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Our Mainstream Stories

Did you see the mainstream coverage of the Local Entrepreneur Forum in Totnes? The full-page spread and the Sunday magazine feature? The 6 o'clock news segment? The story about a new kind of economic culture emerging, an entrepreneurial culture - innovative, regenerative, collaborative, inclusive, values-led – open-heartedly supported by the community with investments of patient capital, professional expertise, gifted labour, and generous neighbourliness?

We both know you didn't, that there was no such coverage, and that, until this moment, this story remains untold and untransmitted. It was my intention to tell this story because it, like so many thousands (millions?) of inspiring stories flowing from the 'blessed unrest', doesn't fit the editorial criteria of most 'mainstream' media outlets, which most of the time seem more focused on war, crime, scandal, celebrity, and so on.

Just for fun, I've just visited the Guardian website, a pretty good mainstream news organisation as these things go, and found 274 words devoted to a climate change story – 2014 likely the hottest year since records began – and 1525 words telling the story of how the main characters of the News of the World phone-hacking crimes faired in their trial – one convicted, one acquitted. It was also the most viewed story of the day, along with 'US student is rescued from giant vagina sculpture in Germany'. But there are loads of much more entertaining, frustrating, and enervating juxtapositions in the dominant media landscape that illustrate the upside down priorities of our so-called 4th estate.

The mainstream news is one aspect of a larger infotainment/culture-creating industrial complex that has turned 'stories' and 'storytelling' into products and vocations in service of profit and share value maximisation. But if you're reading this blog post, you probably already knew that. And so it's not surprising that the stories that mirror our lives, stories about the Local Entrepreneur Forum, or the gardening project in Dartmouth Park, or all the other stories of people creating communities and alternatives to destructive economics and negative politics, will only be found in the media we create. These stories don't increase shareholder value. They're nutritious, perhaps, but not consumable. They might even be mainstream – who's to say?

But if we're talking about stories, let's talk about some of the words used to frame and construct them. 'Mainstream'. What does this word communicate? Safe, majority, agreed, conventional, normal? The infotainment industrial complex is vast and dominating, so much so it's difficult to avoid its reach. For this reason, it may be that many people across the continent, perhaps even a majority, simply acquiesce but do not accept that the stories propagated reflect anything more than a distortion of real life. Or perhaps it's a Matrix-like brainwashing machine creating real harm, implanting in our tiny brains the stories we repeat to ourselves about our own inadequacies, our impending victimhood, and that there is no alternative. In any case, we deceive ourselves by giving it the innocuous label of 'mainstream'.

In fact, let's re-appropriate this word. If our stories are about people in communities connecting with one another, collaborating to make life together a little better, isn't that normal, isn't that really the mainstream? When Bill McKibbon was in Totnes a few years ago talking about oil companies who's practices and products are changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere, he pointed out that “they are the extremists, we're the conservatives”. When we talk about conventional agriculture vs organic, shouldn't we really be talking about chemical/industrial food vs food? While we're at it, there are many more words in dire need of liberation - 'economics', 'investment', 'entrepreneur', 'energy', 'money', 'citizen'.

This blog is one way we can begin to liberate words and co-create a new mainstream narrative about people working in their communities to create new ways of living and working together. The Transition Free Press is another important channel – a physical, tangible newspaper found in newsstands and cafes, about as mainstream as you can get! These seem important projects worth the investment of time and effort to tell the stories that need to be told, to remind people that there is an alternative, that we have agency as active citizens, and that together we are powerful. Writing these stories is important activism, in my humble opinion, and need real support and a growing audience – subscribe, Tweet and re-Tweet, post and re-post, or join these projects and write stories, too.

I had intended to write a story today about the Local Entrepreneur Forum in Totnes – we just held our 3rd annual last May and did a pretty good job supporting aspiring social and sustainable enterprises with money, expertise, home-cooked meals, and a range of other support. We're beginning to call this event, which is much more than an event, a focal point for community supported entrepreneurism and community generated investment, where everyone can invest, whatever their gifts. There's much more to this story, but unfortunately I'm now out of time. You'll have to 'tune in' again next month.

Images: image re-appropriated from Facebook; 'mainstream' newspaper seller, courtesy Transition Free Press; poster for last month's Local Entrepreneur Forum

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Ben Brangwyn's picture

That made for good reading.

That made for good reading. Thanks for putting it into words and highlighting how our stories and words have been manipulated right in front of our eyes. 

Chris Bird's picture

Taking back our language

Some good points Jay. I've often thought about the use of the word extremist, particularly as I've sometimes been labeled a political / environmental / trade union extremist. Building enough nuclear weapons to enable Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is a reasonable thing to do but opposing them in any but the mildest of ways is extremist. Objecting to a distribution of wealth where the top 1% have more than the bottom 50% is obviously extreme and, most perverse of all, suggesting that we live in a beautiful world and it might be good idea to keep it that way is clearly insane.

So lets take back the word extreme. We already talk about extreme energy - fracking, tar sands etc - how about extreme farming and extreme economics because that's exactly what industrial farming and most economic activity are. As for us being the conservatives - no thanks Bill that's one word they can keep!