The Modern Survival Guide #82

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Flipping a Story — Changing Narratives Without Changing Subjects

Ok, so let’s talk about flipping stories. You start with an issue — something going on in the world. Fundamentally, flipping a story is about talking about the issue from a different perspective, and getting your audience to buy into your perspective. That’s how we shape narratives. We’re going to need an example here, so why not go with current events? At the time of writing, the US is embroiled in a border crises. The simple facts of the story are as follows:

  • Many of these migrant workers are illegal immigrants.
  • The Trump Administration has stepped up enforcement of Section 1325 of Title 8 in the U.S. Code, which criminalizes illegal immigration.
  • Illegal immigrants are being detained in large, crowded camps while they await trial or deportation, because that’s what happens when you step up detentions without increasing resources for holding people.
  • The conditions in these camps are not healthy, in some documented cases, because of the huge numbers of people being detained and the crowded conditions in which they are being kept.
  • Many people support the detention policies, for a variety of reasons, mostly breaking down along the lines of law & order hardliners and nativist activism. Many other people oppose them, mostly on humanitarian grounds.

Seven Rules for Flipping a Story

These examples highlight seven key rules for flipping a story, and these are applicable regardless of which side you’re trying to support:

  1. Pick facts that support your story. Flipping a story isn’t about making an actual rational argument, it’s about presenting a viewpoint. Accordingly we’re not using the scientific method here. Pick the facts that support your spin, and run with them.
  2. Narrow the focus. Don’t try to explain, justify, or discuss the whole issue. Remember that almost everything in life that counts as a major issue is complicated. Audiences don’t have time for complicated. Audiences like things simple. Narrow the issue down to just one facet, and then focus on that.
  3. Market the appeal. Pick a facet of the story that appeals to your audience — something that strikes an emotional, moral, patriotic, religious, or ideological chord. Pick one, at most two, facets of the issue and run with them. You’re not going for complex argument, you’re going for shallow surface reaction and emotional appeal.
  4. Claim legitimacy. Reference your narrative against something that the audience will implicitly recognize as a source of legitimacy or authority. Law, religion, morality, etc.
  5. Put a face on it. Remember that people like stories, and stories are usually about people (or anthropomorphic personifications). Reference your narrative against a person or persons with whom the audience feels a connection. Then build a story around them that makes your point.
  6. Use images to reinforce your story. A picture is worth a thousand words. The right image can reinforce your story, and using images in combination with words activates different parts of the brain, making it more likely that your audience will remember the narrative.

Flipping Narratives in Modern Life

Most of what we in America think of as media content, in this day and age, consists of narrative flipping. Pundits, talk show hosts, opinion writers, and entertainment shows all use these methods to present issues in a way that fits their narrative. Remember the point of all this — everyone has goals. Shaping the narrative helps or hinders their achievement of those goals.

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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