Every once in a while a book comes along that changes your life.
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman was one such book. Another is The Alphabet vs. The Goddess by Leonard Shlain.
Shlain is a neurosurgeon, trained in psychiatry who turned his considerable talents to understanding the intersection between culture and physiology, among other things. The Alphabet vs. The goddess is a study of our own transition from an image based culture to a print based culture – the rise of alphabets and writing.
The emergence of alphabets and writing, Shlain notes, paralleled the demise of female ‘goddess’ cultures and the rise of male dominated linear cultures. The ten commandments, Shlain notes, one of the first markers of a written religion, start with the commandment ‘thou shalt make no graven images’. Muslim culture specifically forbids images of any kind.
This, Shlain points out, is left brain v. right brain. The male oriented left brain- the world of writing, vs. the female, holistic, image based right brain. In our culture, left brain has definitely dominated, until now.
Television is an image based medium.
Right brain. Female.
But we have approached it in a very left brain masculine way: ie, write the scripts first and then lay down the narration then cover with the pictures.
In our TCA workshops we have been reversing the process: That is, lay in all the pictures first – tell the story in pictures and when you are done, put in the soundbites and then lastly write the narration to match the visual story you have already constructed.
Because we are working on Final Cut Pro, we are able to lay the narration directly into our computers, narrating in real time as we watch the story go by. Thus, instead of heading to a sealed recording booth and reading off a piece of paper (left brain), we are watching the story in pictures and story telling to the pictures as we watch them (right brain).
As we work in this way, I have been observing a very curious phenomenon: there is a disconnect between the stories people lay out visually and those they write. The ‘written’ script often does not match the picture story. The ‘written’ script tends to be fact filled, a bit tedious and authoritative. The ‘picture story’ tends to be far more emotional, evocative and personal. Left brain v. right brain?
What we have discovered is that when we drive the stories by pictures first, the people crafting the stories tell a far better and more compelling tale – great storytelling first. When we make the narrative follow the visual storytelling, (as opposed to a written script that often fights it), we get much better and more intimate (and more interesting) stories.
As our own major media (television and the web) move from text to images, we might also, as a culture, be shifting from a male dominated left brain world to a far more feminine right brain world. It’s possible.
If Hillary Clinton becomes President, maybe it will be because we are all becoming a more image driven, right brain, emotive and emotional culture. Could be?
If that is the case, Len Shlain may well have shown us the pathway back to an image based world.
Get the book. Take a look. It makes for very interesting reading – for both sides of your brain.