Barthes’ essay, along with other Structuralist studies, initiated the academic field of "narratology," the systematic study of storytelling as it is manifested in many media. From the 1970s to the present, this became a vast, varied, and exciting area of inquiry.
Now, after a thirty-year pageant of academic theories and analyses, we find that the term has trickled down, so to speak, to bare-knuckle politics. It turns out that the current Presidential election in the U. S. is all about "narratives." The candidates have them, as do the campaigns. And those narratives are served up in newspaper accounts that are also narratives. How the word gained its new status is a question for another time. For now, we have plenty of tales to occupy the narratologist.
And that’s really the introduction, what follows is a long narratological reading of the respective “stories” of Obama and McCain, with particular interest in their autobiographies.
When I wrote about this campaign at the beginning of the year I said a lot of things that mostly turned out to be wrong or irrelevant, but I did talk about American politics in terms of narratives — how candidates strive to present themselves as a cohesive story that resonates with voters.
This election, we’ve seen a lot of reporting and commentary paying attention to how campaigns have tried, successfully or otherwise, to construct their narratives; I wonder how much of this coverage has actually made us more aware of how these narratives are spun, and how much of it is just credulous tail-chasing (the same way coverage of strategy has ended up devolving into breathless horse-race play-by-play). But in the meantime, there’s Bordwell’s blog post, which takes the narratives and breaks them down, in great depth, from a very astute critical perspective.