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Stories Are the Engine That Drives Culture—and Changes It

Story is the engine that drives culture. That means that changing any aspect of culture requires telling new stories.

Stories are the truths a society believes in: Love conquers all. Honesty is the best policy. The good guys always win. We know these aren't universally true; the real world is much more complicated. But the stories we see and hear influence how we see the world. Story is the engine that drives culture.

That means that changing any aspect of culture requires telling new stories.

It can be done; it's been done. Mary Tyler Moore showed the world a single career woman in the 1970s, when female involvement in the workforce was mostly confined to jobs like teacher, secretary, or nurse. In showing that it was possible, she gave many women the strength to live their own lives that way. In the 1990s, Ellen DeGeneres and Will & Grace painted sympathetic pictures of gay people, and planted the seed of acceptance for marriage equality that continues to grow twenty years later.

But the time has come to take that narrative into our own hands. For many long decades, our culture has been held fast in the grip of media owned by a privileged few. Television networks, film studios, and publishers alone held the power to make culture.

And the stories we've been told have been limited in scope and inclusiveness, bearing more insidious, toxic messages: that sexy women are stupid; men are terrible with babies and children; gay men are always great with fashion; and black women are inevitably sassy. Not to mention commercials, little stories in between the stories, suggesting that happiness lies forever just at your fingertips, waiting only for you to buy the next phone or car or lipstick.

But now, anyone can make culture. You can write a blog or self-publish a novel. You can record your own web series and send it around on YouTube. You can post your own web comics, your own music, your own ideas. And in every one, you can plant the seeds of change, by showing the world as it could be.

What change do you want to make? What story do you want to tell?


This is part of a series of posts examining the idea time and imagining our collective future. Go here to tell us your wish for the future and we'll bury it in a time capsule.

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

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