Bury It and Rise Above: Chvrches’ “Bury It” Video, Kishotenketsu, and Race

Chvrches’ Bury It video is a great example of something called Kishotenketsu, which I talked about last week. 

Here’s a refresher: kishotenketsu is a mostly Japanese story structure that doesn’t rely on conflict to creat interest. It has four acts:

Ki – Introduction

Sho – Development

Ten – Twist

Ketsu – Conclusion 

Ki – the three young people (animated versions of the band Chvrches: Lauren, Iain, and Martin) are standing on a rooftop looking at a pile of random-looking items they’ve gathered. Lauren raises her hands and concentrates.

Sho – Lauren lifts some of the items telekinetically, holding several up at once. Iain and Martin join in, making individual items spin or lift.

Ten – (animated version of) Haley appears on a nearby rooftop. Random items float up in front of her, forming floating stepping stones, and she walks across the gap between the buildings. She then shows Lauren, Iain, and Martin just how much can be done with their power, including encasing herself in a ball of light and flying.

Ketsu – Lauren, Iain, and Martin join her, and they fly through the city together, happily, fully, embracing their abilities/creativity/identities.

There’s no conflict in the video, although when Haley first appears, she’s introduced the way enemies often are in comics and animation. Animated Iain almost falls when he tries to fly, then catches himself and flies off to join the others, but nobody sabotaged him, and it was a moment, not the main plot of the story.

I believe the story in the “Bury It” video closely follows the kishotenketsu form, whether anybody on the creative team intended it to or not.

There’s one more thing I love about this video: the parent carrying a baby, who was endangered by Iain’s near-fall was a black father. In the past, that would have universally been a white mother.

Black men haven’t been seen as parental in popular culture until recently. Neither were white men, but it was far worse with black men. Little things add up, and every subversion of the “savage black man” and “not a father” stereotypes (invented to justify slavery in the Americas and conquest in Africa) is a good thing, in my mind.

Did I mention I love this video?

Advertisements

Kishotenketsu, Story Structure, and the Nonviolent Imagination 


What is Kishotenketsu? It’s a four-act story structure characterized by a twist in the middle. 

As you can guess by the name, it’s Asian, originating in Chinese poetry and developing in many forms of Japanese poetry and storytelling.  It’s the story structure Studio Ghibli often uses in its films. 

But why should we care? Because unlike western story structures, Kishotenketsu is not rooted in conflict, and doesn’t rely on conflict to maintain interest. 

That isn’t to say that it excludes conflict, but that it doesn’t require it like the typical western storytelling. 

I’m not alone in my belief that we in the western world are primed (through a “mean world” viewpoint) to support war and nationalism by the stories we hear  from early childhood on. 

Western storytelling’s three-act structure is pure conflict: 1) introduce conflict 2) escalate conflict, 3) resolve conflict. And when conflict is resolved, at least somebody is going to lose, to suffer some kind of harm, be it physical or emotional or social.

Traditional three-act storytelling comes down to winners and losers, and I think we can do better. 

Kishotenketsu is a tool to help me do better, as a writer, yes, but also as a person in general. My nonviolent imagination needs nourishing,  just like everyone else’s. 

Kishotenketsu helps me imagine story structures that aren’t just boring navel gazing,  stories where things happen, even action things, but where the very heart of the story isn’t a struggle or conflict.

It’s also helps me imagine win-win situations, situations where conflict can be averted by reconciliation of opposites.

And it’s helped me learn to write short stories, which is something that completely escaped my understanding before 2017.

I think that’s enough for now: I’ll be revisiting this topic soon.

Argument Is War

St. Nicholas punching Arius as the Council of Nicea, 325 AD

St. Nicholas punching Arius as the Council of Nicea, 325 AD

I’ve been talking about Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (you can read my first post here). It’s been an eye-opener, seeing how (largely unconscious) cultural metaphors can shape the very way we think about topics.

The very first conceptual metaphor they discuss is: “ARGUMENT IS WAR.”

They back this up with the following phrases: (pg 4)
“Your claims are indefensible.”
“He attacked every weak point in my argument.”
“His criticisms were right on target.”
“I’ve never won an argument with him.”

This is how we speak of arguments. We don’t think we’re talking metaphorically, the way we would if we said something colorful like, “Man, I lost that debate big-time. I was Bambi, and he was Godzilla.”

But our unconscious metaphors are powerful, and they put limits on how we think about certain concepts. If we think argument is war (or similar to war), even subconsciously, then we think in terms of winners and losers. We think in terms of weapons and tactics. We think in terms of winning at all costs.

We certainly don’t think in terms of vulnerability, humility, and opening oneself up to the possibility of learning something new.

That’s why a person can be very educated, have witnessed or been a part of many debates and arguments, and still have a narrow, unchangeable set of views. I’m not just talking to conservatives, here. I’ve seen it from friends from both sides of the aisle.

Even before I started reading Metaphors We Live By, I’d been wondering if there was anything worthwhile in ‘winning the argument’ or ‘defeating our opponents.’ Especially in the sense of Christian apologetics (or worse, doctrinal debates between Christians).

I’d been wondering if all this verbal conquest and victory and domination wasn’t just as much a tool of Empire as physical conquest and domination were.

I’d been wondering whether it ever changed people’s hearts, or whether it just engendered enmity.

What if we could look at argument through different eyes?

What if we could see an argument, not as a war, but as a dance? (pg 4)

What if we could be grateful to the person we’re arguing with for taking the time to talk to us?

What if we could view an argument as a journey?
Could an argument be a path to travel from our current disagreement and separation to a place where we understand each other, even if we don’t agree?
Could an argument take us to a place where we understand each other’s positions much better than we did before?

That would require humility.
That would require that we lay down our need to be seen as the smartest person in the room.
That would require that we lay down our false certainty, and admit that we may not understand everything … even in areas of faith, which are deeply personal.

That journey requires patience, on the part of both parties.

It won’t work if somebody’s trying to “win.”
It won’t work unless both parties are listening, not thinking of their next riposte.

That journey requires that we re-humanize our opponents.

Argument isn’t war. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

But we who were raised to glorify warfare, to think in terms of conquest, have made the very exchange of wisdom a form of violence. The opportunity to learn has become an opportunity for ego-gratification and domination.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.