The Role of Story

During Our Early Identity Development

I continue reading Finding Truth in Fiction: What Fan Culture Gets Right–And Why It’s Good to Get Lost in a Story (Oxford Press). Chapter 6 spotlights the important role story plays during our early years as our identity develops and inspired the following writing, which features my 14-year-old son’s story choice and related identity development implications.

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In reading Chapter 6 of Finding Truth in Fiction: What Fan Culture Gets Right–And Why It’s Good to Get Lost in a Story by Karen Dill-Shackleford and Cynthia Vinney, which covers identity development from early childhood through adolescence, I began to think about my own 14-year-old son’s (Brandon) media consumption choices and influences in recent months.

I decided to read a few pages from Chapter 6 to Brandon, which were specific to discussing where fiction fits into our lives.

In those insightful pages, authors Dill-Shackleford and Vinney explain fictional stories accessed by adolescents through mass media can give them opportunities to discover new things.

Brandon agreed with this latter statement and then proceeded to share his strong interest in The Expanse, a science fiction-themed Amazon series set in space 200 years from now, with me. He went on to explain how the series showcases three primary worlds (that of Earth, Mars, and “The Belt”)  constantly at odds with each other over (limited) resources and space itself.

Brandon then revealed that watching The Expanse series made him realize the squabbling and bickering between the fictional space worlds on the show is akin to what’s happening in own modern-day world(s) where he says he’s observed much of the same bickering happening right here on Earth: China and the U.S. with their trade wars, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, and so on.

When asked how this observation and realization impacted his various perspectives on values, attitudes, and beliefs (a subject discussed in length throughout Chapter 6), Brandon did not offer as much insight and only shared how such observations leave him feeling rather helpless or powerless.

My thoughts

Brandon’s sharing made me realize that while he’s probably not ever delved into deep thought about how his preferred fictional narrative may be impacting his life’s views and his own identity beyond what he shared (it will be interesting to see if or how he does in time), his uncertainty about such matters underscores Chapter 6’s notion that it may be a challenge for people to see the role story has played in who they are.

Moreover, while Brandon still has some life ahead to experience and grow, the opportunity for him to (later/eventually) leverage ideas or inspirations drawn from the fictional Expanse series remains.

This is in line with Dill-Shackleford’s and Vinney’s (2020) view that identity doesn’t just happen overnight; it develops throughout our lives as we grow, learn, and change. Yet because we spend our lives surrounded by stories, it’s entirely possible that the impact of watching The Expanse series may have some influence on Brandon’s mindset and identity development over time.

The Media Practice Model (MPM)

In so far as Brandon’s media consumption experience where the Expanse series is concerned, the fact that Brandon’s not yet fully processed how the series has or is shaping his views and beliefs also speaks to the idea that Brandon’s not yet passed the second step of the Media Practice Model (MPM) founded by researchers Jeanne Steele and Jane Brown.

The first step of this model focuses on selection, and in Brandon’s case, the media option he chose to consume is a fictional video series set into the future.

MPM’s second step focuses on interaction engagement where the viewer interprets and evaluates the messages media communicate. As noted, Brandon leveraged the idea of fighting and competing worlds to our modern-day geo/socio/political climate, thus “seeing” how the battle for mindshare and resources is real in everyday life, not just in fictional space.

In Brandon’s case, however, I posit that the third step of the MPM — where we apply what we’ve taken from our experiences with media in our daily lives (p. 14) — hasn’t fully materialized. This last step of the MPM is, in Brandon’s case and in my view from my understanding of the model, either remains latent or is to slowly unfold as his identity continues to grow.

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References

Dill-Shackleford, K.E., & Vinney, C. (2020). Finding truth in fiction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Reysen, S., & Branscombe, N. R. (2010). Fanship and fandom: Comparisons between sport and non-sport fans. Journal of Sport Behavior33(2), 176.

Steele, J. R., & Brown, J. D. (1995). Adolescent room culture: Studying media in the context of everyday life. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24(5), 551-576.

The expanse. (TV series 2015– ). (2015, November 23). IMDb. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3230854.

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Photo credits

© Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

Please share any questions or feedback in the comments below.

Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

Photo credits:
Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

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