Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Hierarchy and Archetypes

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I kind of think there is a hierarchy of the interview, and as an interviewer, that hierarchy is important to me to understand the stories society tells and how those stories move within society.  I think there are five primary storytellers in society.  Five equally important movers of stories; archetypes.  Without any one of them, I don’t think stories could be created with the richness we now know them, nor could they be transmitted to all of us the way they are.  And I don’t think this is a rehashing of the greek formula of storyline arc or character development per se.  Below are those five groups as I believe they exist in society and storytelling.

1.  The Powerful – These people initiate society.  They collect resources, whether money, force or coercion, or political impetus.  And they distribute those resources to and through the rest of society with society’s consent.  They have this power on a continium, and I think they include police, politicians, judges, legislatures, the military, the clergy, etc.  Maybe CEOs.  I think they are either granted power by the society, or claim it from a source they say is higher than society with society not disputing their authority to do so.  They have the power to dictate and punish.  I think they are both admired and feared but its important to say the ranks of the powerful shift and those who were powerful may find it slipping away while those who were never powerful may find it flowing into them.  These transitions can be dangerous or opportunities for growth.

2.  The Expert – The powerful are not always experts.  In fact, the powerful’s power is mostly political.  They need the expert to give their positions and dictates legitimacy.  At base, I believe the expert interprets the acts and motives of the powerful to the rest of society, within limits set by the powerful.  So the expert has influence, but no real ability to enforce as does the powerful.  But the experts ability to influence comes from their skill at examining all around us and reporting it to us who don’t have time or ability to do it ourselves.  I think we tend to need and trust experts for what they tell us even as we tend to also revile them for what some call their sometimes distance and arrogance.  Included in this group, I believe, are mostly scientists and all types thereof to include researchers and physicians. Pundits, journalists and think tanks too.  And of course, lawyers.

3.  The Celebrity –   Although the powerful and the expert may be celebrities, the celebrity tends to be adored even by the powerful and the expert.  The celebrity represents an ideal; an image of perfection that society seeks to copy and claim for itself.   In this respect, I think the celebrity may hold the most honored place in society even though they too may not have the power to force or the ability to dictate or punish.  Like the scientist, I think they can influence masses, but only toward society’s own desire for a best popular hope rather than toward its best practical interest.  And I think and believe the celebrity is a pressure release valve for society.  They distract the other four groups from more serious issues with their ability to entertain.  That’s why I think the other groups react so badly when a celebrity tries to speak with authority on an issue, as happened with the Dixie Chicks in the 90s.  Society needs the celebrity to do a certain thing only, although if gently coaxed, celebrities can move their adorers in a direction with the power of that adoration.  I think celebrities include artists of all types, to include writers, musicians, actors, dancers, scupltors, painters, etc.  Athletes and daredevils too.  And I think, in some cases, the celebrity and the expert can be kindred spirits in that one seeks truth with logic while the other seeks truth with inspiration.  But each of their essences is to seek truth.

4.  The Underclass – I think that traditionally, the power of this group comes as a result of the moral outrage of the other groups at the injustices the underclass suffers.  Without the support of other groups, mainly against the powerful, I believe the underclass would have no voice.  The underclass tend to suffer at the hands of the powerful as they are the group most distant from and unlike the powerful.   This group includes the outcast which may also include, women, racial and cultural minorities, the poor, the uneducated or undereducated, the handicapped, the imprisoned, the unemployed, the homeless and many more subgenres.  People in this group may become a celebrity of sorts for their activism.  But in general, without a celebrity of their own, or the support of other groups, I think the underclass is mostly voiceless and powerless.

5.  Hoi Polloi – This is Greek, and means the great mass of people who, in general, are not celebrities, the underclass, experts or the powerful.  This overwhelming segment of society is what I think gives society it slowness to change.  It is the keeper of society’s values. I think it is the muscle behind society’s work and it is the individual, mostly silent and preoccupied with daily necessities.   I believe it tends to be unfocused, untapped and easily distracted.  But when mobilized, usually through the influence of one or more of the other four groups, I think this group can initiate ignition for any push in any direction, but only for a short time.  I think this group is the group all other groups respect and fear for different reasons.  The expert fears being delegitimized or ignored; the powerful fear being dethroned; the celebrity fears being unloved and the underclass fear being outcast even more.  And amongst the hoi polloi are factions that tend to lean more toward one group.  For instance, a single, middle class police officer is not the institution and bureaucracy of the police, but they do have limited power afforded them.  So they may be in two worlds.  As would be a Army Reservist, a member of Doctors without Borders, the Heritage Foundation, or the Screen Actors Guild.

So the stories of each of these groups are not only unique in their own right, but especially unique where any two groups cross.  As when someone from the underclass becomes a celebrity, or vice versa, like O.J. Simpson.  Or when a member of the hoi polloi becomes the powerful, like Lech Walensa, leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the late 80s.  Or when a celebrity becomes powerful, like Ronald Reagan or Vaclav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia.  Or when the powerful are brought down by the underclass, aka Former French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss Kahn.  Or when the powerful and the middle class intersect, as did Senator John McCain and Joe the Plumber.  Or when the powerful and the expert clash, as are insurance companies and government.   The former is rewriting policies to reflect climate change while the latter resists the discussion for fear of alienating constituencies with financial interests.

The chance to hear and tell these stories are everywhere because the groups are permanent in the structure of human society.  I look for the groups and I look for where they compliment and collide because our life is short, and we must move among and think about each other to live.  And the more we do, the richer our own lives.  I look for these stories because I love these stories.


Written by Interviewer

December 16, 2012 at 04:26

Posted in Scratchpad

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