From the story to the narrative

“The prime minister visited Thessaloniki to inaugurate the new narrative,” said a reporter on a mainstream television channel. The report obviously belonged to that category of newspeople who tend to confuse the facts out there with their inner emotions and biases – a trait most common among sports journalists. But of course we have grown used to this, just like so many other things.

So the “story” – and especially the much-hyped “success story” – appears to have been succeeded by this new word, “narrative.” Since discovering the concept, Greek politicians and pundits have been using it even more than writers and critics. “Narrative” is flashier; it carries more weight. However, no term, pompous as it may be, is enough to convey significance or prestige just by the virtue of its being uttered or put on paper.

For a narrative to truly be a fully-fledged narrative, it requires vision, a clear plan and solid characters – unlike the shadows and caricatures that we have to put up with today.

Furthermore, to support a narrative, you need to be consistent in style (you cannot practice naturalist and automatic writing at the same time, just like you cannot impose austerity and at the same time speak of a dominant and prosperous nation).

Finally, it requires a language that is concise, clear and literal – that is, the exact opposite of a language that is full of vague promises. During his Thessaloniki address, Antonis Samaras reportedly said “I shall” more than 130 times. No one bothered to count the times the government’s No. 2, PASOK’s Evangelos Venizelos, uttered the phrase.

The leader and the deputy leader of the coalition appeared to draw from a bottomless well of optimism that failed to strike a chord with public sentiment. The conservative leader forecast and announced a happier 2014 based on selective and questionable statistical evidence: a primary budget surplus (of 2.6 billion euros that was revised down to 1.1 billion a week later), a small drop in the unemployment rate (which however remains stubbornly above 27 percent and over 60 percent among young people) and a smaller recession.

For his part, Venizelos said that we have covered some four-fifths of the distance at a time when hundreds of thousands of Greeks – with one or two unemployed per family, with one or two part-time workers and the Greek welfare state in tatters – can hardly see any meaningful future ahead.

If only things were half as good as our leaders presented them to be in their fairy-tale narrative. And if only words could change reality for the better.

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