There is a growing trend in American culture of what the literary theorist Peter Brooks calls “storification.” Since the turn of the millennium, he argues in his new book, Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative, we’ve relied too heavily on storytelling conventions to understand the world around us, which has resulted in a “narrative takeover of reality” that affects nearly every form of communication—including the way doctors interact with patients, how financial reports are written, and the branding that corporations use to present themselves to consumers. Meanwhile, other modes of expression, interpretation, and comprehension, such as analysis and argument, have fallen to the wayside.
The danger of this arises when the public fails to understand that many of these stories are constructed through deliberate choices and omissions. Enron, for instance, duped people because it was “built uniquely on stories—fictions, in fact … that generated stories of impending great wealth,” Brooks writes. Other recent scams, like those pulled off by Purdue Pharma, NXIVM, and Anna Delvey, succeeded because people fell for tales the perpetrators spun. In other words, we could all benefit from a lesson in close reading and a dose of skepticism.