May 12, 2016

Tragedy Story Example: What would be your verdict?

We have an independent cinema in Sheffield, called the Showroom.

The Showroom tends to show different films to the mainstream cinemas. I like going because they tend to show lesser-known European films.

We went to see a French film on Tuesday, called Evolution. This was all we could gather from the 30 second trailer, which tells you nothing whatsoever.

It turns out that Evolution is about an island where mermaid mutants groom and violate young boys. It is never explained where the boys came from or how they got there.

Part-way through the film the boys are systematically marched to a ‘hospital’, where they are injected with a baby mermaid foetus. The boys then get horribly sick, until the baby mermaid is ripped out of them in a life-ending procedure.

(Who would have predicted that from the trailer, right?)

If you remember our story archetypes from a few weeks ago I was convinced this had to be an ‘overcoming the monster’ plot. Surely there would be an uprising; a great escape?

But no. The monster eventually overcomes itself when one of the mutants takes pity on the lead character and swims him away to safety.

It became very obvious half way through the film that the film contained plenty of gore but absolutely no plot. And no plot is unsatisfactorily where it ended.

The second film I watched this week was a feature-length BBC documentary on the Hillsborough disaster.

I don’t actually remember the Hillsborough disaster; I was only three and a half at the time. I did however grow up near Liverpool.

My understanding of the disaster has always been that the police opened a side exit to relieve pressure outside the Liverpool turnstiles. With the game already under way fans flooded in. The most obvious place to go was down the tunnel in front of them in to the already-packed central pens, causing a crush at the front.

That much about the story is basically known.

Liverpudlians are notoriously vocal about their city, their club and their family. This is often a virtue, but with the ‘campaign for justice’ I had always thought they were just off on one.

Surely there could be no justice for the 96 people who died?

It seems the quietest place in Hillsborough that day was in the police control box overlooking the crammed terrace. The man in charge that day was David Duckenfield. And David Duckenfield had frozen.

Under pressure from panicked officers outside the ground, Duckenfield authorised the decision to open the exit gate with the words ‘do what you need to do’. No decisions were made to close off the central pens, or to delay kick-off.

The critical part however is what came next.

FA chief executive Graham Kelly; whose decision it was to hire the stadium, enters the police control box and asks Duckenfield what happened. Duckenfield tells him that a mob of Liverpool fans stormed the exit gate and flooded illegally into the ground.

Shortly afterwards this information is announced on BBC news, and by the BBC match commentator that day, John Motson. The lie is now out in the public domain.

The people that died that day were moved to the stadium’s gymnasium. Chief coroner Dr Stefan Popper decided to take the blood alcohol levels of the dead.

In a disaster of this type this is unprecedented.

It would turn out later that statements taken from individual police officers on duty that day were altered and sanitised. This would prove key in finally establishing, 26 years later, that Liverpool fans held no blame in the disaster.

So I get it now.

The Hillsborough enquiry wasn’t about picking apart what happened. It was about exonerating innocent people of the blame they had been tarnished with by the police and the media. It was about holding people like David Duckenfield finally accountable for the lie that was perpetrated.

Not accountable for the event, necessarily. But accountable for the 26-year response to the event.

I think Hillsborough is the ultimate tragedy plot. We have innocent victims in an avoidable event. We have a dark character (Duckenfield) who started the day with good intentions but slipped into darkness once the lies about the event had been told. The nightmare stage of the plot then went on for 26 years.

I have related these two film write ups as a contrast. The first film, Evolution, contained no story whatsoever. The second film about Hillsborough is possibly the best example I can give you of the tragedy story archetype.

I had forgotten about the Evolution film the second I stepped out of the cinema. I’m still thinking about the Hillsborough story now. That is the power of a story archetype.

If you want to create stories that last, use the archetypes.

We’ll continue with email marketing basics tomorrow.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.