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David Herman said something that I found rather provocative in the article that we read for this week. At several different points in the article he essentially makes the claim that stories shape the systems we have set in place for understanding emotion, if I’m understanding him correctly, which I think I am. His exact phrasing is, “Stories do not just emanate from cultural understandings of emotion but also constitute a primary instrument for adjusting those systems of emotion terms and concepts to lived experience.” (255-256) Towards the end of his essay he says, “…we cannot even have a notion of the felt quality of experience without narrative. ” (256)

I find these claims fascinating. To a certain degree this is a case of the chicken and the egg, what is a result of what, are emotions a reaction to stories, or conversely are stories told in an effort to replicate emotion. This concept is something that has been on my mind since early this summer when I watched the series premier of the AMC show Mad Men. The main character of the show, Don Draper, is sitting at a restaurant with a potential client for his ad agency. The client says that she has always wanted to fall in love. Draper┬ácasts the notion of love aside saying something to the effect of, “Love is a creation of people like me (ad men) to sell products.” This was a particularly arresting statement, especially because I had never really thought of my emotions as being social constructs. I actually hadn’t thought of my life experiences and emotions as anything other than organic.

However, being forced to confront the possiblity that my emotions are actually social constructs that have arisen as the result of stories told to me by parents or other forces in my life has made me confront exactly where emotions might be coming from, especially in an age of mass media. The truth is that emotions are packaged for consumption by mass media, and I use the word “packaged” deliberately because emotions are sold to us in the form of films, songs, and other forms of media. I don’t think that the matter is as simple as emotions are being utilized to sell products, I think it is more that we are being sold products by being told how to feel and what certain emotions (like love) are supposed to feel like.

This has really made me wonder what the consequences of Herman’s assertions are, especially in light of recent technological innovations that have made media (and by extention narratives and sales) an even more fully integrated aespect of our lives.

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