By Thorsten J. Pattberg for the Saker Blog

In medias res is the literary device to start your story “in the midst”. This trick will create in the minds of the audiences the illusion of distance to a beginning and an end. As in: They are throwing you in the middle of it.

All epics – from Homer’s Odyssey to Aśvaghosa’s Buddhacharita to the anonymous Beowulf – are necessarily written in the mode of in medias res. That is what makes them epic.

But it can be done with every story, and with every part within that story. A trained propagandist can and will use in medias res to make any character epic, any story epic, any news piece totally epic.

In this concise chapter, we shall talk about how to write extraordinary distance into any event, thing or character with the intent to deify them – to make them appear god-like.

This lesson is going to knock you over the head, so please find a quiet place and sit…

From Epic Poems to Modern Media

Once this “in the midst” device is repeated in first, second, and third-slot stories, an extraordinary depth is created. This can be cycled indefinitely. The readers are confronted with the extraordinary experience of “reading something backward.”

You may have heard this in grammar school, when your English teacher read a commentary which stated in passing that the Iliad or The New Testament were actually written backward. And you probably didn’t pay much attention.

In literature, we call this ‘the backward-building technique’ or ‘backward linearity’, but this is really misleading terminology, because we cannot write backward, obviously. We just never start at the beginning. So we later relapse, flashback and remember. In editorial work, scholars call this ‘intertextuality’. This is just another sophisticated word for saying we are experimenting with narrated chronology and non-linear order. Yes, we do that for you.

This “reading it backward” is the addictive habit those magicians with 6-figure salaries in Tinseltown use in order to get us hooked for eight consecutive years on Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead and other infinitely epic crap.

The new epic story tellers write stories within stories, endless weighting, say a modern King Arthur, with new deeds and twists and fatalities, introducing ever more interrelated characters such as the adventures of Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad and Wizard Merlin, and ever more backstories to the new Holy Grail and Camelot, and it just never ends and goes on and on, with new, multilayered deaths and rebirths and [a new stylistic device:] subverting expectations.

You will think, by watching or reading these, that those stories and characters are far more epic than you and your small life. It is a demonic technique, so please do warn your kids…

Those publishers and studios do not roll dice. Writing is a science. They know exactly what certain techniques are doing to your brains. You – I mean “Us” really – are all experimental rats to them.

Epic poems existed for thousands of years, long before writing emerged. They were orally transmitted, and only later written down, such as the Nordic Valhalla mythologies or the Hebrew Old Testament or the Vedic Ramayana. This means that in medias res has an evolutionary psychology explanation.

When our ancestors met a new member or a new situation about which they did not know the backstory, they were excited to know more about it – but also alerted.

If our brains find themselves “in the midst” of something, with information missing as to why and how it got here, neurotransmitters respond and release chemicals that contribute to the excitation of adjacent neurons like a cold flow. It feels like you were in free fall. Of course, the brain will quickly counter the excitation by signaling molecules that inhibit the neurons.

Because if the brain doesn‘t do that, or if the receptors wear out and if the inhibitors can’t inhibit any more, we end up with seizures or in epilepsy. And this is precisely what modern media wanted to test on us: we were fixated onto a giant excitation experiment and they drove us to our limits of the neurological possible. They wanted to measure attention span and frequencies and all that. And now they know.

From Modern Media to Social Media

Let us describe the evolution of in medias res. Epics were usually about the rise and fall of families, so lots of characters and hours of plot, intrigues, endless drama and interesting deaths. Fantastic journeys were also very popular.

In writing for moving pictures, trained writers can easily shorten and cramp hours of plot into 120 minutes or 90 minutes (what we call movies), next 60 minutes or 45 minutes (what we call television shows), and later just 30 minutes (what we call episodes).

To the surprise of the producers, audiences respond to the in medias res technique, not to the actual content. In other words, the audiences were conditioned toward backward-building techniques – no introduction, lots of flashbacks, cliff-hangers, different subplots, constant flow of new characters, fatalities and deaths.

