StoryCorps: Attention Alpha Centaurians

2012 February 13
by Carl Watson

Have the bruises healed yet My Dear?

Well it Valentine’s Day, another one of those “stimulus” holidays meant to get romantics and sentimentalists to spend their money on crap. You are encouraged to think of your love in terms of his or her dollar value, and we all know many couples break up over some sense of slight concerning this value. Not only will thousands of couples get in arguments about the quality of the day, but many will go to bed filled with spite. But this essay is not about the value of love, but about the propaganda campaign mounted by the folks at StoryCorps.

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StoryCorps is an archival oral-history project which seeks to record the stories of regular people and file them away in the Library of Congress. I suppose this is all well and good, however when you really think about it, StoryCorps is essentially propaganda of a nationalistic and nearly religious caliber. The people who participate in StoryCorps are inevitably sharing some narrative of love or resolution. People who don’t like each other or who have violent or tragic stories to tell don’t participate. This Valentine’s Day, StoryCorps is engaged in a push to get people to tell their “love” stories—how they met, their first date, how they got back together, etc., etc.

My beef is this: if you listen to StoryCorps, you get an incredibly distorted version of the human condition, one in which all adversity is eventually overcome, people are good at heart, and love and sentimentality conquer all. It is a Hallmark Card, Seventh Heaven version of the world based on the “real” stories of a minority of people who chose to tell them. One might as well watch the Hallmark Channel. This view of humankind in modern times serves the great capitalist campaign of convincing people that indeed everything is good, even when it’s bad, with a subtext that one should “buy in” in order to maintain the goodness. In other words: Have Faith.  The burst of heart-felt Valentine stories will no doubt jerk a lot of tears and cause numerous loving glances to pass between mates, but it will, by definition, leave out the alcoholism, the two-timing, the domestic violence, the desperation, the child poverty, the endless psychological and physical abuse, etc. in other words the greater part of the domestic experience.

I imagine that, apart from its current brainwashing potential, there is a view to the future here: i.e. after we have destroyed ourselves in savagery, environmental rape, and nuclear war, maybe thousands of years later, when the aliens from Alpha Centauri land on this planet thinking they have discovered a place that can harbor life, thinking they might be able to communicate with other sentient entities, they will discover the StoryCorps archives and learn what a profound, emotional and beneficent species we were, and how we loved each other and how we opened ourselves up to each other in kindness and empathy. The aliens will then scratch the appropriate body part in a questioning gesture and ask themselves, if these people were so swell how did they manage to destroy themselves. Hopefully beside the StoryCorps love archives there will be a DVD of the recent political debates.

God or Alien? Who's your judge?

I believe that Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, must have seen that Star Trek episode where Captain Picard is shot in the head by a memory ray from a strange floating time capsule. He has a dream in which he lives a whole life among a kind and generous people from a long extinct planet. The planet, we are led to believe, died from some kind of stellar event outside of its control. The people had put together their little demonstration in order to show future civilizations (or maybe God) that they were indeed “good.”  Hmmm.  Sounds like a desperate plea to me, or maybe simply propaganda.

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