While at WPPI a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet a really lovely married couple. The wife was originally from northern England. I found this out because I had asked her what kind of photography she did.
“I do glama photography,” she replied.
“You do what?” I asked again.
“Huh? Or, glamour! Sorry. I just realized you have an accent.” (Way to go Ron. 🙂
What followed was a very interesting conversation about the different accents and types of people in various parts of the U.K. What I found particularly interesting was her take on the difference between northerners and southerners. She said southerners can come off as less friendly. If you were to go into a pub in London, you could stand in the middle of the room all night and not one person would talk to you. Go to a pub in the north, and as soon as the door creaks open, people want to see who it is. It’s kind of like “Cheers” (everybody wants to know your name.).
Out of curiosity I asked around to some other UK people I know and asked them what their take was on the difference between the north and south. Their answers were slightly different. I’ll be as euphemistic as possible, but the consensus was that the north was, um how shall we say, less rich. One person commented that in certain towns in the north, the joke is they have to bolt down the chairs during the weddings. And yes, you guessed it, the other UK folks I asked were from the south. 🙂
I must say, the documentary filmmaker in me found these diametrically opposing viewpoints to be quite fascinating. I’m dying to get on a plane, hop “the pond,” and do a drive around Great Britain asking people what they think of other parts of the country.
But in truth, I could just as easily do that here in the U.S. The difference between how northern and southern Brits look at one another reminds me of a similar dynamic in Los Angeles in the African American community. Ask someone from the largely African-American populated and upper class area of Baldwin Hills what it’s like in South Central and you may get an answer akin to “South Central is filled with gangsters and thugs.” Ask someone from South Central what the black folk in Baldwin Hills are like and you may hear, “Straight up boojy!” (For my international readers, “boojy” is a derogatory term used to describe uppity, snobbish black folk.)
So what does any of this have to do with storytelling? It has EVERYTHING to do with it. How we perceive those we encounter affects how we respond to what they say to us. As storytellers, you serve your audience and your subjects better when you endeavor to get to know them at an authentic and deep level. The ramifications extend to the work you do:
- If shooting a wedding between a person from northern England and southern England, how would knowing these different perceptions affect whom you interview, what sound bites you use, or how you edit it?
- If making a promotional video aimed at the African American community in Los Angeles, how would knowing the different dynamics affect your direction and editing?
- If you are FROM one of these areas and given charge to make a film related to the other, to what lengths will you go to get the different perspective, or will you let your own feelings and possible prejudices stand in the way?
Stories have the power to heals wounds, inspire camaraderie and bridge the great divide. How will you use stories?