Storytellers: Ancient Tribal Functions vs. Modern Celebrity

"Storyteller Under Sunny Skies," a clay sculpture by Rose Pecos-Sun Rhodes (Jemez Pueblo), 1993, in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

“Storyteller Under Sunny Skies,” a clay sculpture by Rose Pecos-Sun Rhodes (Jemez Pueblo), 1993, in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

In ancient times, storytellers, writers, singers, dancers, musicians, actors, costume-makers were considered the intermediaries between the Divine/Higher Power(s) and the main population.

From Greek theatre to Native American dances/mythology, those tribal storytellers had a status in society of priest/teacher/doctor/counselor.  They were *part* of the tribe, necessary to the tribe members’ wellbeing in so many ways.  Whether beseeching the Divine for protection, good hunting/harvest, helping their tribe experience and express communal joys and sorrows, guiding tribemembers in their emotional/mental/spiritual/social development, they did so in a way that was engaging and entertaining for their group.  Unlike modern celebrities, however, the entertainment aspect never became the be-all, end-all of their endeavors, and they did not disengage or disconnect themselves from the people they ministered to.

They were available and accessible on a day-to-day basis, and whether in public performance, or a gathering of whomever happened to be around when a ‘teachable moment’ arose, the experience of their gifts was meant to be a communal one, that would create, enhance and strengthen the community’s bonds.

That is a very extreme difference from today’s celebrity figures who have become icons to worship, in and of themselves, and the sole driving force behind the dissemination of celebrity product is the acquisition of money for the massive corporations and their subsidiaries who promote them.  To that end, the base channeling of music, media and the persons of the celebrities themselves in such a way as to primarily stimulate sexuality and escapism has greatly reduced the innate and inherent value of those storytellers’ gifts.

In fact, a great deal of the entertainment ‘industry’ like Ouroboros, is to promote/feed itself, to generate more hype with awards shows, interviews and paparazzi and similar pageantry to keep the ‘celebrity status’ juggernaut viable and lucrative for the celebrities themselves, as well as the capitalistic behemoths behind them.

Yes, there are still some scant shreds of the original tribal functionality of storytelling still gasping for breath, but that is almost by accident than by design, no matter the original good intentions the storytellers may have possessed at the start of their careers.

We, as a species, are starving for those stray crumbs, however diluted they have become.

As an example:  Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” became the rallying anthem of everyone hearing it, who did not fit the ‘sheeple norm’ that society has ‘soma-tized’ itself into, but it resounded most strongly among those with alternative orientations/genders, and served as a communal expression of support and a rallying point for solidarity.


The wikipedia article for Born This Way, however, seems mainly focused on the commercial success, rather than on the message of the song itself and any impact it had on society and peoples’ lives.

Due to the proliferation and accessibility of social media, a number of celebrities, who otherwise would have been relegated to the background in favor of more commercially viable performers, have managed to forge more organic and personal connections to their fans.

They regularly engage with their audience via Twitter, Tumblr, convention appearances and Vlogging, building a community of engaged (tribe) group members who often supportively focus as much on each other, as on the celebrity they are interested in.  Thus the cathartic communal bonding experience catalyzed by tribal storytellers for their tribe members resurfaces, thrives and expands.

Indeed, in the era of increasing illegal free file-sharing, the storytellers who forge in-depth social/tribal connections with their audience may experience greater career longevity/financial success over the long-term than their more immediate commercially ‘successful’ counterparts who have become merely another in a long line of ‘faddish’ products manufactured by a bottom-line-driven industry.

Additional Reading:

Celebrities attempting (even unknowingly) to fulfill ancient tribal functions:

Wil Wheaton

Misha Collins

Orlando Jones

John & Hank Green

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