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"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

...............................................................Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lessons in Framing: The Big Picture

Have you ever tried to build a frame? Not one of the ornate, heavy wood ones, just a simple metal frame? The kind you can buy in two packets at the local hobby store. They’re easy. Just measure your picture and buy one packet for the long side, one for the shorter side. Then a few twists of a screwdriver, slip in a piece of glass, your picture, and some sturdy backing, and fasten together the last side, add the hanger, and you’re ready to go.

See… framing’s easy. Anybody can do it.

And these days, as the political season stays at near-fever pitch, it seems any and everybody is trying to do it. Framing’s coming at us from all sides.

Call it whatever you want…fancy jargon from communications specialists, spin from pundits and consultants, it all comes down to “I’m gonna tell you something, and you’re going to think about it the way I want.” Also known as catapulting the propaganda. Truth is optional.

And these days, as No Child Left Behind—a true bit of false framing if ever there was one—continues to dumb-down the thinking process to rote rather than motes of critical thinking, framing can lead people and whole communities down false paths.

There are a legion of examples this weekend, so it’s worth stepping back a bit and taking a look at the whole business of framing, and the monkey business that too often manipulates it.

The Republican Congresspeople who walked out in protest on Thursday are a nice example of framing gone awry. There they were, staging their departure, dissing the memory of Tom Lantos in the process, walking out to the set-up cameras and podium so they could try to slam the Democratic leadership about “political theatre.” Ooops.

Then last night, on HBO’s Bill Maher Show, one of the high priests of framing, Frank Luntz, tested out a few Republican talking points about Barack Obama while framing himself as oh, not that Republican anymore—I’m wearing a blue collar, open shirt, not one of those “haves” that are Bush’s base. Beware of false prophets…and wolves in sheep’s clothing.

And earlier today, CNN reported by Soledad O’Brien on the black-Hispanic divide between Obama and Clinton supporters [hint: hers are Hispanic, his are African-American…except when they’re not….]

This is a frame in early stages, and there’s considerable potential to build this frame the right way, or the false way. The media will play an important role in how it’s done. Some critical thinking needed here. Not just posturing by “Sharks” vs “Jets.” So far, I give CNN and O’Brien props on their measured reporting [and I'll link to it when CNN gets around to updating its website].

One thought I keep in mind is, who benefits by making adversaries instead of allies of two different groups? Not either one of the groups, that’s for sure. In a political season past, there was advertising showing a black hand reaching for a white hand’s paycheck. Making the paycheck a scarce resource makes enemies. The real enemy is the guy writing the check who’s at the same time pocketing all the ka-ching.

Framing isn’t inherently bad. On Animal Planet Channel this morning, a show presented rottweilers as an intelligent, hardworking, family-oriented dog, playing an important role as therapy animal for acute care patients. Caring people trying to restore the image of a dog breed that was tainted by bad breeders and bad owners and over-breeding. Good framing.

Framing is nothing new, of course, as wobblybits reminded over at Firedoglake this morning, recounting study of how cultures meet and how one culture frames the other. An interesting conversation well worth visiting.

Thing is, framing is everywhere. I could link you to a bazillion examples today. But instead, I’m going to ask you to do a little homework. Listen, really listen, to what someone is telling you. Then look closely at what he or she is showing you, by their actions, by their history, by their context or slice of life.

Then do some thinking. What does that person have to gain by persuading me? And what do I have to lose?

If you can say, I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, great!

And if you go forward and remember that framing’s just a package, no matter how fancy or finely polished, and the important thing is to focus on the picture within, so much the better.


egregious said...

Good day, Prairie! You've framed this nicely :)

Prairie Sunshine said...

Why thank you, eg. You've been known to pose some nifty framing yourself.

Anonymous said...

Just some stray thoughts:

The frame: No Child Left Behind
The reality: Every Child Left Behind

The frame: The War on Terror
The reality: As elusive and 'unsolvable' as the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Cancer, etc . . . just another fearmongering stick to beat us into submission.

The frame: The Iraq War
The reality: This war was WON, with a photo-op aboard the USS Lincoln and a banner reading 'mission accomplished.
The reality: The Iraq Occupation. Our blood and treasure is being consumed to 'mediate' a civil war made worse by cultural indifference and arming both sides of the conflict. The War in Iraq, again, is a stick invoking fear and visions of falling buildings. An OCCUPATION in Iraq would continually point a finger at the misconduct, mismanagement and misinformation that has led to the current debacle.

No more WAR IN IRAQ; instead, the occupation of Iraq until our 'oil interests' have been satisfactorily negotiated.


Prairie Sunshine said...

Thanks for your insights, Melody!
Reframing thinking from shallow "good vs. evil, red vs. blue, black vs. white" to critical, nuanced, honest thinking is part of the challenge for restoring integrity and honor to every facet of this country.