This strategy is frequently used by demonstrators and protesters, who will often carry placards drawing on narratives from the past to give force to the present-day narrative they are aiming to circulate through their demonstration.The example below shows an Egyptian demonstrator narrating the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as Adolf Hitler. Most people are familiar with the Hitler narrative, and he is viewed by the majority of people in most societies as a ruthless dictator; by merging Mubarak’s face with Hitler’s, this well known narrative is instantly activated, giving force to the protester’s opposition to Mubarak. This is a forceful example of how drawing on certain characters can be enough to activate the whole set of narratives to which those characters belong.
This technique is also frequently used by political parties, who often make references to past narratives to warn voters against the dangers of ‘repeating the mistakes of the past’. This can be seen in the poster below which was used by the UK’s Labour Party in the run up to the British General Election in 2001. Here the Tory leader William Hague is narrated as the ex-British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The use of Thatcher’s distinctive haircut is enough to activate the narratives of severe and damaging cuts to public services which Thatcher represents to many voters.
This strategy is also often used by political cartoonists and satirists, who regularly draw on past narratives to comment on the actions and behaviour of current public figures.
With a friend or colleague, discuss more examples of historical narratives being used to promote current narrative versions. Are these narratives ever used in more positive ways (i.e. to frame a current narrative in the positive light of a past narrative)?
It is also worth thinking about the difficulties this framing strategy might present in translation; for example, what would happen if the target culture is unfamiliar with the historical narrative being activated in a source text, and what translation strategies could be employed to tackle a problem of this kind?