National narratives, the stories we tell ourselves in order to make sense of the world and our place in it, are constantly changing.
A character in any story earns and lives up to her identity not just as an individual, but as part of group. Those group or collective narratives are moving into new territories.
Here are several examples of changing national narratives:
Post 9/11 melancholy … Both recent Avengers movies, Infinity War and Endgame – the 2nd and 3rd most popular films of all time – as well as films like Black Panther and Toy Story 3 are laced with loss and sadness. All the contemplative silences and coming to terms with life passages is more than we usually see. Even the action seems several degrees grimmer than the slap-happy fighting of Adam West, Batroc and Paste-Pot Pete. Recurring scenarios of sweeping massive destruction in these stories are also new, and do not bode well for the future.
Those films’ emphasis on the group show that we are moving on from the patriot hero, the lone cowboy, the lone detective and his cousin, the lone crime-fighter.
The 1619 project, Tyler Perry, and such tv shows Fresh Off the Boat and Nora From Queens help to fulfill the new wave ‘Empire Writes Back’ directive to show the American experience from diverse cultural perspectives. Include such films as Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon.
China — The complex Chinese national narrative certainly is in some kind of progression, from 80 years ago (modernize, seek world domination) to 30 years ago (fear and crush invaders, seek world domination) to now (build the world’s roads, fear and crush invaders, seek world domination, smile).
Last year’s most popular movie in the Middle Kingdom was “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” the story of a Chinese battalion repelling foreign-invader Americans in the Korean War. Recently. Chinese premier Xi Jinping politely asked his countrymen to project a more ‘loveable’ image as they interact with other nations.
James Bond’s attempts to reincarnate the British Empire feel less authentic to the current moment than Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s downbeat “Fleabag,” which has nothing to do with empire and everything to do with making the best of one’s situation, no matter how humble. A far cry from King Arthur.
In his new illustrated multicultural adventure, “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter,” author Tom Durwood offers a deep and engaging look at Egypt and its formation. The national story of Egypt has always featured the resilience of authoritarian regimes, according the scholar Laurie A. Brand, In her recent book, “Official Stories,” she argues that tales of the Pharoahs or recent rebellions can be used to reinforce current regimes, and deserve careful exploration.
In Durwood’s story, an empowered female heroine (Salima) takes on the class divisions exploited by foreign investors during the construction of the Suez Canal. It is a new take on Egypt, and an unusual story for young adults, delivering the kind of enriched content that can help students in History classes and on SAT tests.
“What better way to educate the youth,” writes Fatima Sharafeddine in her Foreword to the book, “about historical events that shaped our past and cast their influence on our present.”