Deep stories, nostalgia narratives, and fake news: Storytelling in the Trump era

Abstract

Characterizing Trump supporters either as “duped” by Fox News or as speaking from their lived experience misses the fact that both are true. We draw on scholarship on narrative and on the media to trace the ways in which elite-produced stories simultaneously reflect and forge a political common sense. We argue that narrative’s allusiveness (the fact that stories work by calling up other stories) helps to explain why stories produced by media elites come to feel as if they reflect people’s experience. The fact that people often share stories as a way of building collective identity, for its part, helps to explain why stories’ plausibility may be relatively unimportant to those people. Both features of storytelling are intrinsic to the form, but their political effects have been sharpened by two significant changes in the media landscape: the rise of right-wing media outlets and the profusion of user-shared digital news. We trace these developments as a way to make sense of Trump’s electoral support.

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Acknowledgements

Our thanks to the editors, two anonymous reviews, Edwin Amenta, Colin Bernatsky, Tania DoCarmo, Shela Duong, and Kelly Ward for their valuable advice on revising the article. Polletta also thanks her fellow members of the Successful Societies Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Study for helping her to develop some of the ideas in the article.

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Correspondence to Francesca Polletta.

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Polletta, F., Callahan, J. Deep stories, nostalgia narratives, and fake news: Storytelling in the Trump era. Am J Cult Sociol 5, 392–408 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41290-017-0037-7

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Keywords

  • politics
  • narrative
  • media
  • public opinion