The Doc Fix


Regularly updated articles on story structure and analysis; tips, thoughts and useful bits and pieces.

Elon Musk, Twitter & the culture of shame

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It seems Elon Musk has bought Twitter. That’s a lot to take on.

Unsurprisingly, I often see the problems with social media in terms of how we tell stories

To begin with, the example I often use to describe the evolution of storytelling concerns a group of humans, tens of thousands of years ago, discussing a problem. Maybe they are sitting around a fire the day before they will set off and hunt a mammoth.

Everyone around that fire has a different approach to solving the mammoth hunting problem.

For some, their main concern is the physical world.

  • Some are focussed on having sharp spears and tracking the beast. What’s the best cause of action?
  • Others are concerned about getting lost in a fog. What if the group is broken up? How are their circumstances going to throw up problems?

Others around the fire are more worried about their thoughts - the inner world.

  • How do we all make sure that we can keep the group doing the right thing, keeping everyone on board in the heat of the hunt? The psychological approach.
  • And the last group is convinced that there is a single, correct way of tackling a mammoth - and wants to make sure that no one makes a mistake. That’s a fixed attitude that’s going to throw up issues.

A complete story covers all those bases.

The ‘story’ feels complete. Everyone is satisfied that the problem has been properly explored. They can now wander off to their corners of the cave and sleep before the hunt.

When we tell stories in our documentaries, completeness comes from covering those bases. You don’t want to leave holes in your argument - room for the audience to go, “but what about…..?”

But think about it a bit more.

In that tribe, there will be people who make a mistake. Sometimes a bad one. In the group - of maybe 50-100 or so fellow tribe members - someone will do or say something that can potentially harm the group. Or themselves.

There are consequences.

To keep the tribe viable there is going to be punishment or a form of humiliation. It depends on how serious is the transgression. Maybe there were executed or imprisoned? Perhaps they have eventually been absorbed back into the community?

But the behaviour is dealt with within the group. If the tribe eventually bumps into another tribe, there’s no reason for that person to be seen as unacceptable. There's no value in that.

The problem has been dealt with. Lessons have been learned, and progress made. That's what social means - in terms of what we as humans evolved to need for psychological completeness and satisfaction.

But that is a world before Twitter and social media.

Imagine a world where you cannot learn.

Where a problem is never truly resolved. Where any mistake is carried with you forever and can be seen by everyone. What if this issue is discussed by people who are outside of this group and who cannot see the importance of dealing with it within the proper context?

Or what if you could never escape from your own mistakes, or embarrassments, which harm no one but define you in their eyes? You can never reinvent yourself, and your story is never resolved?

As a child, or a young person, have you said something you have regretted? I know I have. But because it became part of my past it helped me learn and grow.

We are no different from those humans tens of thousands of years ago in terms of our psychological makeup or needs. But we live in a world designed to make us unhappy.

Social media is crude, emphasises everything wrong with making a mistake, and diminishes everything valuable. This disruption of how we treat each other is built into its business model. This ‘conversation’ means attention and successful advertising.

So, Elon, please tackle that. Somehow….

This relates precisely to a remarkable story that one of our students in The Doc Fix program wants to tell.

Decades ago, he happened to record everything he did - good and bad - for five years of his life. Some of this was outrageous. At the time, there were no consequences. And finally, there were. Serious ones.

But he feels there is a story to be told about the value of that period when he acted without censure. It's something he feels - and can show - is missing in the current climate.

He is working with us to tell that documentary as a complete and meaningful story.

Finally, I will leave you with something that was said to me the other day by another student of ours, Ryan, from Los Angeles. He is working on a series and a single feature documentary. One is being developed, the other is in the edit. He apologised for being so effusive. He actually said that he doesn’t want people to think that he raves about everything because he doesn’t.

But the DocFix was far, far more than he could have hoped for:

"I feel like as documentary filmmakers, like so many times, you know, people really entrust us with their lives, I mean with their story, and it's a big responsibility. And I think that if nothing else, people should take this course just so they can make sure that they're honouring that story.

The other thing that it's really changed me as a filmmaker, is that more than anything, it's really reduced our production costs. Because in post-production, I know exactly what I want. Now, I know how to communicate it. And I know when it's working, and when it's not working. So it's, you know, the investment in the course, has paid for itself tenfold just in money that we've saved in post-production.

I've spent years in different courses and seminars and books. And what I've learned in 12 weeks of this course, blows away everything that I've spent the last 10 years learning in other books and seminars and workshops and everything else. If I could trade this one course, for every other story course I've ever taken in my life, it would be a no brainer, I would do it in a second."

If you want to join us, places are limited because you will be helped as an individual to become the best storyteller you can be. Yes, you need the tools of storytelling. But you also need guidance and support.

All the best - Nigel