How Popular Culture Affects the Way We Tell Stories

Step Right Up!

The classic art of hooking an audience goes back to player troupes in wagons and circus performers in tents. Today we have reality TV, Hollywood, and now politics.

The hook is always free, but the show comes at what cost?

LeRoy Ashby has been a renowned history professor and student of pop culture for most of his life. His particular interest is at the intersection of pop culture and story, and how they affect each other in both positive and negative ways.

LeRoy believes that being clued into the social consciousness around you will elevate your storytelling in its accessibility and effectiveness.  

He explores the parallels between the infamous circus barker, P.T. Barnum, and our current president-elect, how politics and news have become influenced by the demand for entertainment, and the way in which pop culture is intertwined in all storytelling.

In This Episode

  • Why having an understanding of pop culture will improve your storytelling
  • How P.T Barnum and Donald Trump are surprisingly similar
  • Why politics have become more open to entertainment techniques
  • How to utilize a barker mentality to hook your audience
  • Why the country was so responsive to the simple but dynamic Trump campaign
  • How to recognize key archetypes to integrate into your brand story


Quotes From This Episode 

“Trump is first and foremost a celebrity coming into the White House.”—LeRoy Ashby (highlight to tweet)

“We certainly live in the age of show business and the way in which show business news and show business politics have become part of our way of life.”—LeRoy Ashby

“Hollywood is a good embodiment of that, creating these worlds up there on the screen that people can identify with. They may be lands far away. They may be about people you can never get to be like. But there’s still this kind of celebrity appeal. You want to be like them.”—LeRoy Ashby

“The genius of Barnum is he had a real sense of what audiences needed. He was able to psych out what the middle class wanted, what the lower types wanted.”—LeRoy Ashby

“Overall I guess Martin Luther King put it very well, the arc of history may be long, but it bends toward justice. I think that has to be our hope. I’m concerned about how long it takes to bend it.”—LeRoy Ashby

“It’s kind of nice to be able to hang on to something that seems certain, that you’re secure with. That comes down to your beliefs. I’m intrigued as we’re talking about popular culture and politics in terms of one, how pop culture, coming back to that sideshow, big tent idea, how pop culture has gotten involved in presidential politics.”—LeRoy Ashby

“Bob Dylan would say to live outside the law, you must be honest. In other words, those who are inside that tent are there because they’re typically corrupt.” —LeRoy Ashby

“It’s worrisome for me that there are these efforts and they’re all around now, it seems, to play with what is really something you can back up with evidence. It comes down to simply what you want to believe is true, and that’s good enough.”  —LeRoy Ashby


  • LeRoy Ashby
  • “With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830” by LeRoy Ashby
  • “The Art of Money Getting” by P.T. Barnum
  • “The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump
  • Fiji Mermaid
  • Joice Heth
  • Washington State University
  • The Hero’s Journey,” by Joseph Campbell
  • Your DIY Guide to Crafting and Telling Compelling Brand Stories that Sell,” by Park Howell

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