Who’s Controlling the Narrative?

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Last week I wrote about the importance of writing in times of crisis—times like we are experiencing right now. Writing connects us to others and enables an important form of intimacy that can stretch across great distances, and many of us are finding that taking time to write to loved ones, and especially to those with whom we have lost touch, is worth its weight in gold. As this virus continues to rage, I say keep it up and spread the word: writing helps!


Today I am thinking of another activity for students I work with: asking them not to “follow the money” but to “follow the story.” The struggle for who and what institutions will control the narrative of America’s response to and encounter with the coronavirus is ongoing, and it is reaching an especially intense state as I write this. Will the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force take control and be the voice citizens listen to and trust to provide an accurate narrative? What other narratives are out there, working away? Those provided by scientists, doctors, and those associated with the NIH and CDC? Congress, where the story being told by Republicans and the story being told by Democrats are completely at odds with one another? Traditional print and TV media that are reporting sometimes wildly varying stories of what is happening and what we should do about it? Or social media, where conspiracy theorists are busily trying to sell their narratives as the ones we should believe and trust? All of these—and more—narratives are currently in play. Why not, then, ask students to work online in pairs or small groups to track these narratives and to subject them to careful, fair rhetorical analysis.


In this time of social distancing, sheltering in place, and self-isolation, activities like these can give students something concrete and specific they can do, something that can help them understand how narratives circulate in our society and how they gain (or lose) power over how and what we think. More important, they can share their findings widely with others whose perceptions are daily being shaped (and often manipulated) by such narratives. Thinking clearly and rhetorically is one thing we and our students can all do to survive this pandemic.


Please. Stay. Safe. And aware.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 791029 by kaboompics, used under the Pixabay License

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.