The Deep Story: How Emotion Shapes Truth

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Strangers In Their Own Land" by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is a deep story? How does a deep story work and why do people have them?

A deep story is an emotional truth people hold about the world around them. They go to great lengths to confirm this deep story and their emotional truth, and then they seek to affirm the story they tell themselves.

Read more about the deep story and explore examples below.

The Deep Story and Fox News

One example of how the deep story is promoted is Fox News. The right-wing news network powerfully shapes the emotional world of its viewers, providing them with a deep story or master narrative of the world, in which they are the brave, right-thinking heroes fending off the forces of liberalism, secularism, and political correctness.

Perhaps most importantly, it validates viewers’ emotional orientations, confirming their ideas about what’s right and wrong and what’s important or unimportant. One viewer said that she likes Fox News because it doesn’t try to manipulate her emotions and make her feel guilty the way other news sources do—a source of great resentment for her.

Example: Mike Schaff and Bayou Corne

One enthusiastic, college-educated Tea Partier from Bayou Corne named Mike Schaff sees government as the source of all his community’s problems. While he disapproves of how Texas Brine handled the aftermath of the sinkhole, his emotions toward them are more based in hurt and disappointment than anger. He had genuinely believed that the company cared about the community and was surprised to see how little they did for displaced residents.

But he rationalizes their actions on the grounds that they are a profit-maximizing corporation that has to answer to shareholders. Of course they’re going to try to cut costs by evading safety regulations and fighting the payment of legal claims to residents.

But it’s the job of government officials to protect everyone, and on this score, according to Schaff, they failed miserably—only confirming his deep-seated belief in government’s essential worthlessness. 

This is despite the fact that the devastating consequences of his worldview are on display all around him. For example, Schaff’s wife and grandchildren had to move away from the town, because the presence of methane gas leaks made it unsafe for them to stay. Many of his neighbors have also left under the evacuation order, decimating what was once a tight-knit and vibrant community. He is unable to even light a match in his own garage, out of concern that doing so would spark a methane explosion. His beloved community has simply been erased.

The Makers vs. the Takers

Schaff’s ideology is grounded in his belief that hardworking “makers” like himself are victimized by lazy “takers” living off the government. He claims (falsely) that half of Medicaid recipients in the state are not working or even attempting to find work. The foundations of this worldview are rooted in a deeply emotional conviction that there are deserving and undeserving recipients of government aid—and that liberals have sided with the undeserving at the expense of the deserving.

We see these attitudes on display in Mike’s own deep story. He admits to having personally used government programs such as federal hurricane relief, unemployment insurance, the interstate highway system, and the United States Postal Service. The difference, as he sees it, is that he is a deserving recipient of these programs because he paid for them with his tax dollars. It is those undeserving “others” who didn’t pay in and are taking advantage of hardworking people like himself.

The Deep Story: How Emotion Shapes Truth

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Arlie Russell Hochschild's "Strangers In Their Own Land" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Strangers In Their Own Land summary :

  • What drives right-wing politics in America
  • How a lack of empathy is increasing the partisan divide
  • Why Republican politicians remain popular even if their policies don't help their voters

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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