The theft of “Storytelling”

I grew up a reader and writer of stories, and to the best of my knowledge, the word “storytelling” did not mean what it is taken to mean today in advertising and marketing circles. It seems to have been appropriated by commercial interests.

I hate that when I search for jobs using the word “storyteller”, all the results I get are jobs in advertising or marketing and even PR. Apparently, they are looking for “passionate storytellers” who can “tell stories” about brands.

I used to find it bothersome. Now it makes me positively nauseous. And I am sure I can’t be the only one.

I am reminded of what Ursula Le Guin said of writing:

To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies.

I have nothing against advertisement. But the need among advertisers and marketers to refer to themselves as storytellers speaks to a certain self-loathing. It is as if they are afraid to say that they are looking for people who can write ads and people who can use their skill with words to help them sell things and services.

Call it advertising for fuck’s sake! Because it is advertising, and marketing, and PR. The one thing it is not, and never has been, is storytelling.

What is also sad is that a lot of storytellers — people who have characters and worlds and unending creativity within them, can’t make a living doing the things they want to do. So at one point of time or another, they too land up on a job site and type in “storyteller” or “writer” or “creative”.

What follows is an inevitable tumble down a rabbit hole at the other end of which is a universe populated by “clients” and “brands” who need their “stories” to be told. Never mind the fact that these “stories” are almost always either corporate propaganda or just plain old salesmanship. But they all want “passionate storytellers” to perform these tasks.

I dislike this. A lot.

If you are a storyteller — someone who feels the tug of untold tales inside them all day long — don’t undersell yourself by starting to define yourself by these roles. Do the job, write the copy, but never ever forget that you are essentially whoring yourself out to the highest-paying client. Work on your craft, and leave as soon as you can, with as much of your soul as possible.

Unless you love the work of course. In which case have the decency to call yourself a marketer or an advertiser or whatever it is that you actually do.