Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tall tales

I've been thinking a lot about the whole Malcolm Gladwell "perverse and often baffling" story and the medium through which it was presented.

This place called the Moth strikes me as an interesting contemporary phenomenon that looks back to the oral tradition that used to be such an important component of life. The Moth is a stage in New York where people gather to tell both true stories and the occasional tall tale, but it is all presented as non-fiction for the added entertainment that suspended disbelief brings.

There was a time when storytelling held an important place in society. Of course, it is still very important, but through the mediums of books, television and movies instead of by vocal delivery.

So, I think that what the Moth and its performers are doing is great.

While I'm home for the month of May, I'm working for the Globe (Joplin's daily newspaper) as a stringer, which is kind of one step above a freelancer, because I'm actually on call for assignments.

I was covering a story about a ceremony for a Confederate soldier who had previously had an unmarked grave. The cemetery recently received a standard, government-issue headstone to mark the grave, so they were holding a memorial.

As I was on my way, I was thinking about the hilarity of Gladwell's fictional account, and I was wondering how he had come up with that tall tale. Then I realized that his story was based on a kernel of truth and an active imagination...

While I was thinking this over, I arrived at the cemetery. Looking around, I saw the customary green tent that is so familiar at cemeteries. I was right on time, according to the information I had been given about the event, but apparently they had already started.

Seeing that the information I had was inaccurate, I realized that I had to move fast to get my sources. This was compounded by the fact that a tornado was reportedly fast approaching, and everyone was understandably anxious to leave.

So, I approached the woman who was obviously role playing as the soldier's widow. (The historical group who was putting on this ceremony had staged a similar event for a Union soldier the last two years, and they had made sort of a dramatic production out of it.)

"Hi, I'm Seth Putnam with the Joplin Globe," I said. "Can you tell me a little bit about how this memorial service came to be and why it's important to commemorate this man?"

She gave me a stricken look and tried to say something.

I looked over at the memorial and pictures of the deceased, and it slowly dawned on me that this was...a real funeral.

1 comment:

Me said...

oh holy shit, putnam.

do tell the rest...?