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Are Too Many People Calling Themselves Storytellers?

Award-winning designer Stefan Sagmeister blasts the current co-option of the label “storyteller” in this provocative video. If you’re a novelist or filmmaker then, yes, Sagmeister says, you are a storyteller. But if you’re, for example, a roller coaster designer, then, he says, “No, fuckhead, you are not a storyteller!”

Sagmeister’s absolutist stance has angered quite a few — check out the video’s comments thread. From my point of view, storytelling is as much a practice as job title. I think it’s possible to apply an understanding and embrace of narrative in multiple fields, not just writing and film. And if that embrace of narrative leads to better work, then, hey, call yourself a storyteller.

Sagmeister is right, though, in identifying “storyteller” as a lazy sobriquet of this cultural moment. Indeed, many people who claim to be storytellers aren’t seriously grappling with the narrative form at all. Furthermore, why does everyone have to be a storyteller? What about the idea of creating not a story but an experience, an environment or activity allowing the viewer’s own sense of discovery and creation to flourish?

At the least, Sagmeister’s comments indicate that someone from outside the world of film recognizes and values the more sophisticated engagement with the dynamics of story that filmmakers struggle with in their own work.

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