This is what it means to be a hero."

This is one thing our media is telling us. Other patterns that show up are rags-to-riches, underdogs achieving miraculous success, reconciliation between separated lovers, and overcoming internal self-doubt in tandem with overcoming a great external obstacle.

Pattern Implies Purpose

Roads have rules, language has grammar, and music has rhythm. Pattern implies purpose, or intentionality. I can't offer a mathematical proof of this, but I challenge you to find something non-trivial with a pattern that does not have a purpose. Or, find something with a purpose but without a pattern.

If this is true, and if it is true that good stories share a pattern, then they must also share a purpose, of sorts. This is where things get really interesting. I believe that the most beloved stories are what they are because they make powerful statements about the way things really are. We love hero stories because we want to be heroes. We love the underdog because the underdog is relatable, and it's mysteriously exhilarating to watch a once humiliated, disorganized band of hockey players face off against the formidable, entrenched Soviet team (Miracle).

The stories we love and the patterns they share are so powerful because they resonate with who we are and who we want to be. In other words, they point to the story in which we are characters. But if we are characters, there is so much more to be understood of this story! The problem, the guide, the plan, the outcome...oh, and who's ever heard of a story without an author? The plot thickens. The game's afoot!

But I shouldn't keep you. This is probably boring you. I'll stop now and let you go back to your Facebook scrolling. I'm sure you find much deeper meaning in that. ;) Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

P.S. I realize this post cuts off at the peak of the mountain, so to speak. That's bad storytelling in general, but as Steve Jobs said, "Real artists ship". This post isn't perfect, but it's better than nothing at all! I hope to write more soon and continue fleshing out the ideas I've been tossing around here.