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Should we break free from or persist in embracing the Narrative Mold?

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In ‘The Dialogue Unveiled,' I attempted to draw attention to the concept of remaining in dialogue with each other, especially after I watched Tucker Carlson's interview with Vladimir Putin; the subsequent personal interactions I received through various channels were unsettling but not surprising.

By Wouter van der Wiel
It has led me to question what prompts someone to read between the lines of an article. Is it the header title, an image, or merely the mention of Carlson and Putin?

The underlying narratives can significantly influence the decision to engage with an article, even after a cursory glance at the headers. These narratives extend beyond mere headlines to overarching themes conveyed by headings, subheadings, and imagery. In the case of Carlson's interview with Putin, both the host and Russia, alongside President Putin, are subjected to heavy demonization.

While headlines undoubtedly wield significant influence, it's crucial to recognize the underlying factors that sway readers' decisions. From my perspective, two primary elements stand out: emotional appeal and relevance. In this context, emotional appeal takes precedence, confirmed by the overwhelming impact of a one-sided media narrative.

We cannot overlook the pervasive narrative that has been pre-established by mainstream sources: Tucker Carlson is portrayed as a traitor, while Putin is labeled a liar. Their recent interview is cynically dismissed as a 'missed opportunity' or 'poorly executed,' reminiscent of the predictable labels found on pharmaceutical prescriptions. These conventions appear ingrained in our media landscape.

My favorite “echoed sentiment” from The Guardian: 'Tucker Carlson’s Putin interview wasn’t journalism. It was flattery.

I can offer insights informed by my own cultural and professional perspective as a Dutchman living in Russia and Vietnam.

The pervasive negative image of Russia in the media has left a lasting impact. Despite this portrayal, the collapse of the USSR alleviated fears of a red communist threat. Ironically, between 1990 and 2008, this period led to brief but positive attitudes and economic opportunities from the West, and the ‘global threat’ changed to terrorism temporarily.

This reminds me of the Dutch-Russian Year of 2013, which ideally should have symbolized a dialogue and friendship reflecting the historical relationship between the Dutch and Russians, initiated during Tsar Peter the Great's era in 1700. However, rather than fostering cross-cultural collaboration, 2013 was marked by unfortunate events and strained relations between the Netherlands and the Russian Federation. These events, spanning various sectors, including agriculture, trade, and politics, created tension and mistrust.

Since 2013, I have observed a widespread adoption of a negative perception of Russia among the Dutch. Surprisingly, many individuals hold strong opinions about Russia, solely influenced by media portrayals, despite never having set foot on Russian territory. This negative perception contrasts the historical dialogue that dates back to 1700.

Living in Russia has given me firsthand experience of the stark disparities between Western and Russian media narratives. As someone somewhat integrated into Russian society, I could not fully align with the portrayed narrative about the country. Both as an expatriate and a professional in my field, I actively seek and meticulously research information from various global news sources. This exploration has illuminated that multiple narratives exist on any given issue.

Moreover, this understanding extends beyond local issues to encompass global matters, particularly those far removed from our daily lives and immediate surroundings. It underscores the importance of cautiously approaching media consumption, conducting thorough research, and considering different points of view through dialogue.

We must actively resist the tendency to collectively echo prevailing narratives, as Dr. Mattias Desmet's insights on mass formation and hypnosis perfectly highlight. It's crucial to think independently, even if our opinions diverge from the mainstream.

I wonder how many of us have formed our viewpoints through dialogue, free from the interference of media narratives, especially those who have not set foot on Russian territory. Therefore, I strongly encourage this approach to foster critical thinking and promote a more nuanced understanding of complex issues.

My experience underscores narratives' significant role in shaping readers' perceptions and decisions. Crafting compelling narratives within headlines is essential for content creators to effectively engage readers and prompt them to delve deeper into the article's content.

As a side note, numerous conflicts worldwide receive varying media attention: Gaza, the broader Middle East, Myanmar, Armenia-Azerbaijan, and U.S.-China relations are just brief examples. From my observations, it seems that from the Dutch and EU perspective, the Ukrainian-Russian conflict is portrayed as a one-sided story.

For example, the pressure to take a definitive stance persists. However, it's noteworthy that in 2022, while the EU and my country, in particular, advocate free speech, we observe the opposite through, for example, the cancellation and blocking of RT (Russia Today) in the Netherlands and the EU. This situation underscores the complex interplay between the promotion of free speech and the limitations imposed by geopolitical tensions.

In conclusion, the feedback I've received can be summarized into two broad perspectives: those from the West, primarily the EU, and those from the East, notably Asia.

From the EU perspective, the relationship between Russia and the EU is intricate, marked by a blend of competition and confrontation. This leads to the urge to take either an informed or a biased stand and defend it. Various factors, including historical legacies and contemporary geopolitical dynamics, are supposed to shape this complex dynamic. It appears that historical narratives may be losing significance in this context.

Conversely, the East, particularly Asia, tends to adopt a more tolerant attitude and is more open to dialogue. This stance is rooted in historical context and contemporary geopolitical shifts, such as the emergence of BRICS. Asia demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the situation, reflecting a level of maturity surpassing that of Western countries.

Acknowledging the diversity of attitudes toward Russia within different countries and societies across Asia and the Middle East is crucial.

In our endeavors, prioritizing diplomacy and maintaining open dialogue remains paramount. These guiding principles will be indispensable as we navigate the multifaceted challenges and decisions that lie ahead.

author avatar
Wouter van der Wiel
Senior analyst and executive, with extensive international business and finance experience, started in Europe’s hospitality and finance sectors. His journey spanned Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and over a decade in Moscow. Now based in Vietnam for more than 4 years, he founded New Clever Things (NCT)—a niche advisory firm operating in Russia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. A free thinker passionate about art and philosophy, he excels in forging connections and facilitating alliances.
Wouter van der Wiel
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