The Narrative

The first Stephen Hunter book I ever read was The Master Sniper, picked up at a library book sale many, many years ago. It was obvious to me then that the author was not one of those for whom a firearm is a magic talisman or an incomprehensible piece of technology. This guy understood guns. Yes, he exaggerated and embellished, but you had to know firearms to know that. At least nothing he wrote in that novel made me want to whack my forehead against a wall.

Later, I found more of his books, and discovered that his day job was as a film critic for The Washington Post, where he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. In his spare time, he cranked out novels, novels that always included firearms as minor, sometimes major, plot devices. Novels where the gun-handling wasn’t unbelievable because it was wrong, it was just sometimes unbelievable because nobody’s that perfect. Hunter’s book Point of Impact was made into the movie Shooter in 2007. He retired from the WaPo in 2008.

A coincidence, I’m sure.

I’ve liked everything I’ve read that Hunter has written, and that includes his “homage” to the Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai, The 47th Samurai, which some people just didn’t care for.

I’m currently reading his latest paperback, I, Sniper, which is living up to my expectations, but I want to relate one interesting passage. Remember, Hunter spent more than 37 years working for big-city newspapers, one of the few people in those organizations not fully a member of the media zeitgeist.

Stephen Hunter on “The Narrative:”

You do not fight the narrative. The narrative will destroy you. The narrative is all-powerful. The narrative rules. It rules us, it rules Washington, it rules everything.

The narrative is the set of assumptions the press believes in, possibly without even knowing that it believes in them. It’s so powerful because it’s unconscious. It’s not like they get together every morning and decide “These are the lies we will tell today.” No, that would be too crude and honest. Rather, it’s a set of casual, nonrigorous assumptions about a reality they’ve never really experienced that’s arranged in such a way as to reinforce their best and most ideal presumptions about themselves and their importance to the system and the way they’ve chosen to live their lives. It’s a way of arranging things a certain way that they all believe in without ever really addressing carefully. It permeates their whole culture. They know, for example, that Bush is a moron and Obama is a saint. They know communism was a phony threat cooked up by right-wing cranks as a way to leverage power to the executive. They know that Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, the response to Katrina was fucked up…. Cheney’s a devil. Biden’s a genius. Soft power good, hard power bad. Forgiveness excellent, punishment counterproductive, capital punishment a sin.

And the narrative is the bedrock of their culture, the keystone of their faith, the altar of their church. They don’t even know they’re true believers, because in theory they despise the true believer in anything. But they will absolutely de-frackin’-stroy anybody who makes them question that….

I, Sniper, pp. 231-232

I refer you now to The Church of the MSM and the New Reformation from January, 2008.

Hunter’s next novel, Dead Zero comes out in hardcover in December. Oh, and Hunter doesn’t take himself too seriously, either.

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