So, producers and writers could condition the experimental rats, Us, with just half of the actual content we thought we needed. If we look at Japanese One Piece, now over 1,000 episodes, or American House of Cards, slightly over 70 episodes, we have 30 minutes or 45 minutes run-time respectively, but with each actual episode just making up 15 minutes. The rest is for illusion – in medias res intros, flashbacks, breaks, close shots, long pauses, unnecessary exterior shots and pointless dinner scenes.

For a scriptwriter, 15 minutes is still too long actually. That is 2,000 words of dialogue or 10 – 16 pages. For comparison, the Book of Tao, which comprises the entire universe, is 4,000 words. At most, I would say a major plot moment is about 1.5 pages of writing. So the scriptwriters must litter the script with several subplot moments and call them A, B, C, D… and so on. In other words, they write backward.

Their audiences feel they are thrown at distance into a long existeth universe, and (mostly) have no idea that that universe has not been written yet (think of George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire that took him forever to rearrange). And some universes will probably never be completed at all (think of J R R Tolkien’s Middle Earth or George Lucas’s Star Wars saga). We are thrown into something and only later might they bother to tell us what it is. Here is a hint: They don’t know yet themselves. It is just a psychological trick – in medias res.

The epic Ramayana (5th century BC) had 71 main characters. The Chinese epic Outlaws of the Marsh (14th century) had 108 main characters. The Lord of the Rings (1954) has 750 named characters. Anpanman (1988), a Japanese animation show, has 1,768 characters. But all those characters were invented long after you had read the first chapter. You are now going backward into their stories.

You can see this with big producers such as Marvel Comics, a US-company specialized on superheroes, that has come a long way since its first publication of the Human Torch in 1939. The company worked its way backward, as all epic storytelling does, and furnished its universe with over 1,500 superheroes and villains, including the glorious 3D-Man who popped out when you crossed your eyes or put on holospecs, the abominable Siamese twinhead Bi-Beast and, my personal favorite, the emerald-green tomb-god Rama-the-Tut.

So we are going to best every character, every scene, and cause ever more in medias res moments. Then writers moved away from epic novellas and movies and tv series to ever shorter media.

Did you know that advertisements are perfected in medias res moments? An advertisement needs no introduction. It comes out of nowhere. The idea is that you almost feel assaulted and caught “in the middle of something” preferably whilst in the middle of watching another “in the midst” middle part of an epic tv series that they have no plan to end. You are spammed 5 to 20 seconds, and then they just leave you at that. And you have to work your way backward as to what just happened.

From Social Media to the Metaverse

The average Youtube video duration once was 10 minutes to 5 minutes, now even just 3 minutes. That is easily outrun by 30 seconds Polemixs, 10 seconds TikToks or just 6 seconds Vines. That is about the length of 18 words, two lines of verses or exactly one stanza of any 2,000 years old epic poem. See, I told you to sit…

The underlying technique is always in medias res; we are just being thrown into the midst of a new part, over and over again.

We have said that in medias res has evolutionary relevance in our psychology. This is actually how we construct our own epic life story. We were constantly confronted “in the midst” of a new situation, and had to work our way backward to figure out its greater meaning in our own universe.

This is where the neurological technologies of the future will play a greater part in all story-telling. We have managed to actually have people sit on a sofa and do nothing but zapping or clicking – in medias res – into thousands of unrelated new story-lines each day. We simulate to their brains an epic multi-life story. They actually lead multi-lifes with no beginnings and no ends.

The next step for our producers and writers will be to facilitate audiences with endless, infinite streams of in medias res, which some feudalistic cyberspace monopolists have already laid their hands on and patented as ‘the Metaverse’. It really is in medias res. They are going to deify and multiply our living psychology.

So what is the moral of the story? The moral of the story is that the more powerful you want to make your story, and the more interesting and epic and memorable you want to make your characters, the harder you must strike in the midst and work your way backward…

The author is a German writer and cultural critic.

“The writing style is so realistic and fake at the same time it‘s mind blowing but my grandpa died.” –Grimmer

[…] and – hopefully not many – more creepy propaganda techniques exposed.

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