Drama? Humour? Mystery? Conflict? Resolution, maybe? Empathy with the character?
Well, any of the above, of course. In fact, you could throw ‘optimism’ into the mix, too – it certainly is a major factor when you’re marketing a product. As the founder of Revlon, Charles Revson, famously put it, in words to the effect of: ‘I don’t sell lipstick. I sell hope.’ And, when it comes to storytelling in general, ‘hope’ is probably closest to the mark.
The Roman statesman Cicero once said ‘While there’s life, there’s hope.’ Anne Frank actually put a more empowering twist on it when she wrote in her Diary, ‘Where there’s hope, there’s life.’ Yes, hope is not only dignified, it’s endearing. Whether it’s the character themselves living on nothing more than hope, or the audience hoping on that character’s behalf, it’s pretty powerful stuff.
As we saw in Shawshank Redemption, when Andy writes in the letter to his friend, ‘Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’
If there’s one thread that weaves magic through a story like no other it’s this: survival against all odds.
It’s what makes us love a good comeback story. When something is ‘remarkable’, it’s worth turning into a folk tale, a movie, a play, song, poem, photograph or art piece. Fact or fiction, human or otherwise, people will never tire of witnessing the ability of the spirit to overcome a challenge. Why? Because it’s life-affirming.
Just think about what it is the following films have in common: Gladiator; Forrest Gump; Down By Law; Erin Brockovich; Kenny; Joe Dirt; Life Is Beautiful; Bad Boy Bubby; Slumdog Millionaire; Invictus; The Blind Side; The Wrestler; or for that matter, any re-working of the Cinderella myth – of which there are many. “You SHALL go to the ball… you WILL make the ball team… ball the cheerleader… grow a set of balls…” Etcetera, etcetera. Whatever the wish may be. Because even the losers get lucky sometimes. The key ingredient is the notion of triumphing over adversity, or surviving it, at least. (Spielberg’s company isn’t called DreamWorks for nothing, you know.)
For all intents and purposes, the American film industry could change its name to HOLLYWOULD because, at the end of the day, they’re in the wish fulfilment business.
But, having said that, it’s not just a case of the media, advertising and Hollywood establishments peddling hope. The demand is there. Deep down, WE want it. We know we do. Empathy kicks in. ‘Hey, that coulda been us out there!’
Somehow we relate to the cheeky challenger brand, the outside chance, the long-shot. Like Seabiscuit. Susan Boyle. The Jamaican Bobsled Team. ‘Doing a Bradbury’ at Salt Lake City. Dorothy in the Emerald City! The same applies whether it’s Charlie Brown, Charlie Bucket or Charlie Chaplin’s resilient Tramp… who doesn’t wanna chalk one up for the little guy?
Naturally, the best hardship stories tend to feature an unusual or unfortunate main character. And, here, is just such an unlikely (yet likeable) hero. Meet: The Auditor.
You can read the original article by Matt Vincent (High Country News, December 9, 2002) then follow the links to see the makings of a real legend. Our tale begins in Big Sky Country. So, moving to Montana now for what I can only describe as: not your usual shaggy dog story.
- The Montana Standard (by a staff writer), November 20, 2003
- The Montana Standard (by Leslie McCartney), November 20, 2003
- The Montana Standard (by Matt Vincent), November 20, 2003
- Helena Independent Record (by Thad Kelling), December 15, 2005
- Montana Living (by Glenn Himebaugh), February 20, 2009
- Smartdogs, March 17, 2009
- One Bark at a Time, March 19, 2009
- Mother Nature Network (by Soren Wheeler), March 24, 2009
- ohmidog (by John Woestendiek), November 2, 2010
- Roadside America, July 1, 2011
What’s YOUR favourite underdog story or film?