What is a ‘narrative’ when it comes to claims about reality?

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I have been hearing the word narrative thrown around a lot in the news and in counter-news articles.

umm, reality isn’t a storybook – so what does this even mean?

Note: I did a quick search about narrative first and found only [one relevant eli5](https://redd.it/b8utov), but I don’t understand it… so if we’re actually talking about the same thing then I need an ELI5 on their ELI5

In: Culture

So I think there is a confusion of terms here (or conflation is probably more accurate).

When it comes to facts (ie gravity pulls objects with mass toward each other) there isn’t such a thing.

However political issues, say abortion, has some gray area as far as when a life is a life, people cherry pick what information they use to support their arguments thus supporting their belief in their narrative.

Basically the same idea as a documentary. They clearly interviewed real people and found actual documents, but which parts of the interview they use and which parts of the document they put on the black screen between scenes is used to support whatever narrative the film is putting out there

Everything is framing.

Understanding reality in a complete and holistic manner is literally impossible. If it weren’t, we’d be able to predict the future. There are too many variables and strands.

So framings are used that lend weight to certain movements to explain the “why” of an event.

Even if you think an objective reality exists, your understanding of it is necessarily and subconsciously given coloration by your own life and experience. You will pay attention to the events that most impact you and mostly ignore the rest.

Look at how historical events seem to change in ‘meaning’ when reframed. The American Civil War, for example, can go from “a righteous fight by the North to end slavery” to “a fight to protect the South from the North” to “a really complicated quagmire but the South was definitely the most wrong”. That’s all narrative difference.

Now postmodernism seeks to reject grand narratives, which you seem to at least consciously do. Metanarratives state that the entirety of the world is governed by a narrative; that there is an essential struggle or human nature towards an end.

Narratives are also linked to societal legitimacy. “The rich are rich because they deserve it because they work hard” is a narrative. Another is “the rich are rich because they exploit the working class.”

There’s still a lot to explain past that but hopefully that’s not a bad primer.

There are, in any given story, literally infinite facts that you can focus on, but only finite time to talk about them. So for a story about a shooting, do you talk about the shooter’s religion, or his political views, or his mental health, or the color of his hair, or the temperature that day, or anything else?

News organizations have to make a choice on what to focus on. There’s only one front page, and a headline can only be a few words long. So, as an editor, do you make the headline “White man shoots 10 black people” or “atheist shoots 10 church goers”? “Mentally disturbed man goes on rampage” or “Gun enthusiast goes on rampage”?

The facts you focus on determine your narrative. Was this the story of an evil white man brutally murdering 10 innocent black people? Or was this the story of a mentally disturbed kid who acted out in the worst possible way? And the narrative of this story generally fits into a larger narrative about the world.

Some news outlets try very hard to minimize the narrative they present, but it’s impossible to completely avoid. Other news outlets try really hard to present a certain narrative, which you might not even notice if you’re in their bubble.

Reporters chose the facts that they tell you about a story, and can manipulate those facts to completely change what appears to have happened.

Take the following factual situation: A woman has multiple warrants out for her arrest. A police officer recognizes her and approaches her to attempt an arrest. As the officer approaches her, she screams “I’m pregnant” and attacks the officer. After being attacked, the officer wrestles her to ground. While on the ground, she pulls the officer’s taser out of his holster and tries to tase the officer. The officer then shoots her with his firearm.

That fact pattern is a textbook justified shooting. But lets say that you’re a reporter who hates the police, and wants to paint them in as bad a light as possible. To paint the officer as a murderer, you write a headline “Woman tells officer she’s pregnant before being gunned down.”

That headline is factually correct. The woman did tell the officer that she was pregnant and the officer did gun her down. Nonetheless, that headline paints a story that is completely at odds with reality. By manipulating the facts of the story, the reporter has used their position to further their goal of generating hatred towards the police.

Reporters also get to choose what to report. Lets say that your lifetime risk of being shot by the police is 1/8000. Thats extremely rare – its half as likely as electrocuting yourself to death and twice as likely as choking to death. Nonetheless, in a country of 350 million people it means that 2-3 people get shot by the police every day.

If you’re a reporter whose goal is to generate hatred towards the police, you can report on each and every one of those 2.5 people who get shot each day while ignoring everything else going on in the country at the moment. That creates a sense that police shootings are extremely common and are a serious threat to people in their day to day lives when the reality is that they’re extremely rare. It also creates a sense that much more common occurrences, like being murdered by a criminal, are extremely rare.

By selectively reporting on police shootings over murders, a reporter is able to create a sense that police shootings are a much more serious threat, when the reality is that you are over 33 times more likely to be murdered by a criminal than shot by the police.

When you consider that most people get their news from a small handful of sources, the narrative that those sources decide to push frequently becomes the reality that their readers come to believe – regardless of what reality actually is.

It’s the interpretation or “spin” you put on a story or a situation. Choosing which facts to include in the story and which to leave out, choosing how to describe people or their actions, and choosing whose perspective to take, are all part of turning a factual account into a narrative.

The term is usually used in discussing politics. But you are also “controlling the narrative” or “serving the narrative” whenever you use stories to persuade people or get them on your side about something.

Your resume is a narrative about your career and skills – you’re going to include jobs and accomplishments that make you look good, and leave off or minimize ones that make you look bad.

You can even see people framing a narrative in subs like AITA – the first version of a story usually makes the teller look really sympathetic and the other person look bad. If more details come out in discussion, the situation can look different.