Personal Mythmaking and the American Presidency

My name is Adam Nie. I am an incoming Pitt senior from the Chicago suburbs. I am the youngest of three siblings, I have never had a pet, I’d eat fried gnocchi every day if I could, and I really get a kick out of stories. 

During my years at Pitt, I’ve pursued a double degree in Supply Chain Management and Political Science with minors in Economics, Studio Arts, and Theatre Arts. Those last two were recent additions. Rounding the bend on my senior year, I felt it was time to represent my artistic hobbies in an academic setting. I started Pitt as a Freshman with the double degree plan in mind, but that’s not to say I knew where I was headed academically prior to college. Frankly, I still don’t know where I’m headed. For me the college search meant forays into all sorts of programs – Fashion Design, Math, Marketing, Education – none of which revealed a single “correct” path.

That’s why the University of Pittsburgh has been such a blessing for me. Pitt teems with multidisciplinarians. My freshman year Honors Peer Mentor graduated with four degrees. Nowhere is Pitt’s commitment to content breadth more evident than in the Brackenridge Fellowship. My research into personal mythmaking in the American Presidency draws on coursework in Political Science, Theatre, and elements of my core education with which I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to engage on this level. 

I believe (and any one of my many Neuroscientist counterparts can refute this) that the human brain is set up to make connections and find patterns within data. In other words, we tell stories constantly. We want life to mimic art so bad that we struggle to understand even the simplest day-to-day events outside of a narrative framework. Because of this, we instinctively seek to match real people with character archetypes. This is double true for celebrities and public figures, whose impacts on our lives are disproportionately large relative to the nuanced personal experience we have with them.

Long story short, Presidential candidates are characters and Presidential campaigns seek to shape the stories around them. From one election to the next, campaigns leverage archetypes from a common pool: the Mediator, the Firebrand, the Fresh Youth, the Wise Elder, the Cosmopolitan, the Folksy One – the list goes on. We can assess presidential campaigns throughout the past century to determine which myths work when and for whom, thereby shedding light onto why personal myth archetypes succeed or fail for United States Presidential candidates at any given time.

Discrepancies in data available for various election types (primary versus general) as well as election year (1910 versus 2010) will require a compound methodology. Once I’ve determined a handful of candidates whose cases provide insight into shifting public preferences, content analysis will allow me to search for common archetypal features across a broader sample. Michelle Wier, my mentor, will assist in laying the groundwork for quantitative work. The end result will be a choose-your-own-adventure artifact with which players try their hand at building a Presidential myth.

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