Jon Stewart and the word "Narative"

A month or so ago Jon Stewart interviewed Obama on the Daily Show and asked a rather insightful question about candidate’s being stuck in their narratives. Hillary being experienced but cold and Obama being inexperienced but fresh…that sort of thing.

Interesting and thoughtful line of questioning that unfortunately has to come from a comedy show host.

Anyway, to the point. Since that interview I’ve heard about every news channel refer to their own simplistic versions of reality (in regards to the candidates) as narratives. Has anybody else noticed this? It seems like the new buzzword.

Is this just a matter of me now noticing it more or was it sparked by the Daily show interview. If so it seems sort of sad. They found a word that makes the shallow 24 hr. news “discussions” seem a little deeper.

I’m not sure, but I highly doubt Jon Stewart originated or even popularized the use of this word in this context. I imagine he was just picking up on an already popular use, and, for whatever reason, now that you’ve paid attention to his use of it, you’re suddenly noticing it everywhere else as well. It could just be an illusion on my part, but this usage in this context seems very familiar to me, much moreso than if it was just about a month old. As a (very) quick Google example, here’s a story from July headlined “The Power of the Campaign Narrative”. And here’s one from 2003, titled “Nine Story Lines in a New Campaign Narrative”.

I may be wrong, though, or at least there may indeed be a significant popularizing of this use recently, even if not by Jon Stewart’s doing (well, let me say, I’m almost certain he’s not the originator here). Others will bring more evidence one way or another, I hope.

I think “narrative” in this sense has been around since at least the 2000 election, where Gore’s “narrative” was that he was a puffed-up, egotistical liar. True or false, that’s the narrative that all the coverage followed, arguably because the press didn’t like Al much.

I think the notion of the narrative–the compelling story that ties together a communicative message–is at least as old as the Greeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone could cite Cicero telling us how it’s important to tell a story when persuading an audience.

The deconstruction of narratives, analysis of underlying assumptions and meaning, and the ways in which our minds force disparate facts into consistent narrative stories are big themes in 20th century philosophy, linguistics, and literary theory.

So I think the analysis of political narratives is nothing new. What I do think is relatively new is the media’s focus on process. 90% of the political stories in this campaign season are process stories, instead of stories about the substance of what candidates are saying. So, as in this case, we see analysis of narratives *about *the candidates, rather than those constructed by them (or I guess a little of both). My impression (and I really have no idea) is that this is a growing trend and a way for the news to satisfy the 24-hour cycle with stories and also be able to talk about candidates in a way that won’t come across as biased. As a consequence, you get a lot more metaanalysis of media narrative, rather than analysis of proposals.

I don’t think the OP is implying that there’s anything revolutionary about a politician having a narrative. The question at hand is if the terminology to describe said story is new. Discussing a “narrative” certainly seems to be gaining appeal, but I don’t think it’s new to this campaign.

I’m saying the using the word “narrative” to describe a candidate’s storyline (both self-created and media-created) comes straight out of 1960’s intellectual culture, with roots long before. I think if you graphed its usage, the increase would be a linear one from Roland Barthes to Jon Stewart, with a possible upswing because of the increase in meta-coverage as a consequence of 24-hour news.

No, I understand that it is not a new use of the word in this context.

I am just interested in the idea of 24-hour shallow news coverage starting to use it all of the time to appear more thoughtful about the process. In reality this sort of news format has dumbed down the entire political conversation, namely in boiling ideas, people and events into their simplest form, painting them either black or white and serving them up as meaningful. (Often disguised as a dialogue, no less!)

To use the word “narrative” seems to be an unknowing finger point back at themselves. I’m not sure whether to roll my eyes or giggle when I hear it being used.

Talking heads on the Sunday shows have been talking about that… I don’t know, forever. That’s probably where Stewart’s writers got the idea from.

Political reporters and anchors in particular seem to love talking about themselves. :wink: I hadn’t heard Jon Stewart’s comments, but the subject was on my mind lately. It really does seem that news outlets glom onto a particular view of a candidate, and from that point on, everything they do is compared to that initial perception.

Another example would be that of the OP itself, where Hillary is Hillary but Obama is not Barack.

There’s no need to distinguish Barack from another Obama.

Is there some other Clinton who is a candidate? From the OP: “a rather insightful question about candidate’s [sic] being stuck in their narratives”.

Am I the only person who wants Stewart to be the moderator for one of the presidential debates?

Do you seriously think Bill Clinton has to be a candidate this year for reporters to feel a need to make it clear they’re talking about a different Clinton?

In any case, when I scan the headlines in my aggregator and every one says “Clinton” for Hillary. Maybe TV is another situation, but I don’t watch TV news. I imagine if TV people say “Hillary,” it’s because they know people who watch TV news are by and large an easily confused and poorly informed lot.

No, what I seriously think is that Bill Clinton is not a candidate this year, and that reporters ought to refer to his wife as Senator Clinton. It seems misogynistic and condescending to the extreme to call her by her first name as though she’s a little girl in a field of men. I think it’s the moral equivalent of calling George W. Bush “Dubya” under the pretense that someone might confuse him with his father.

I would think it would be the opposite, that people who do not watch the news are easily confused and poorly informed. But in any case, even Fox News has issued the edict that she is NOT to be refered to as “Hillary”, but rather as either “Senator Clinton” or just plan “Clinton”.

Well, if a person wants to be offended, they almost always find a way. I think it takes a leap to find someone’s actual name to by insulting and offensive, but damned if I’ll get in your way.

Incidentally, the use of “narrative” is nothing new. I agree with others that is is a way of seeming ponderous when it’s actually pretty superficial analysis. The whole horse race aspect of the campaigns is a way to help people forget that they’re supposed to be making decisions about their own welfare.

You seem to be unaware that her campaign has intentionally branded her as “Hilllary” in an effort to drop the “Senator” label. It isn’t misogynistic, if anything, it’s overly deferential. Also worth noting that the candidates all refer to each other by first name during the debates (though not exclusively).

Incredulous, I went to her official site. And you’re right. She is thus branded with bumper stickers and whatnot. It certainly is her call to make. (I may reference your post in the future as a cite.)