Impact of Narratives on Mediating the World

Narratives are present in all aspects of life, and they have always had the power to transmit a wide range of emotions and feelings, from excitement and inspiration to rage and frustration. These emotions can be used to encourage people to take certain actions or, on the contrary, to make them remain silent and passive. Politicians and other prominent figures often use narratives to mediate the world, but this approach can also be found in many other areas of life, implemented by individuals in their daily lives. This essay will analyze some ways in which people use narratives to mediate the social, political, and physical world.

In his book On Bullshit, Frankfurt discusses Max Black’s definition of the word “humbug”, comparing it to the term “bullshit”. Analyzing the meaning of these terms can be considered as one of the many ways to see the influence of narratives in the modern world. For example, “deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying” are two elements of Black’s definition that can help to understand how narratives can be used to impose opinions and beliefs that may not be reliable or truthful (Frankfurt, 2009, p. 46). The effect of these narratives can often be enhanced by the use of “pretentious word or deed”, which can make some people be more impressed by an utterance or an action (Frankfurt, 2009, p. 46). A good example of this can be seen in the Simpsons episode Lisa the Iconoclast; in his famous speech, Springfield founder Jebediah Springfield uses the word “embiggen”. Another neologism featured in this episode is “cromulent”, also repeated in the episode several times. While these words were used as a joke, they did make the characters sound pretentious and important. It can be suggested that this, in turn, made the audience believe the speeches pronounced in that manner were truthful.

Frankfurt, however, provides another interesting point regarding the sincerity of such narratives. While sounding “pretentious” and expressing beliefs that are “short of lying”, the speaker may not be deliberately telling a lie. Instead, narratives often express views that represent an individual’s state of mind. The narrative of Jebediah Springfield involved many people who chose to believe in and accept a misrepresented image of a national hero even after they had discovered that he was in fact a murderous pirate. It can be argued that their devotion was largely a result of their desire to be seen as noble and patriotic citizens. Their willingness to believe something was not based on what they actually believed, but rather on the image they wanted to preserve about themselves. This is one example of how narratives are used as political instruments to achieve certain goals, including legitimizing the state.

Another example of this can be seen in a different episode of the Simpsons: Mr. Lisa goes to Washington. In a scene where Lisa reads her essay at the children’s essay contest, one of the judges is seen to mark her performance according to several elements, one of which appears to be “Jingoism”. While this is clearly supposed to mock the standards of the contest, the scene also shows the expectations that have embedded within the system of education, as well as the social and cultural contexts. Lisa’s essay has a powerful impact on the audience, and this is achieved through the choice of words and expressions in her narrative. However, after she sees a Congressman taking a bribe, she loses her faith in democracy and writes a different essay, exposing the Congressman and claiming that the entire political system in Washington is corrupt. Once again, her speech has a significant impact, which results in the Congressman’s imprisonment and re-established public confidence in democracy.

This shows the impact that narratives can have when used as political instruments. Whether the information presented by the speaker is objectively and ultimately truthful is not always the focus of the audience. The assertiveness and confidence with which it is presented often play a much greater role in terms of convincing the audience. Determining if a narrative is deceptive can also be challenging, but some distinguishing characteristics can help. For example, since Lisa sincerely believed in democratic values at first, she cannot be called a liar, even though eventually she claimed her own essay to be a lie.

In the “Kamp Krusty” episode narratives were also used to mediate the physical world. When Bart and Lisa see the television commercial advertising Kamp Krusty, they are excited to go there, because the camp seems to provide many entertaining activities that can be interesting for children. When they arrive at the camp, however, the reality proves to be far worse. They found nothing of what they had been promised by the television commercial and Krusty’s advertisements. In this case, the narrative can be considered a lie, because it initially intended to attract children to the camp through false advertising.

It can be concluded that narratives have a powerful impact in mediating the world. If an individual is skilled in presenting a certain narrative, they can change people’s opinion about many questions and issues, shaping the beliefs and values of the society. That is why the implications of the narrative always have to be taken into account, and each element of it has to be analyzed in terms of the assumptions it makes regarding different people and events.


Frankfurt, H. G. (2009). On bullshit. Princeton University Press.

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